Aerial image of Milwaukee skyline on a blue sky day with Discovery World and Lakeshore State Park in the foreground.
Milwaukee Skyline: The Nature Conservancy has launched a year-long planning process to explore conservation opportunities in the Greater Milwaukee region where we could make a difference. © iStock.com/DaveI5957

Stories in Wisconsin

Building Healthy Cities: Our Work in Milwaukee

You may know that Milwaukee is home to Harley-Davidson, the Milwaukee Art Museum and Summerfest. But, did you also know the city is nationally recognized for its innovative use of nature to help manage storm water?

Milwaukee’s innovative use of nature to help solve environmental challenges will only become more important as our climate continues to change.

How Nature Can Help Build Healthy Cities

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; they, and the people that bring them to life, can be the solution to many of the environmental challenges we face.

Man on a tandem bike with child in the back and woman with a second child walk along a trail bordered by planted pink flower
Urban Life Cities, and the people that bring them to life, can be the solution to many of the environmental challenges we face. © Jim Schumaker

Nature can also help cities adapt to the impacts of climate change and enhance community resilience. We call these kinds of projects nature-based solutions (NBS). They include, but are not limited to:

  • protecting and restoring wetlands, forests and other natural systems
  • restoring natural processes like groundwater infiltration and healthy soils on agricultural lands
  • creating new green or natural infrastructure for storm water management

Three Areas Where We Can Add Value

In Wisconsin, we launched a year-long planning process in September 2018 to explore conservation opportunities in the Greater Milwaukee region where we could make a difference. We especially focused on underserved communities, which face the greatest threats from degraded or depleted natural resources and stand to benefit the most from land and water conservation.

Three teenage students at a table share with one female visitor a photo on a computer screen of a student outdoors in the wo
Escuela Verde One of our Milwaukee partners is Escuela Verde, a public charter school. Here students are shown sharing native prairie seeds they collected at our Pickerel Lake Fen Preserve with their communities during their Día de los Muertos celebration. © Gary Porter

Our first step was to reach out to organizations, people and agencies who are doing amazing work in the region and learn what they are doing and explore opportunities for collaboration.

Through that process, we identified our goal and three areas where we could help address critical conservation challenges in underserved communities by building partnerships to amplify and complement the work of others:

Program Goal: To help create a more resilient and equitable Milwaukee by collaborating with other organizations to scale up the implementation of nature-based solutions (NBS) while improving the natural environment and city residents’ health and well-being.

Water Quality and Flooding: Work with Milwaukee region municipalities and stakeholders to advance the use of green infrastructure—such as wetlands, trees and rain gardens—to help with urban water management issues.

Habitat Quality: Support community-led efforts to improve the quality of green space adjacent to waterways through strategic native plantings and reducing impermeable surfaces.

Climate Resilience: Help build greater awareness of the role NBS can play in addressing climate impacts, especially flooding. Work collaboratively to develop innovative, non-traditional funding sources to implement NBS that increase flood storage capacity in one or more communities disproportionately impacted by climate change.

Students plant trees with the Urban Ecology Center in Washington Park.
Milwaukee Tree Planting Students plant trees with the Urban Ecology Center in Washington Park. © Jajuan Lyons/TNC

Collaborating with Others

We are already collaborating with a few organizations to bring the benefits of nature to more people in Milwaukee:

  • We’ve partnered with Milwaukee County Parks, La Causa and others to engage youth from diverse backgrounds in conservation through our paid internship program.
  • In 2018, we partnered with the Urban Ecology Center and Milwaukee County Parks to plant 1,000 trees in Washington and Brown Deer Parks and train staff to monitor tree health and share tree care basics with volunteers.
  • In 2019, we are partnering with Escuela Verde, a public charter school, to help students plant a pollinator garden, learn about land stewardship and share their knowledge with their communities.

A Greener Future

We’re excited about the opportunity to work with others in the Greater Milwaukee area to use nature-based solutions to solve the most fundamental human well-being problems. By listening, learning and collaborating with others, we have an opportunity to more equitably improve the lives of thousands of people while enhancing the city’s natural environment.

We are reaching out now to engage visionary philanthropists in helping us achieve the greener future we believe in. Private support will be integral to testing new ideas, forging new partnerships and expanding the scope of what nature can do in and for Milwaukee.

If you have questions or would like to discuss our work in Milwaukee, please contact Sarah Gatzke, Director of Water Conservation at sarah.gatzke@tnc.org.