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Thread: Oshkosh, Wisconsin: what's it like?

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Oshkosh, Wisconsin: what's it like?

    I saw a PD position advertised recently for the City of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Before I apply for it, I'd like to know what the place is like. There's a bunch of Illinois and Wisconsin Cyburbians out there; can you tell me the skinny on Oshkosh? Would it be the kind of place where you could settle down for the next 20-25 years?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    The answer is yes and no. Oshkosh is not a place where you will find cutting edge planning being done. In fact, the Highway 41 corridor from Fond du Lac all the way to Green Bay is one unrelentingly ugly strip of metal buildings and commercial strips with very little thought put into aesthetics. On the other hand, there are some very nice residential neighborhoods throughout the region, most of the communities have active downtown programs, and there is some good redevelopment occurring along the Fox River.

    Politically the area leans a little to the right, but it will surprise you. In survey work we did for one of the area communities there was overwhelming support for affordable housing. I sat in one plan commission meeting where a local nutcase referred to the homeless as "those people" and was soundly berated by the mayor, a couple alderoids/plan commission members, and people in the audience.

    I imagine the planning staff will deal mostly with current planning issues and maintaining the stability of the city's neighborhoods. Long-range planning tends to be farmed out to consultants. Somebody who can talk economic development will probably be looked on favorably. While the area is a little better off than the state in terms of unemployment, there is a long manufacturing history. Many high-paying jobs in paper, machinery manufacturing, printing, and other sectors are gone or threatened.

    The culture may surprise you too. Yes, there are plenty of adult bookstores to be seen along the highway, but there are some good cultural venues. Oshkosh is the site of the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual fly-in. It is only 1.5 hours from Madison or Milwaukee, or if you prefer, Door County is 1.5 hours north.

    Send me an email if you want to talk. I can give you some more information about the area and possibly about the position.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

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    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Don't forget the nearby Appleton area with its shopping and cultural outlets!

    My experience with Oshkosh (remember, my degree is from UWZero) is that it is a VERY OLD city of its genre (mid-sized midwestern USA industrial center). It grew big early, being near 50K population by the turn of the 19th to 20th century and then stagnated for most of the rest of the 20th century - with areas of more recent typical mid-sized city growth around the edges. There is also a bit of a suburbanizing effect at work, too, mainly focused on the Appleton area. Thus, neighborhoods of very old houses go well 'out', nearly to the city limits in some directions.

    The City of Oshkosh has been extremely aggressive in the annexation department over its history and because of that, doesn't suffer from the extent of outside-of-the-city suburbanization that many other areas in the midwest have faced (like Appleton) and is in a better position to control its development destiny.

    Politically, it is very conservative (Democrats NEVER do well there), but also, and I agree with Cardinal, it is more of a libertarian conservative approach and as such, zoning restrictions on such things as lot and minimum house sizes are very sensible (IIRC, the minimum floor area for an R1 house is only 900sf). It is also a very frugally-run city and takes pride in keeping its budget under control. My only real complaint about Oshkosh is that for many decades, the city would only rebuild a side street when the neighbors petitioned for it and because that work is special-assessed, many side streets were teetering on the brink of impassibility, something that the city has been addressing over the past decade or so.

    The City of Oshkosh has a council-manager form of government with a council of 7(?) aldermen elected at large from throughout the city. A ceremonial 'mayor' is picked by the aldermen from among themselves but the day-to-day governing is done by a hired city manager (loooong tenures are the norm in that position, as well as with the other department heads, including the planning director, who recently retired from it). The city changed from 'mayor-council' to the current council-manager form due to political divisions between the two sides of the city, which is almost evenly divided by the Fox River. There has been a lot of redevelopment activity along the northwest side of the river between downtown and the UWOshkosh campus in recent years, mainly involving abandoned industrial properties and railroad yards (the major railroad moved all of its operations in the 1990s and now runs north-south on the city's east side and near Lake Winnebago - and that lake is a true local resource).

    It is also a very safe city and has no 'bombed out' slummy areas, even though parts do show their age. Oshkosh, like the rest of northeastern Wisconsin, is a GREAT place to raise a family. It is also a city that you can easily settle down into, become a part of and live the rest of one's life in and its local culture is something else. You would best be advised to learn how to be a fan of the NFL's Green Bay Packers if you are offered and take that job - that team is a part of the very fiber of the local culture - and the rest of the local culture is pure Wisconsin and loads of fun, too!.

    Economically, it is solidly blue-collar with its major employer (Oshkosh Truck) recently winning one major contract after another after another after another to produce the replacement for the USArmy's HMMVW - so economic security is fairly well assured for a long time to come. It is also a university town (UWOshkosh with just over 10K students) with all of the fun and flavors that come with it and they do have a planning and urban/regional studies department.

    Oshkosh is a unique place with many and varied issues and I would not hesitate at all to apply for and, if offered, accept that job.



    Mike

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I may be wrong, but its not a PD being advertised. I know the PD. It is a Principal Planner / CDBG administrator being advertised. I did my BS and MPA at the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh. I echo the comments of Cardinal and Mike. Its a great city unto its own, and close to major hubs if you need more activity. Yes, you could settle down there. You can PM me with any specific questions.

    EDIT: Here is the post I saw:
    http://www.wisconsinplanners.org/job...n_10_13_09.htm

    OOPS and here is the post Dan saw!
    http://www.planning.org/jobs/search/...htm?AdID=39868

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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    All I can think of is Oshkosh B'Gosh kosh b'gosh. Good infantwear.

    I have never heard of minimum house sizes in zoning before. In Massachusetts you're not allowed to regulate the minimum size of a house other than building code minimums.

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    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Masswich View post
    All I can think of is Oshkosh B'Gosh kosh b'gosh. Good infantwear.

    I have never heard of minimum house sizes in zoning before. In Massachusetts you're not allowed to regulate the minimum size of a house other than building code minimums.
    That is because MANY localities, especially 'snooty' big-city suburbs, require wackoly large minimum floor areas - mainly to keep the riff-raff out. It was becoming such an acute problem that the Massachusetts state legislature was pretty much forced by the resulting housing supply imbalance to adopt that state law - against the wailing and gnashing of teeth of many of those munis.

    Like with minimum lot sizes and building setbacks, minimum building size requirements are fairly common in zoning laws throughout the USA.

    Mike

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    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Minimum floor areas are pretty much the norm in WIsconsin.

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Thanks all!

    Sounds like an interesting, livable place, but the key here seems to be "not that progressive when it comes to planning", something that has landed me in hot water in the past. I don't think I can be a Stan. The place and the job really have to be remarkable, or I have to reach a point of relative desperation, for me to stray far from Western New York this time. (Oshkosh to Buffalo would be about an 11 to 12 hour drive.)

    I like that the city seems "tight' in a way, with what sounds like a well-defined edge and older housing and neighborhoods even close to the perimeter. The development history sounds like that of St. Joseph, Missouri; a boomtown before WWI, with very slow growth after the 1910s.

    Minimum floor areas: that would make an interesting thread!
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Chet View post
    Off-topic:
    Minimum floor areas are pretty much the norm in WIsconsin.
    I've worked in places that have those requirements as well. They can be used as a backdoor way of keeping manufactured housing out.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

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    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    OK Dan, stay away! I'm going for it!

  11. #11
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Chet View post
    OK Dan, stay away! I'm going for it!
    All yours, dude! Hey, it's close to Milwaukee, and you've got some emotional attachment to the place. It could be your "forever home"; I'm still looking for mine.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Thanks all!

    Sounds like an interesting, livable place, but the key here seems to be "not that progressive when it comes to planning...
    Careful there. Yes, it has a fairly conservative character, but as I said, it can surprise you. Wisconsin has a wonderful legacy of progressive thought. We gave the world "Fighting Bob" LaFollette, had a socialist mayor of MIlwaukee for decades, and had the first eco-municipalities in the country. I learned long ago that the elected officials were more than willing to embrace new ideas if they were pitched in a way that appeared to ease red tape, reduce workloads, or result in better government. A former republican governor, Tommy "The Boy from Elroy" Thompson passed some sweeping legislation to tackle brownfields, fought for shool choice, and transformed the state's welfare system. He did some pretty lousy things too, but the point is that he stood for changing the status quo. That can be a good thing. If you are thinking about it, I would say you should at least apply. If you get that far, you can always decline.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I ended up not going for it. I did my pros and cons list, and they turned out to be equal in length and "weight". I'd prefer to be within 50 minutes of work, and with that job, you'd need to be alot closer.

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