Thursday, January 22, 2009

Milwaukee - Wrap Up

Milwaukee is full of clock towers. The Allen-Bradley Clock Tower, largest in the world, is just one of an entire skyline dotted with clock towers, fancy and plain, big and small. This is not the sort of place where you can lose track of time.Milwaukee is much more than its clock towers; the distinctive neighborhoods and local character of the city are incredibly charming.

Milwaukee is surrounded by the type of sprawl typical of most cities. Vast tracts of housing sliced up by collector roads and interspersed only by churches and schools. These post-war neighborhoods are bland and unusually devoid of clock towers. Milwaukee's pre-war developments are much more interesting. Our hosts in Milwaukee proudly informed us that no place in Milwaukee is more than a block away from a bar. They weren't overestimating in the least.I wasn't able to find any studies linking this sort of neighborhood to a reduction in drunk driving but if you can walk to several different bars within three minutes, you're left without any reasons to drink and drive. Drinking isn't the only use for these buildings, many have been repurposed creating de facto mixed used neighborhoods.Milwaukee was fortunate enough to have some visionary political leaders over the last 35 years. It was one of the first cities to reject additional freeway construction through their downtown area and perhaps the first to permanently remove an undamaged freeway. The demolition of the Park East Freeway opened up the heart of the city to the north side and greatly in the increased the vitality of the city.The north side is very nice in a small town sort of way, but the south side is very nice in a big city sort of way. Large elegant buildings line the streets of the Historic Third Ward just south of downtown. This upscale district of warehouses turned condos is really breathtaking.It has some obvious problems though. It's streets, designed for heavy horse and wagon traffic are incredibly wide. The city addressed the problem by turning the center of the street into parking lots.This is a remarkably good way to create an unpleasant place. It seems like the district planners decided that instead of optimizing the ward for it's residents, they would try to bring in "tourists" to public markets and upscale shops. It's a good way to convince retailers to pay higher rates, but it doesn't work so well to make a place that survives beyond its initial hype. The issue of too-wide streets is not easily dealt with in our current development scheme, I'll have more to say about that during the Denver/Boulder issue.

Unlike the north side, the south side is conveniently cut off from the city by an enormous interstate highway (I-794). It happens to be elevated, so if community planners ever had the drive, they could make an effort to reduce the disconnection by carefully designed spaces under the highway. Milwaukee is full of rivers that naturally dice up the city, they don't need any more mobility barriers than the ones that nature provides.

One thing that Milwaukee residents seem to understand is the critical importance of restorative spaces in human environments. Throughout the city, we came across the sort of bright colors the liven up the sometimes somber mood of Wisconsin winters.It's always nice to see some play areas that actually look fun. Playgrounds of metal sticks and plastic panels ordered out of a catalog are only good at regimenting children away from their creative and innovative minds.Milwaukee's school stock is among the best I've ever seen. Even in cases where they're forced to board up windows to reduce capital and utility costs, they find ways to brighten up the picture.And let's not forget the roof tops. This light-hearted scene lay up against a major thoroughfare. The only apparent purpose was to provide tired commuters with something pleasant to dwell on during their nerve wracking dashes to and from work.

Milwaukee is a place full of serious people who manage not to take themselves too seriously. My guess is that all of this has something to do with the concentration of so much beer in such a small city. I'll leave you with one final picture that I'll call "The Future is Now".

1 comment:

  1. NICE! I've never been to Milwaukee, but sure would like to now.