Speakers Tout Urban Planning

Rocky Marcoux, Commissioner of the Milwaukee Dept. of City Development, and Robert Greenstreet, Dean of the UWM School of Architecture and Urban Planning, spoke to about 100 audience members Thursday evening about future building developments in downtown Milwaukee and surrounding neighborhoods.

Both Marcoux and Greenstreet discussed the needs of certain businesses and building complexes in an urban community such as gas stations and parking garages. Marcoux said that well-designed work has the ability to better the look of an area as well as benefit the people living in that area.

“There’s no substitute for design. Because good design tends to bring, it’s uplifting, number one, and most importantly it’s functionally better,” Marcoux said.

The event was held by the Friends of the Golda Meir Library as apart of their 2011 Annual Program. The organization offers resources and services for the general public and academic community of UWM.

Marcoux and Greenstreet presented “Milwaukee and UWM Matters: Planning and Designing Our Way Out of the Recession,” during the event. The presentation emphasized the importance of community involvement, the ability to make an area more appealing, and expressed a positive outlook on the recession.

Images of the Lake Michigan horizon were displayed as Greenstreet talked about keeping his eye on the horizon during these tough couple of years in regards to the economy. He said that a recession is actually a good time to plan, using the Menomonee Valley as an example.

“The Menomonee Valley, it’s basically coming up with plans that fill it in properly that invisibly weave it back together again so that they become contributors to the city with places for people to work, places for people to play, places for people to live,” said Greenstreet.

The Menomonee Valley expands from the Miller Park stadium to the Menomonee and Milwaukee Rivers. According to Menomonee Valley Partners, Inc., Milwaukee was known as the ‘Machine Shop of the World’ in the early 1900’s and the Menomonee Valley was its engine. http://www.renewthevalley.org/history. But over the course of 100 years, post-industrialization left the Menomonee Valley disfigured with abandoned factories and destroyed land.

Today, the Menomonee Valley is nationally recognized for its environmental and economic maintenance.

Does design work?

Marcoux described the Park East as a ‘scar’ that divided the North side from the Central Business District. However, it has a plan. Currently, $500 million worth of development, that have occurred, have gone into the overall Park East area.

“These plans mean nothing unless they are actually activated by something. And generally, that something is leadership, at the political level, and money. And that money generally has to start with the city funding the plan,” Marcoux said.

May 19th is the 10-year anniversary of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Greenstreet describes the art museum as a means of raising the bar. Even with small projects such as gas stations, parking complexes and Walgreens stores, he says that everything is important.

“We try, where we can, to raise the bar. We don’t always do masterpieces. Frankly, if I can get a C- to a B-, I think that’s a real triumph,” said Greenstreet.

The crowd snickered as Greenstreet commented on the everyday issue of parking in downtown Milwaukee. He described parking lots as ‘big, dumb things’ that dominate cities. But even parking lots or complexes can be altered to make an area look more appealing.

“We try and include some kind of retail in the base or at least glass so, when you walk past those buildings at the street level, you can peer in and see some type of activity,” said Greenstreet.

Keeping the community in mind

During the presentation, both Greenstreet and Marcoux emphasized the importance of community involvement with these development plans. Greenstreet described the plans as people plans, rather than city plans.

“For a plan to work, it has to be a living document that is owned by people it affects,” said Greenstreet. He said that a plan is a means to an end and the end is the empowerment of the people in an area.

Many of the development plans that are completed, such as the formation of large business districts around the airport, parks developed at Norris, and veteran housing, were funded with money Marcoux and Greenstreet raised. Greenstreet said that these projects were not all tax payer money and that Marcoux and himself raised half of the total funding.

Both men have actively participated with certain areas in the community to find out what the people in those communities envision and want with these development plans. Greenstreet listed the types of groups and communities they have worked with.

  • Neighborhood groups
  • Community groups
  • Church groups
  • Campuses
  • Private individuals
  • Businesses

Marcoux said that, when redeveloping a problem area or an area that has experienced disinvestment, finding the best use for the land is crucial. And what can come out of it are well-designed living environments as well as job opportunities for a community.

“You have to have good housing and you have to have opportunities for people to be employed,” said Marcoux.

Bob Short is an architecture major at UWM. Short has lived in Milwaukee for six years and is currently in his second year of grad school. He said he had gone to other lectures that Greenstreet has given and that he agreed with many of the points made by the speakers.

“I’m impressed by the level of planning that they’re doing with planning for every single neighborhood in the city and coordinating those plans between neighborhoods,” Short said. Short said that Marcoux and Greenstreet have done a good job at considering the needs of the city while planning these developments.

“I think they’re doing a really good job at looking at the city comprehensively and having realistic goals,” said Short.