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People over parking: Reimagining Milwaukee's downtown to be more pedestrian-friendly

Gard Pecor, a senior market analyst at CoStar Group and a Milwaukee urbanist, created a map showing where dedicated parking/garages were located across the downtown area.
Gard Pecor
Gard Pecor
Gard Pecor, a senior market analyst at CoStar Group and a Milwaukee urbanist, created a map showing where dedicated parking and garages are located across the downtown area.

An enormous amount of the downtown Milwaukee area is dedicated to only parking. Back in April, Gard Pecor created a diagram comparing where standalone garage and parking lots were located versus park and plaza spaces. Pecor is a senior market analyst at Co Star Group.

His map spurred conversation questioning how Milwaukee’s downtown area could be reimagined to create more people-centered spaces, and how that could be translated across the city.

"We dedicate so much land and resources to our automobile infrastructure and to parking," Pecor explains.

Ultimately, he wants to see Milwaukee become a more walkable and more pedestrian-friendly city. But in order to do that, the city needs to see how much space is dedicated to cars and parking in the downtown area.

Pecor noticed the large parking structures in the Third Ward geared for major events like Summerfest, but during the week those parking lots aren't usually filled. And, many of these dedicated parking spaces are privately owned.

But Pecor sees garages owned by the city of Milwaukee or other local institutions as a pathway to create mixed use spaces for both parking and people.

"One thing that I think that the city and other municipalities have, that is a major benefit, is that we own a lot of these structures and they can really be a change leader," he says.

And with the gradual return to in-person work, more apartment developments are being built in the downtown area.

Pecor says, "We have very, very strong apartment demand downtown. The primary downtown census tract from about Wisconsin Avenue to the tip of Walker's Point that increased 70% over the past 10 years."

However, historically, urban development in the downtown area has come at a cost for Milwaukee's Black and brown communities — especially the construction of Milwaukee's freeways in the 1960s.

READ: The Construction Of Milwaukee's Freeways: An Asset For Some, Detrimental For Others

Large, luxury developments are more likely to be built while smaller apartments developments are having a harder time getting off the ground. And developers are not building in Milwaukee's neighborhoods on the north or northwest sides.

Pecor recommends the city lead the change to bring people-centered development to the north and northwest sides.

"When we talk about infrastructure improvements, doing streetscaping, improving the pedestrian environment, doing all that stuff downtown is great ... but we have to make those same developments on the northwest side as well," he says.

When thinking about transforming downtown to incorporate the needs of people first, Pecor emphasizes, "The city has a lot of opportunity to divest [from standalone parking structures]. Same to some of our institutions. And really looking at making these more equitable developments for all Milwaukeeans."

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
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