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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Will Milwaukee adopt a climate and equity plan?

The proposed climate and equity plan includes increasing Milwaukee's urban canopy.
City of Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration Office
The proposed climate and equity plan includes increasing Milwaukee's urban canopy.

In what advocates are calling a historic moment, the City of Milwaukee could be on the verge of adopting a climate and equity plan.

It would fold greenhouse gas emission reduction and environmental and climate justice strategies into the City’s comprehensive plan.

Citizens, advocacy groups, along with city and county officials have been working on the plan for years. Their recommendations were distilled into “10 Big Ideas for Action.”

On Wednesday, residents will have a chance to weigh in before the plan goes to the full council for approval. The proposed city climate and equity plan includes bold measures. The city would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% in seven years, and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Shalina Ali, Ted Kraig, and Rep. Supreme Moore Omokunde speak more with WUWM's Susan Bence.

People’s ability to walk or bike their neighborhood safely would be a planning priority. One provision would create a green jobs accelerator, focusing on providing training and jobs for low-income workers and underserved communities.

Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic describes the prospect of passing the climate and equity plan the greatest moment in her nearly 20 years in public office.

“We’re ready to take action now. It is fulfilling,” Dimitrijevic says.

Dimitrijevic was a Milwaukee County supervisor in 2019 when the City-County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity came to life.

“One thing that might be different from my early years with the county and now is I now have young kids. I have a 4 and 7-year-old, and I always think every single day and sometimes at night time, what kind of air, water and land are we leaving behind not just my children, but all children,” Dimitrijevic says.

Dimitrijevic chairs the city’s Finance & Personnel Committee, which will consider the climate and equity plan Wednesday morning.

“At 9 am starts the public testimony. You can come be in person. You can testify virtually — that one — you would register for,” Dimitrijevic says.

Dimitrijevic says in the meantime she’s been meeting with fellow alderpersons, “We’re really trying to get to a unanimous support,” she says.

Erik Shambarger can’t count how many task force and work group meetings he attended. But they paid off. The plan attempts to look every facet of city planning through a climate and racial equity lens.

Shambarger heads the city’s Environmental Collaboration Office.

“One of the reasons we’re excited to get this done now, we all know we have a tough fiscal situation at the city, but this plan aligns perfectly with the federal investments in climate and energy,” Shambarger says. “We want to be aggressive in going after those dollars to improve our community.”

Milwaukee Democratic state Rep. Supreme Moore Omokunde helped get the climate and equity task force ball rolling when he was a county supervisor.

He's excited about the plan's strategies to improve the energy efficiency of Milwaukee's existing homes and to make them lead-safe and healthier.

At the same time, Moore Omokunde wants to make sure longtime residents aren't pushed out of their homes, as neighborhoods currently surrounded by pavement give way to more trees and greenspace.

"Yes, I mean, that's always a concern. And so we have to be very concerned that people who currently live here will be able to stay where they've been for generations and raised families as well," Moore Omokunde says.

Ted Kraig served on the task force and chaired its transportation committee. He believes the road ahead — from plan to implementation — will not be without obstacles. He says public transit is especially important to African American residents who are three to four times more likely to depend on it to get to work.

"But all of this is going to be hard because there's just a certain amount of ways people have been doing things. For a long time — the planners of our transportation systems — the goal has been to move cars as fast as possible between point A to point B. And that doesn't necessarily fit having a livable, safe neighborhood with clean air and opportunity for people to get to the jobs and services they need," Kraig says.

Kraig sees inertia as one big obstacle, “And money, despite a lot of federal money, is going to continue to be an issue. I think we’re going to have to make some tough choices to get some local revenue to make things happen.”

Milwaukee native Shalina Ali is an artist and educator.

Ali hosted a sign making gathering in advance of Wednesday’s Finance and Personnel Committee’s deliberation of the climate and equity plan.

Community members created signs in support of climate and equity plan.
Shalina Ali
Community members created signs in support of climate and equity plan.

She’s a member of a growing coalition of citizens called Our Future Milwaukee.

"Art being a way to send a message, to simplify things down to the heart, which is at the center of what we're asking for," Ali says.

Ali says it’s critical that the plan’s green jobs accelerator idea becomes a reality, starting with grooming people of color for those family-supporting jobs.

“Localized education preparing young people for a workforce; giving them a fair chance as having livable wages so they can raise their families and give them the resources that we all deserve,” Ali says. “We’re not even talking about ridiculous abundance; we’re talking about the quality of life,” Ali says.

Ali says it’s also about building inclusive generational stewardship.

“It’s taken generations for to get to this problem and it’s not just the climate itself it’s also the way people have been pushed out of participating in the wellbeing of our earth,” Ali says.


Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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