Saturday, April 18, 2009
Church steeples, smokestacks, and the tops of old factory and warehouse buildings protrude from Milwaukee's south side horizon. Most of the smokestacks, however, don't billow smoke from their mouths anymore. Bells don't toll from the steeples every Sunday either, no longer summoning droves of devout parishioners to Mass. Many of the factories are empty, abandoned, for lease, or greatly downsized. Over on the near north side, a similar urban layout exists: old warehouses, old fashioned storefronts, as well as historic breweries and churches. The purpose of these structures, too, are dwindling. Some lots have been cleared out, implying new developments on the way. Yet, many of these lots have been empty for years with no sign of construction or land development since they were cleared out. It is as if it is understood that growth and change are needed; space is cleared and preparations for a new direction are made, but something is causing hesitation.
Milwaukee is no longer the industrial powerhouse that it was decades ago, reflecting a larger economic shift from industrial to service-based labor. The industries have since been bought out, jobs out-sourced, or simply moved to bigger cities and consolidated. However, an outside observer might not notice the change based on appearance alone; many of the structures that make up the urban skyline were the same fifty years ago as they are today. Milwaukee's image has yet to catch up with the present: a city in transition still searching for an updated identity.