Milwaukee Development: the Growing Trend Keeps Growing

By: Ryan Sellers

Many of us will remember that gleaming train of Development, that departed the cities of North America in the 1980s, heading for points north, east, south, and west, and depositing, at regular intervals along the way, a series of shiny and self-contained suburban centers. These new suburban villages certainly made suburban life richer: the suburbs were now neighborhoods, with town centers, shops, and amenities. With so many of their needs being met in these, their new suburban homes, many people thought little of the downtowns and city-centers, except as places to which some of them still had to commute to work.

However, as your grade 10 science teacher may have told you, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, (or, if you prefer the modern day pop-philosophy perspective, "what goes around, comes around"). Times changed, people started cycling to work, and recycling at home; folks became interested in the environment, and in their communities. Eventually, people began to turn their attention toward the now forgotten downtowns of America. They saw beautiful old buildings, factories, and warehouses that stood empty, neighborhoods with character, and a natural variety of amenities. America's downtowns began to make a comeback.

According to the University of Pennsylvania, urban populations grew by 14% in the 1990s. During the first stage of what became a sweeping 'downtown revitalization' trend, many developers focused on cities and areas that were known more for industry than for residential potential. Examples include New York's now famous Meatpacking District, as well as cities like St. Louis and Milwaukee. During the 1990s, employment in Milwaukee's downtown grew at a rate of 11,000 jobs per year (according to Expansion Management magazine, Wisconsin is a great place to expand or relocate a business).

Milwaukee is a great example of a city reinvented. The famous brewing town saw its climax as an industrial city in the early 1970s; by the 1980s many of its great breweries were gone, and the exodus to the suburbs significantly diminished the city's population. However, in addition to its many heritage buildings, and funky neighborhoods like Bay View, Brady Street, and East Side, Milwaukee has both riverfront and lake front parks and properties. Some of the more prominent revitalization projects in this hip lakeside city include the Milwaukee Art Museum, Discovery World, and the amazing Milwaukee Riverwalk, a popular promenade on the Milwaukee River, complete with water taxis, cafes, brew pubs, and the RiverSplash Festival.

Whether you live in a loft, a condo, or house on the lake, downtown living offers more than just a quick commute to work. Today's downtowns are pedestrian-friendly, and offer lots of cool, quirky shops, cafes, and services all in a small walkable area. Downtowns satisfy the nostalgic impulse - the yearning for the 'good old days' - with small shops, winding streets, and beautifully restored heritage buildings. Many downtown revitalization projects include extensive walking and biking paths, and it is often possible to find everything you need in a small, walkable - or bike-able - area.

It is not only the character and appearance of America's downtowns that have been reinvented through the various creative revitalization projects; the quality of downtown living has been wonderfully reinvented through these efforts, and that is the real triumph of downtown revitalization.

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