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What Do Residents Want For Milwaukee's Harbor District?

How can Milwaukee make the most of its harbor district?
Harbor District, Inc
A glimpse of Milwaukee's harbor today.

Planners believe the Milwaukee Harbor District's 1,000 watery acres are oozing with potential. Its revitalization tops the city’s sustainability plan.

An organization called Harbor District, Inc was created to encourage the input of “big idea” types who articulate blending everything from environmental cleanup with economic development.

Now two consulting  teams are helping to come closer to a plan – one looking at the 1,000 watery acres through a stormwater management and restoration lens, the other looking at land use and the best spots for industrial, commercial or residential development.

This week the community had a chance to share their thoughts at input sessions. A total of 150 people attended. Thursday evening they gathered at UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences.

Positioned at the eastern most end of Greenfield Avenue, the research institution has come to symbolize the harbor’s potential. A $5 million infusion created new labs and meeting spaces. The place gleams.

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
Civil engineer Emily Yoss (right) hopes to enjoy green space and bike trails in the harbor.

Emily Yoss gazes south at a vacant parcel of land.  Not long ago it was piled high with coal.

Yoss is eager to see bike trails and other recreational opportunities. She is a civil engineer and lives right outside the harbor district.

“I would love to see a space where I can come and enjoy the green space and all of the revitalization of the community. I also work in the Third Ward, so it would be really great at lunch or after work to be able to come here and relax and maybe take a nice stroll or a bike through the park,” Yoss  says.

She thinks Milwaukee could follow the lead of other harbor cities around the world.

“It starts with the harbor and it works its way out and it revitalizes cities. Start small and it just keeps building out, it brings people in. They want to invest and they want to live down here and then they want to work down here.” Yoss added, “It’s a really great investment in the community, going forward and into the future.”

Jim Stratti thinks planners should think outside the box. He’s envisions a hostel in the harbor district. “Built in the Dutch manner of using a whole bunch of shipping crates. Surrounding the hostel with outdoor ping pong tables and pickle ball courts,” Stratti says.

He thinks it would draw international travelers.

“It doesn’t pay. I don’t think anyone makes money running a hostel. That’s the downside.” Stratti added, “On the other hand, it could really make the place more vibrant.”

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
Valeria Cerda (left) says she'll share what she saw with her community, "So they know what's going on because it will affect them."

Valeria Cerda didn’t have hostels or bike paths on her mind.

She’s visiting the School of Freshwater Sciences for the first time. Though she grew up and now works as a neighborhood organizer on the city’s south side, Cerda says she hadn’t been in the harbor for years.

Cerda is looking for economic opportunity, jobs training and jobs that pay well.

“What ends up happening is things like this get created, and then, for example, my family members if they work in beautiful buildings like this, they’re kitchen staff and they get paid minimum wage. So, you do have big beautiful buildings, but what’s our place in them.” She adds, “It ‘s a difficult subject because, these are beautiful things that we deserve but there also needs to be negotiations with communities that have been here for years and years and years.”

Organizers says they’re eager to hear what hear what everybody in the community cares and is concerned about.

Early this summer the public will be invited to comments on a draft harbor plan. Early next fall, the finished product is expected to be adopted by Milwaukee’s common council.

Credit Harbor District, Inc.
UWM's School of Freshwater Sciences on East Greenfield Avenue.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.