City to breathe new life into dilapidated playgrounds

A dozen Milwaukee playgrounds in need of serious restoration will undergo major facelifts over the next three years under a new program dubbed “MKE Plays.”

The program, announced at a press conference on Wednesday, was conceived by Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy, who hopes that the redevelopment of city playgrounds will act as a “building block” for further neighborhood revitalization work.

Murphy, himself, spent many summers during childhood romping around on Milwaukee playgrounds. He wants kids living in Milwaukee today to have the same opportunity for outdoor fun.

The city must also recognize “that we have a crisis” with obesity and diabetes rates, Murphy said, adding that rejuvenating playgrounds will be one way to draw more kids and families outside for exercise.

Murphy charged the Department of Public Works with assessing all 64 playgrounds owned by the city and identifying the 12 parks in greatest need of repairs. Those assessments took into consideration factors such as condition of playground equipment, landscaping, surfaces, asphalt, infrastructure and past renovation work.

Selected sites reside at: 67th and Spokane, Long Island and Custer, 21st and Keefe, 5th and Randolph, Snails Crossing Park, Buffum and Center, DeBack Park, 17th and Vine, Foundation Park, 34th and Mount Vernon, Arlington Heights Park, and Trowbridge Square.

The first restoration efforts of the program, which was approved by the Common Council in March, will zero in on Arlington Heights Park.

To support the transformations, Murphy, the program’s principal architect, is working to raise $1 million from private supporters, including banks and foundations.

“We have an obligation to take care of our own, and at the same time there’s limited financial resources in what the city can do,” said Murphy, who aims to empower and improve the city by uniting public and private partners.

MKE Plays is already being backed by a $500,000 commitment from the City of Milwaukee, a $300,000 donation from the Zilber Family Foundation, and another $25,000 grant from the Fund for Lake Michigan.

The actual redesigns of the parks will be fleshed out with community input and Milwaukee residents will have a chance to review the conceptual designs of vendors bidding for the park projects.

Murphy envisions organizing public meetings where residents will be able to add their voice to the redesign dialogue.  

“We look to the citizens to give us input into the process, which is a different scenario than what we’ve had in the past,” Murphy said.

For more information on MKE Plays, visit

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