By David Libert
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Milwaukee has a once-in-a-generation window to think big and work with residents to increase the creativity, opportunity and joy in our central city neighborhoods.
What would you like to see in your neighborhood?
• More locally owned businesses — restaurants, entertainment options, stores?
• Well-paying and dignified work opportunities?
• State-of-the-art housing?
• Beautifully designed parks with fun places for kids to play?
• Convenient public transportation?
• Something else?
A $550 billion investment
In 2021, Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and has since begun investing $550 billion to improve the physical condition of communities.
This investment promises to do many things at once.
It will address the “climate crisis”— the changing weather patterns that put neighborhoods at increased risk of natural disaster — by investing in environmentally friendly projects.
Funding will support the rebuilding of America’s roads, bridges and rails; expanded access to clean drinking water; high-speed broadband access; electric vehicle chargers; and more.
This infrastructure investment is on top of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which provides billions of additional dollars for tax credits, rebates and grants to promote consumer adoption and business manufacturing of cleaner energy technologies.
The Inflation Reduction Act includes a national total of $3 billion for Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants for community-led projects and another $3 billion in Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants for affordable transportation access in disadvantaged communities.
Will our neighborhoods benefit?
New green jobs will be created through these laws that pay living wages and offer new career pathways. The Biden administration has promised that these investments will focus on equity by making sure communities that “too often been left behind” benefit.
In fact, the Biden administration started the Justice40 Initiative to ensure that at least 40% of these funds directly help residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods.
So, how will this funding be spent to help you and your neighborhood?
As of February, $2.8 billion of the Infrastructure Act funding has been allocated to Wisconsin and has supported 170 projects with more than 85% going to roads, bridges, public transit, ports and airports.
Remaining funds have supported projects such as clean water access through the replacement of lead pipe laterals and resident discounts for internet service through the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Total federal infrastructure funding to Wisconsin will exceed $5 billion over five years to fund project areas such as “brownfield” pollution cleanup, weatherization initiatives, public transit efficiency (e.g. clean buses) and electric vehicle charging stations.
Governor proposes new projects, too
Gov. Tony Evers recently proposed that, over the next two years, state funding should support new projects such as a Southeast Wisconsin Green Jobs Corps, a clean energy and small business incubator, and other projects that will create 40,000 new jobs by 2030.
These state-level investments have only been proposedas part of the 2023-’25 budget and must be approved through the budget process that includes assent by the Republican-led legislature.
Many questions remain:
• Will these projects and investments take advantage of a once in a generation opportunity to transform neighborhoods “too often left behind?”
• What is a green job? What training is needed and how much will these jobs pay? How many and in what communities will these jobs be available?
• Can infrastructure projects focused on the environment also address public safety, affordable housing and other areas of pressing community need?
• How much funding will make its way to Milwaukee’s neighborhoods? What other resources — financial, human and otherwise — are needed to achieve these goals?
Of course, similar projects and investments have been made in the past and have notresulted in transformation. It is clear that “business as usual” approaches — simply increasing funding of existing programs — are unlikely to achieve greater climate equity.
A time for innovation
Examples exist, however, of innovative projects and new ways to directly engage residents that are transforming lives, neighborhoods and economic realities.
The window of opportunity has already begun to close, however.
You can make a difference.
You will have the opportunity to participate in upcoming public hearings and share how you think state funding should be spent.
The Wisconsin Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy is working to develop reporting tools and gather resident input to ensure that communities like yours benefit from federal funds.
Your voice and ideas can help to ensure that this once in a generation investment makes a big difference in your community.
I hope you will join me in investigating existing projects and new ideas that will help us increase the creativity, opportunity and joy in Milwaukee’s central city neighborhoods.
David Libert is a Milwaukee resident, educator, nonprofit consultant and talent recruiter. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 414-331-4113 to share stories and ideas about the people, programs and projects you like or want to see in your neighborhood.