To the locals, S.E. Wisconsin generally means Milwaukee, and it's associated areas. This would include Waukesha, Racine, and Kenosha counties, as well as the less populous Jefferson, and Ozaukee. These areas have been slowly merging together for the last thirty years or so, until you can now drive from the northern edge of Milwaukee County, down past Chicago, and out on past gary Indiana without ever being outside of a city. Admittedly some of these cities are still somewhat rural, or at any rate suburban, in character, but the process continues. Lake Michigan exerts a gigantic influence on the weather around here, almost equal to that it exerts over the social life and spirit of the community. The lake is a marvelous geographic feature. There is also the influence one of the worlds great cities a mere 90 miles or so to the south. Chicago has been in turns blamed for stunting the growth of Milwaukee, and praised for shielding this city from some of the unfortunate trends besetting major urban areas. Though there might have been a grain of truth to this decades ago, Chicago exerts no protective shield today.
    Milwaukee is a city in trouble these days. Our crime rate, once one of the lowest in the nation, is today one of the highest, exceeding that of Boston, and New York (though not yet exceeding that of Washington D.C.). Our wonderful AAA bond rating has dropped, as has our standard of living; this has become a fairly poor city. The population has dropped from 747,000 back in the sixties, to something over 500,000 today. The open areas to the west and north, along with the influence of Chicago to the south, have fueled an urban sprawl which contributes to making this one of the ten worst cities in the country for freeway congestion. What makes this ironic is that part of this was caused by the high quality of the local freeway system. The roads are well laid out, and capable of handling a good flow of traffic, encouraging urban sprawl. Our problems have been blamed on a number of different things, the loss of the bread and butter factory jobs back in the seventies, indifferent local government, an influx of Chicago's very poorest, and one of the highest tax rates in the nation. Certainly all of these things have had their effects, but in many ways Milwaukee seems to be just plain unlucky. We had a crane topple over while building the new stadium which was itself the center of a major political battle. Milwaukee has had the distinction of being singled out in several studies as an example of how not to run, and plan the future of a city.
    With any luck, this will change, but there is no guaranty of it. I would have once said that these conditions could only last for  long, before the market corrected them, but having seen the examples of Detroit, Gary, St. Louis, and a few others, I can no longer advocate these views with much conviction. Outside of Milwaukee's direct sphere of influence, it is like being in a different world. The rest of S.E. Wisconsin, outside of the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor, has very much the kind of people, and culture that I remember Milwaukee having when I was growing up. It seems as if this is where Milwaukee went when it left. There are also the classic barns, and glacial geology for which this part of the state is known.
    The good thing about inertia is that it takes some time and effort to produce change. This is often seen as a bad thing when people see it as an impediment to progress, but it can have it's good effects. If Milwaukee were to consist only of what has happened in the last twenty years or so of it's existence, it would be a truly terrible place. Fortunately, like all cities, we are a combination of our past and our present. We still have the fine parks, zoo, lakefront, and colleges, all brought into being by quite a different culture when this was quite a different city. There is still a good, if dilute, representation of the culture that made Milwaukee such a unique place years ago, but as the old guard continues to leave, the character of the city changes, and not for the better.