Milwaukee is less a cohesive city and more a collection of villages. The trendy shops and cafés on Brady Street sit a few miles south of Harambee (Swahili for "Let's all pull together"), an up-and-coming African American neighborhood, while the shopping malls in the northern suburb of River Hills seem a world away from the beer halls and polka palaces of the South Side.
This metro area of 1.5 million covers four counties in southeastern Wisconsin. The center of Milwaukee (population 602,000) hugs Lake Michigan about 80 miles north of Chicago. As the local economy has been forced to relinquish its reliance on manufacturing, most job growth now occurs in services and health care.
Thanks to its excellent public schools and unusually large number of higher educational institutions, Milwaukee enjoys a well-educated labor force. The largest schools are the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM, enrollment 25,000) and Marquette (11,000). The city also has a large and well-funded public library system.
Milwaukee County's Grand Necklace of Parks, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, has grown to encompass 15,000 acres, linked in a chain by the 108-mile Oak Leaf Trail.
The extensive local and regional transit systems offer connections to Chicago and Minneapolis. The 192 miles of Lake Michigan coastline provide oodles of recreation opportunities.
Milwaukee's German heritage helps explain its tradition of supporting classical music. A Beethoven Society was founded even before the city was incorporated, and the local symphony maintains an active schedule. The city has a large theater district and multiple museums, including a striking wing-shaped art museum designed by Santiago Calatrava and the Harley-Davidson Museum.
As that last attraction suggests, Milwaukee may be at its best when it ditches high culture. The MLB Brewers may have vacated County Stadium — one observer called it "an insane asylum with bases" — but the fun carries on at Miller Park. Other teams in town include the NBA Bucks, a hockey squad known as the Admirals, and several flavors of football including indoor, women's and Australian rules. Marquette and UWM both field competitive NCAA hoops teams.
Although the local economy no longer hinges on making beer — Miller seems to be the last large brewer standing — the area's love affair with suds continues to bubble along. The Beerline B neighborhood, once home to Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz breweries, is now an upscale condo district, but you can still grab a cold one at the Lakefront Brewery.
The concentration of physicians and specialists is high. Rates of obesity and hypertension are above average. The rate of violent crime is very high in Milwaukee, most of it confined to struggling neighborhoods.