Elements of Urbanism: Milwaukee

April 6, 2011 22 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville visits the downtown of an overlooked Midwestern city in the midst of an urban revival: Milwaukee.

Tale of the Tape

Milwaukee Population 2010: 594,833 (City); 1,555,908 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1846)

Jacksonville Pop. 2010: 821,784 (City); 1,328,144 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Milwaukee (637,392)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2009)

Milwaukee: +3.93%
Jacksonville: +18.29%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Milwaukee: 1,308,913 (ranked 39 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Milwaukee: 2,687.5
Jacksonville: 2,149.2

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2010

Milwaukee: -2,141
Jacksonville: +86,167

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Milwaukee: Frontier Airlines Center (1998) - 188,695 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to Convention Center:

Milwaukee: Hilton Milwaukee City Center - 478 rooms
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Milwaukee: US Bank Center - 601 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2010 (City limits only):

Milwaukee: Johnson Controls (83), Northwestern Mutual (115), Manpower (143), Harley-Davidson (430), Rockwell Automation (476), Wisconsin Energy (496)
Jacksonville: CSX (259), Winn-Dixie (306), Fidelity National Financial (366)


Urban infill obstacles:

Milwaukee: Interstate 794 (an elevated expressway) severs downtown in half.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Milwaukee: Water Street, The Third Ward
Jacksonville: East Bay Street


Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Milwaukee: 94 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

City Land Area

Milwaukee: 96.1 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

About Milwaukee:

Milwaukee (pronounced /mɪlˈwɔːkiː/); is the largest city in the U.S. state of Wisconsin, the 26th most populous city in the United States and 39th most populous region in the United States. It is the county seat of Milwaukee County and is located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. Its estimated 2009 population was 605,014. Milwaukee is the main cultural and economic center of the Milwaukee–Racine–Waukesha Metropolitan Area with a population of 1,739,497 as of 2007. Milwaukee is also the regional center of the seven county Greater Milwaukee Area, with an estimated population of 2,014,032 as of 2008.

The first Europeans to pass through the area were French missionaries and fur traders. In 1818, the French-Canadian explorer Solomon Juneau settled in the area, and in 1822 Juneau's town combined with two neighboring towns to incorporate as the City of Milwaukee. Large numbers of German and other immigrants helped increase the city's population during the 1840s and the following decades.

Once known almost exclusively as a brewing and manufacturing powerhouse, Milwaukee's image has changed with the decline of industry in the region. In the past decade, major new additions to the city include the Milwaukee Riverwalk, the Midwest Airlines Center, Miller Park, an internationally renowned addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, and Pier Wisconsin, as well as major renovations to the Milwaukee Auditorium. In addition, many new skyscrapers, condos, lofts and apartments have been constructed in neighborhoods on and near the lakefront and riverbanks.

Around Downtown Milwaukee

The Milwaukee River flows along a scenic route into the city and features a number of low level rapids, and several dams to portage. Access to the river is available at parks and dams along the river and in the city. Within Milwaukee city limits, the use of kayaks or canoes is possible from several access points.

Under Interstate 794

Milwaukee Wireless Initiative

Through its Milwaukee Wireless Initiative, the city has contracted with Midwest Fiber Networks to invest US$20 million in setting up a municipal wireless network city-wide. Under the plan, the city will designate numerous government and public service websites for free access, and city residents will be able to access unlimited content for a monthly fee. Full wireless coverage was expected by March 2008,[65] but delays have been reported.[66]

The city had previously established free wireless networks in two downtown city parks: Cathedral Square; and Pere Marquette Park.

Milwaukee County is known for its well-developed Parks of Milwaukee park system. The "Grand Necklace of Parks", designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York's Central Park, includes Lake Park, River Park (now Riverside Park), and West Park (now Washington Park). Milwaukee County Parks offer facilities for sunbathing, picnics, grilling, disc golf, and ice skating. Milwaukee has over 140 parks with over 15,000 acres of parks and parkways. Early commissioners conceived of a park system that would form a "green belt", a series of scenic drives and parks, which would encircle the county. Parks were located in outlying areas to allow for population expansion. Commissioners selected land not only for its natural beauty and interest, but also for its fitness for various forms of active and passive recreation.

Henry Maier Festival Park (Summerfest Grounds) The Henry Maier Festival Park was built on Milwaukee's former Maitland Air Field on Lake Michigan in the Milwaukee Harbor. The grounds were named after Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier, and host many festivals. Summerfest, best-known of the festivals, offers entertainment in late June and early July each year. This international festival features top and local musicians and performers from James Taylor to Metallica, and is one of the largest musical festivals in the world.[citation needed] Additional festivals held during the summer months celebrate Milwaukee's cultural diversity.

Milwaukee Art Museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum is perhaps Milwaukee's most visually prominent cultural attraction; especially its $100 million wing designed by Santiago Calatrava in his first American commission.[55] The museum includes a "brise soleil," a moving sunscreen that unfolds like the wing of a bird.

Miller Brewery

Milwaukee was once the home to four of the world's largest breweries, Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst and Miller.  Today, Miller remains a key employer by employing over 2,200 of the city's workers.

In 1855, German immigrant Fredrick Miller purchased the Plank Road Brewery. Surrounded by woods, the small brewing operation was no bigger than a Victorian house. Today, a replica of the Plank Road Brewery is just one of the historic highlights in Milwaukee’s Miller Valley—the home of the nation’s second largest brewer, Miller Brewing Company.

Walk outdoors and upstairs to Miller’s packaging-center balcony. A blur of cans roars along conveyor belts that wind through wet machinery, packing up to 200,000 cases of beer daily.

The next stop is Miller’s mammoth distribution center that covers the equivalent of five football fields. Typically, you can see half a million cases of beer.

In the brew house, Miller makes its beer, up to 8.5 million barrels annually in Milwaukee alone. Climb 56 stairs to look down on a row of towering, shiny brew kettles where “wort,” a grain extract, is boiled and combined with hops. Stroll through Miller’s historic Caves, a restored portion of the original brewery where beer was stored before the invention of mechanical refrigeration.

Finish your tour at the Bavarian-style Miller Inn and sample a Miller beer or soft drink. Be sure also to take a few minutes to inspect the impressive collection of antique steins. In the summer, you can enjoy your beverage in an adjoining beer garden enlivened by music.

Packed with Lake Michigan ice in the winter, the historic caves were used to keep beer cool in the summer months.

The Third Ward

Once home to Irish, and then, Italian immigrants, the Historic Third Ward, located just south of downtown, is now an upper-class neighborhood. The Third Ward is noted for a large number of condominiums and loft apartments, antique stores, boutiques and art galleries. Access to Milwaukee's Meir Festival Grounds, best known for Summerfest, can be obtained from through this neighborhood. It is home to the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, ComedySportz, and it is also a center of Milwaukee's gay and lesbian community. Located just west of this now trendy neighborhood of nightclubs and outdoor "River Walk" restaurants, is Milwaukee's main transportation hub and the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, which services Amtrak, Greyhound Bus Lines, and Badger Bus (Madison, WI).

Milwaukee Intermodal Station

Milwaukee Intermodal Station is a train and bus station in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin served by Amtrak and several intercity motorcoach operators, including Coach USA, Greyhound Lines, Jefferson Lines, Indian Trails, and Lamers. Megabus stops on Fifth Street near the station. Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) bus route #57 serves the station directly, and several other local bus routes operate on nearby streets. The city's other Amtrak station, Milwaukee Airport Railroad Station is near the western edge of General Mitchell International Airport on the south side of the city.

The Milwaukee Union Station was dedicated on August 3, 1965 by the Milwaukee Road to replace their previous Everett Street Depot. The Chicago and North Western Railroad closed their Milwaukee lakefront depot and moved their passenger operations to the new Milwaukee Road depot in 1966. The depot was built on West St. Paul Avenue in a modernistic style that proved unpopular quickly after it was erected.

In November 2007 the facility was re-named the Milwaukee Intermodal Station following a $16.9 million dollar renovation of the main building to expand the waiting area with a glass atrium and improved space for Amtrak ticketing, as well as motorcoach (bus) passenger facilities, restaurant, and retail space. As of March 2007, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation was studying possible renovations of the train shed and platform.

Canadian Pacific Railway, which purchased the assets of the Milwaukee Road in 1985, owns the trackage within the train shed. The CP Rail C&M Subdivision runs on two mains through the station, as well as 4 depot spurs which are used to store private railcars and Amtrak Hiawatha trains overnight so they are clear of the main tracks.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation owns the station and platforms. The DOT's Statewide Traffic Operations Center is on the 3rd floor of the station.

There is a 300-space parking lot just west of the station. As of February 2010, parking at the station was priced at $5.00 per day. The station has a restaurant and a large vending area.

Milwaukee is served by Amtrak's daily Empire Builder and frequent Hiawatha Service. Of the eight Wisconsin stations served by Amtrak, Milwaukee was the busiest in FY10, boarding or detraining an average of about 1,610 passengers daily.

The Milwaukee Public Market

Milwaukee Public Market, located in the Third Ward neighborhood, is an indoor market that sells produce, seafood, meats, cheeses, vegetables, candies, and flowers from local businesses.

Park Freeway

The Park Freeway was a freeway planned and partially constructed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. It is notable for the freeway removal policy that demolished Park East Freeway, the only section to be completed.

The planned eastern terminus of the Park Freeway in downtown Milwaukee was near Prospect Avenue and Ogden Avenue. At that point, the freeway was to turn southward as the Lake Freeway. The Park East Freeway, as built, extended from Jefferson Street westward to Interstate 43, carrying Highway 145.

From I-43, the Park West Freeway was to continue northwesterly to just north of North Avenue. From there, it would continue westward to its intersection with the Stadium Freeway.

The right of way for the entire Park Freeway was purchased and cleared. However, only a small portion was ever built - between North 12th Street and North Jefferson Street. Because of opposition of the freeway by community leaders, the remainder of the freeway was never built, and the right of way lay vacant for years. Much of the land has been redeveloped.

The only built portion was demolished beginning in 2002, most of which was replaced by an improved at-grade West McKinley Avenue and East Knapp Street and a new drawbridge over the Milwaukee River. The right of way of the former freeway remains mostly vacant as of 2011.

Community leaders and some local politicians claimed that the people of Milwaukee did not support the Park West and that it was built to serve only suburbanites even though The Park West Freeway was supported by a majority of the Milwaukee County electorate in a November 1974 referendum. In fact, all 5 contested freeway routes in Milwaukee County were supported by a majority of the County electorate.

Like Jacksonville, Milwaukee is an overlooked midsized metropolitan city that sits in the shadows of much larger cosmopolitan cities.  However, many of the issues and topics being discussed, concerning the future of urban Jacksonville, have also taken place in Milwaukee.  As we move forward we should look to cities like Milwaukee when attempting to figure out how to encourage small business development, attract infill, promote historic preservation, design interactive urban parkspaces, and build intermodal transportation centers.

Photos by Daniel Herbin