Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Down by the River

The City of Oshkosh is launching a series of community input sessions tonight about what people want to see along the Fox River corridor in the future.  City Manager Mark Rohloff is encouraging attendees to "dream big" in order to help City Hall develop long-range plans for all of that waterfront property.  I, however, would prefer to think small.

Rather than regurgitate the same concepts every other city along the Fox (or any body of water nowadays) is proposing: Mixed-use, condo/senior living/retail/entertainment mini-towers with all the same exterior colors and big glass windows--why don't we get back to letting people build houses along the water.  I'm talking about large, single-family homes ("mansions" if you want to call them that) with landscaped yards, trees and actual character.

The benefits of single-family homes along the river are numerous.  Until Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank started insisting that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac give home loans to anyone with a pulse--regardless of income or ability to pay--private home ownership was the most stable form of real estate in the country.  Upscale residential owners also tend to pay their property taxes--on time.  Families stay in those homes for decades--not just a few years on a lease--giving greater permanence and continuity to the area.  And up-scale homes tend not to fall into disrepair or become eyesores.

What's more, private residential development doesn't rely on grants from Housing and Urban Development or tax credits from Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Administration to get built.  The city doesn't have to create Tax Incremental Financing districts to pay for major infrastructure improvements.  And there is no need to build giant seawalls at taxpayers' expense. 

I'll grant you that building private homes on the river won't give local politicians a chance to show up at formal ribbon cutting ceremonies or brag to their buddies about how they "approved the borrowing to make that building happen"--but it will give the Fox River in Oshkosh a different look than all of our neighboring cities--who just can't seem to build enough mixed-use, condo/senior living/retail/entertainment mini-towers that those attending "visioning sessions" fifty years from now will be wondering why we ever built in the first place.

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