Will Milwaukee's Latest Construction Projects Enhance the City?

May 23, 2016

The downtown Milwaukee skyline is dotted with construction cranes. From Northwestern Mutual’s new complex at the eastern end of Wisconsin Avenue to the new Bucks arena getting ready to break ground, the city is buzzing with building activity. But how well do these projects enhance the city in which they’re built?

The new Bucks Arena has generated a lot of buzz, with the owners promising that the new center will help revitalize Milwaukee. But Tom Bamberger, who writes about urban design and architecture for Urban Milwaukee, did not mince words in his criticism of the new building. "It's a generic, money-making machine, that is almost beneath architectural comment," he says. 

Bamberger says beyond the wave structure, which he compares to an ill-fitting toupee, one of the most egregious problems is the plan to block off 4th Street. 

"If there's anything we've learned in the last 40 years of urban design is you don't close streets. Streets in the city are like veins in your body. They're good. You know, you want to be on the street, the street's a valuable thing, it brings life, it brings oxygen," he says. 

Other projects, like the complete redesign of the Grand Avenue Mall, have addressed the issue of inward facing structures by incorporating the street into their proposal. 

"Urban fabric is a gift, it's like being able to work with an unbelievably rich material that you can't buy anymore at the store," says Bamberger. "And so I think that that's the problem with the arena and that's I think the virtue of what Marquette is thinking about and people at the Grand Avenue Mall."