Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Biophilic Cities Member since October 19, 2013

Moving beyond the legacy of industrial manufacturing and its associated contaminated by-products, Milwaukee is now taking advantage of its location at the intersection of three rivers and Lake Michigan, positioning itself as the Freshwater Research Capital of the world.  Milwaukee has made considerable strides in urban sustainability, which is now a priority issue for the current mayor, Tom Barrett. With a its Sustainability Plain, ReFresh MKE, working to actualize sustainability initiatives that prioritize people, planet, and profit, and plenty of non-profit organizations pushing green initiatives forward, Milwaukee is becoming greener, bluer, and more accessible for those who live there. Through the plan, key areas in Milwaukee, such as the Inner harbor, are being revitalized with  biophilic principles in mind. In addition, Milwaukee is already quite well known for its innovative work in urban agriculture and community food production. Finally, other initiatives, such as Alice’s Garden, Urban Ecology Centers, Center for Resilient Cities, and Home Grown Milwaukee, are implementing a variety of strategies to bring Milwaukee citizens closer to the nature within the city.





  • “ReFresh Milwaukee is our roadmap on how to more better, but with less. I hope it’s also a spark for community dialogue that leads to practical improvements in all of our neighborhoods.” -Tom Barrett, mayor
  • Sustainability Plan, named ReFresh MKE, is the beginning for making dynamic improvements to the city. The plan hopes to act as a roadmap for purposeful environmental and economic action that will result in collective benefits within Milwaukee.
    • The Milwaukee Inner Harbor redevelopment project is a public-private effort to revitalize Milwaukee’s historic City gateway by meeting stringent environmental goals that spur private investment and economic development. The area has the potential to become a vibrant urban district with employment centers and a restored neighborhood fabric built along a working, modern, and progressively operational waterfront.
  • Harbor District Initiative: The long-term goal of Harbor District, Inc. is to achieve a world-class revitalization of Milwaukee’s harbor that sets the standard for how waterfronts work—environmentally, economically, and socially—for the next century. At the confluence of Milwaukee’s three rivers, the Harbor District is the place where our city’s past meets its future. Historic neighborhoods and century-old rail bridges meet high-tech manufacturing and world class freshwater research. Our last remaining wetland meets our newest fish ladder. Old school corner bars meet trendy restaurants.
  • The Urban Ecology Center fosters ecological understanding as inspiration for change, neighborhood by neighborhood. The ecology centers have partnered with 55 urban schools, each of which sends students there at least 24 times a year. The three centers now serve about 51,000 kids annually on a budget of $3.7 million. This is not classroom time. The students are outside during each session, doing what looks for all the world like field science. Their Urban Ecology Community Centers:
    • provide outdoor science education for urban youth
    • protect and use public natural areas, making them safe, accessible and vibrant
    • preserve and enhance these natural areas and their surrounding waters
    • promote community by offering resources that support learning, volunteerism, stewardship, recreation and camaraderie
    • practice and model environmentally responsible behaviors
  • The Center for Resilient Cities aims to cultivate robust and thriving communities that are healthy, just, economically viable and environmentally sound. Center for Resilient Cities was launched in 1996 as the Urban Open Space Foundation, utilizing a land trust model to revitalize and protect sustainable urban open spaces for community use. Since then, Center for Resilient Cities has served as a critical catalyst for a number of highly successful, sustainable neighborhood development projects that integrate a multitude of community systems. Center for Resilient Cities is committed to resilience development envisioned and driven by the communities themselves.
  • Milwaukee County Parks Strategic Plan lays out a vision to inspire passion for parks as a part of people’s lives, encouraging participation, learning, and stewardship.
  • Alice’s Garden is a two-acre, urban, community garden in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, nurturing families and organizations to reclaim and nourish cultural and family traditions connected to land and food.
  • Home Grown Milwaukee is an initiative of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, led by the City’s Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO). They aim to transform targeted neighborhoods by concentrating City and partner resources, catalyzing new, healthy food access and greenspace developments to promote economic development. They also hope to make it easier to access local food and re-purpose city-owned vacant lots. Finally, they work within Milwaukee’s community food system to link local growers to local markets, increase urban food infrastructure (water, access, compost), and support new urban farms and healthy food retailers and wholesalers.

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