Citizen Wausau

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What do We Deserve?

by on April 5th, 2010

I am 39-years-old, and I live here in Central Wisconsin.  I have been here for a long time now, and I love it.  I tend to think I will end my run at life here, and I hope to see some amazing things come to pass.  Over the past few years I have had the chance to meet some people that, prior to working on projects, I was flat out intimidated by, but after the fact found out they were brilliant.  I am so blessed that way, and I might just be the most blessed man in this entire area.  My Wausau experience is simply one of inspirational people, and amazing progress.

Tomorrow is election day here in Wausau.  People are running for office, people are seeking your support and your vote.  I hope you vote for someone, anyone — just vote.  I hope that we have a massive voter turnout here in Wausau.  Civic involvement on a massive scale.  I hope that for all our sakes.

But, the question comes down to: What do you, what do I, what do we all deserve?  We have moved mountains locally in the past five years.  We have grown from a town to a small city.  We have faced giant challenges, moved important projects forward, and together as a community faced down this economic tough time.  We have helped each other, we have stepped up to help move the city forward, and we have shown how we care for our little piece of this flying rock.  We all, each one of us, are blessed.  This is community, no matter how people seem to want to divide us. We see amazing things happen each and every day.

So, the last few years on the City Council have been an amazing time of both divided voting, and strong leadership. Councilmember’s like Deb Hadley, Bill Forrest, and Jim Rosenberg led the way from senior positions on the council. While all sides were very critical of each other, and often times the voting blocks took over debate, the leadership had positions that they thought were valid.  I did not agree with some of them, and I really did not agree with the sort of entrenched positions of “If he voted yes, then I am immediately voting no.” It seemed like that was the case for a while.

We saw young Councilmen like Matt Kaiser begin to assert himself as a leader with a voice, and a set of ideas that he wanted to put forth.  Lisa Rasmussen’s voice sprang up in unique but consistent positions, even in some very brave abstaining votes.

But, regardless of the personalities, we are forced to come to terms with what we see as a vision for our city.  We are forced to confront a growing sense that downtown is one area, and the rest of town is another thing all together.  In my opinion this sense is false, but our leaders must handle the common refrain.

Is this refrain a result of local aldermen choosing to not speak to the local media about news in their district, or more importantly to speak TO their district?  Or is it a result of more stories coming out of the central part of town?  I believe it to be a little of both.

What should we expect from our leaders?  We can use words like transparency — a buzzword of the moment.  What does it mean?  I think it means communication with the citizens of Wausau.  Do we have a willing and eager media?  I think we do.  When I attend city council meetings typically both print outlets are there, both television stations have staff, and Matt Lehman from 550 AM is there.  What more should the media in this city do to ensure that the elected officials get a chance to tell their story?  What more is possible?

Should our local elected officials seek out and develop relationships with the press?  I believe that they should.  Contrary to popular belief, the press has to chase stories, and for the most part councilmember’s and city staff are the resources to tell those tales.  We need our elected officials to speak to the media.

Don’t we deserve that?  An open channel of communication?  I think we do.  I think we truly do. I think we deserve an educated population, and that comes from our elected officials taking their responsibility seriously.  Why does each district not have its own website, where news can be offered, and alderman reached?  We have a Mayor who claims an IT background, and we have new companies in town claiming to want to work in these spaces.  Why has a partnership not happened for a bit of development on the Web in regards to information dissemination in the city of Wausau?

But we deserve more.  And for the most part, we will get more.  Take for example Wausau Area Events.  The new director, Kari, has been there for many years.  She has produced all the events for the last few years, and each of them has grown in size, scope, and success. Now she is the director, and she has the task of running this agency, and has finally come into her own.  I look forward to the growth, and continued impact of the local events produced by WAE.

We have things that were once new, but are now a part of the daily fiber of our day, places like Downtown Grocery.  Once a sort of risky idea, now a daily part of many peoples’ lives.  Now many people receive fresh produce from various farms around the area.  All this is comes from the genesis of places like Downtown Grocery.

We have development in the surrounding areas.  Sprocketz, a new bike shop, opened in Weston.  Right next to the bike shop is Basil, one of the hottest restaurants in town.  Kronenwetter has the new Patriot Center where MMA events have taken place.  Rothschild has opened the Pavilion back up to live music.  Great shows like local rock heroes Windsor Drive packed the place. Blues Café came and was a great event.

Why Not Wausau?, the live music event put together by Flapjack Creative is garnering a TON of buzz around the Internet.  It appears the line of musicians who want to play is out the door.  Sponsors are coming in each week it appears from their Twitter feed.  And this looks to be something amazing here in Wausau.  Something of Wausau, for Wausau, and by Wausau.

We have this growth.  Undeniable movement in many areas.  What more do you want to see?  What more do we deserve in our region? I offer some suggestions.

  1. District websites.  Clearly we have internet penetration in the City of Wausau.  Charter is a force, others are here as well.  We are seeing an active use of the internet by many, and there is no sense that this is all we shall have.  The future will bring further penetration.  So, why not create websites for each district?  Let them be social hubs for the people in those smaller regions to interact.  We have local people who have been a part of internet tools that could be used.  A former Wausau resident was a part of a company called UserVoice.  Tools like UserVoice, or GetSatisfaction might be perfect for such an idea.  Either way, it would create another transparent way for communication to happen
  2. Sustainability.  We pride ourselves on being part of the Northwoods — nature and all of that.  Yet our city has no environmental statement in regards to new construction, no requirement for retrofitting of old buildings with more efficient materials, or the like.  The largest U.S. city, New York, has a clear, well-defined sustainability program and sustainability department.  All new construction is required to go through this process.  We live in a small place comparatively, and as such our council should be more nimble in creating such a plan.  We have a council that could directly work with places like NTC, the construction companies, and developers to create a plan that works and is something that builds toward our future.
  3. More parking downtown.  Nah, just kidding.
  4. Greater public transit.  Yeah, sure we learned during the Tweetbus project that the money is simply not there. But, I say this: if you build it, they will come.  If you create a resource, and market it, people will come.  People will use it.  Public transit is part of the growth of every city, and should be part of ours as well.
  5. Bikes.  We have a strong bicycle culture in this city.  Several members of the Citizen Wausau extended family are avid commuters, and serious bikers.  Recently the 24-Hour Race at Nine Mile was in question, and the event was saved.  More than races and the like though, we can begin to create an awareness and a plan for growing the bike commuter use of this city streets.  We can place bike racks on the streets and sidewalks. We can place bike racks on buses.  We can offer incentives for people to ride bikes, for example. We can place bike racks outside Athletic Park, and if you come to a game on your bike you can get a discounted price.  At the 400 Block concerts, we can place bike racks around the block, and people can pedal to the shows.  We can create a culture that is pro-bike.

I think we have lived through great change.  I think we will live through even more.  But the question becomes, what do we deserve?

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