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Growing MKE initiative seeks zoning changes to make Milwaukee more walkable, increase housing

Milwaukee skyline and the apartment buidlings
Henryk Sadura
Adobe Stock
A view of the Milwaukee skyline.

Zoning and land use regulation can be a dense topic, but what our city looks and feels like is heavily influenced by zoning. As part of the City of Milwaukee's long-term plans, the Milwaukee Department of City Development’s Growing MKE initiative is recommending changes to the city’s zoning process to encourage gradually building more housing and make the city more walkable.

For Sam Leichtling, the city planning manager for Milwaukee’s Department of City Development, the initiative is forward thinking.

"Zoning serves as the rules for what can get built on a given property. It regulates things like how tall a building can be, how close to the street it has to be and what kind of uses can happen there," explains Leichtling. "In some jurisdictions, zoning has occasionally been used to exclude people, and that started a national discussion around what zoning should look like in the future, especially as we want to ensure that our zoning codes align with our goals for housing growth, housing choice, housing development and housing affordability."

The initiative focuses on preparing for population growth. Oftentimes as cities experience a sudden increase of population, the amount of housing isn't sufficient for both the new and existing residents. The Growing MKE initiative strives to prepare the city for the population growth that are consistent with Mayor Cavalier Johnson's growth ambitions.

The proposed zoning changes would not result in drastic changes in the city's neighborhood structure. Instead, there would be minor adjustments that would allow existing residential neighborhoods more flexibility to increase their residential capacity. By 2050, the city wants every resident to have multiple, quality options in housing. The initiative also strives to ensure that people have walkable access to their essential needs and can utilize the transit system.

Leichtling continues, "We want feedback from all Milwaukee residents with their input on this project. So we'd love it for anyone who is interested to go check out the website at engage.milwaukee.gov/growingMKE."

The Growing MKE recommended changes are expected to go before the Milwaukee Common Council in 2024.

Sam is a WUWM production assistant for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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