Building Healthy Cities: Our Work in Milwaukee
You may know that Milwaukee is home to Miller Park, Harley-Davidson, the Milwaukee Art Museum and Summerfest! But did you also know that, in 2018, the city was ranked 17th out of the top 100 largest cities in the U.S. for access to open and park space? Milwaukee is also nationally recognized for the innovative use of green infrastructure solutions—using nature to help solve urban challenges like managing storm water.
Cities are home to more than 62 percent of the U.S. population and, by 2050, two of every three people on Earth will live in a city. To protect nature, cities can no longer be an after-thought, because what happens in cities and the decisions made there impact both people and nature. The Nature Conservancy has established a global cities program and a network of 23 cities in the U.S. with the goal of changing the relationship between cities and nature.
In Wisconsin, we have launched a year-long planning process to explore conservation opportunities in the Greater Milwaukee region where we could make a difference. There are many agencies and organizations already doing great work in the region, and one of our first steps is to reach out, learn what they are doing and explore opportunities for collaboration.
Meet Our Cities Conservation Fellow
Lainet Garcia Rivera, our Cities Conservation Fellow, is leading that process. A native of Cuba, Lainet earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and master’s degree in zoology and ecology from the University of Havana. She worked at the Ecology and Systematics Institute in Cuba conducting research in bat ecology and teaching conservation biology courses. In 2010, she moved to the United States and spent six years at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee where she taught urban ecology and partnered with organizations to educate teachers and youth about nature-based solutions aimed at improving water quality and increasing biodiversity in cities.
I have personally seen the positive changes that occurred when a green space was created...
“I’m excited about collaborating with organizations and communities to identify conservation opportunities in the Milwaukee region,” says Lainet. “I have personally seen the positive changes that occurred when a green space was created on the south side of Milwaukee. Nearby neighborhoods became more vibrant, children and families went hiking and biking along the trails, and grandparents took their grandkids fishing on the Menomonee River.”
We are already collaborating with a few organizations to bring the benefits of nature to more people in Milwaukee:
High School Intern Program Builds Skills
Almost 20 years ago, we launched a program in our Mukwonago River watershed project area southwest of Milwaukee to hire local high school students as paid interns as part of our effort to train and empower the next generation of conservation leaders. In 2017, we expanded the program to include graduates of La Causa, a middle school on Milwaukee’s south side, and Milwaukee County Parks to engage youth from diverse backgrounds in conservation. The interns split their time between Milwaukee County Park lands and our Mukwonago area nature preserves mapping and controlling invasive species, creating and maintaining boardwalks and other facilities, and learning about native species and habitats, land management and other natural resources issues.
Healthy Trees, Healthy Milwaukee
We helped Milwaukee County Parks and the Urban Ecology Center plant over 1,000 trees in Brown Deer and Washington parks, doubling the number of trees Milwaukee County Parks was able to plant this year. Trees are not only beautiful, they clean our air and water and provide shade on hot days. The new trees will fill in forest canopy gaps and replace some that were killed by emerald ash borers. We also partnered with Milwaukee County Parks and the Urban Ecology Center to train staff to monitor tree health and share tree care basics with volunteers.
ESCUELA VERDE STUDENTS BUILD GARDEN AND CONNECTIONS
This year, we are partnering with Escuela Verde (EV), a public charter school in a former industrial area surrounded by majority Hispanic neighborhoods with one of the lowest rates of public green space and park access in Milwaukee. EV high school students will learn about land stewardship through visits to our Mukwonago area nature preserves and gain the skills to spread their knowledge to their community. Students will use native seeds they collect at our preserves to create a school pollinator garden and distribute seed packages and educational materials at a community event in the fall. EV staff and youth are deeply rooted in local neighborhoods, so this is an ideal pilot project for TNC as we seek to strengthen relationships and find our best role in Milwaukee.
If you have questions or would like to discuss our planning process in Milwaukee, please contact Lainet Garcia Rivera at firstname.lastname@example.org.