Milwaukee is changing. This city has long been regarded as one of the Midwest’s best kept secrets with its authentic, genuine culture and, at its core, its beautiful geography of natural amenities. To us, the next 25 years for Milwaukee look hopeful for even more progress if focus is placed on these main goals: accessibility, connectivity, sustainability, activation and attraction.
One of the city’s greatest legacies are the public accessibility policies implemented along our lakefront. However, unlike many other cities on water (like Seattle, Boston, Chicago, etc.) that provide year-round activation/destination with a variety of economic offerings open to all, our lakefront is very one-dimensional and recreationally seasonal with our only active built places requiring admission (Summerfest and the museums).
While we advocate for the preservation of the mostly passive parkland on our lakefront, our big hairy audacious idea is to convert/reclaim the Henry Maier Festival Park grounds (currently only utilized a fraction of the year and a dead-zone for the rest) into a new, active mixed-use live/work/play neighborhood. This would be accomplished by providing unrestricted water access to the public via boardwalks and piers, denser residential developments offering a range of dwelling options for people of all economic means, hotels, destinational retail and restaurants that cater to all pay scales, and civic structures and attractions that can continue to host the festivals that we all love. The combination of festivals occurring within a neighborhood that can generate excitement and activity year-round will transform our lakefront into a new, engaging heart of our city while connecting local commerce, recreation and tourism.
This new neighborhood would showcase innovative and sustainable architecture, continue the city grid with pedestrian friendly streetscapes, weave in a network of green pocket parks and pavilions, as well as connections for mass transit that ensure Milwaukeeans from all of our diverse neighborhoods can easily access this area and the lakefront. If done right, this could become a regional example of conscientious coastal waterway development. Again, to be clear, this is not a proposal that Summerfest and subsequent annual festivals should cease to occur, rather creatively develop the festival grounds to support more than an annual event that requires an admission fee.
The lakefront is our greatest natural asset, and the goal for Milwaukee’s next 25 years should be to create a city of year-round destinational amenities along our natural waterways while focusing on accessible connections to those gathering spaces all while attracting, retaining and supporting future generations.
This column is part of “25 big ideas for Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin’s future,” a feature included in the BizTimes Milwaukee 25th anniversary issue. To read other contributions, visit biztimes.com/bigideas