03 November 2009

East Side Comprehensive Plan

Northeast Side Plan Adopted

A new land use plan for Milwaukee’s northeast side was adopted in September by the Common Council.  The 300-page plan includes detailed recommendations for seven sub-areas: Riverworks, Riverwest, Harambee, Milwaukee River, Upper East Side, Lower East Side, and the Lakefront. The planning effort was organized by the Department of City Development and directed by a contract management team and plan advisory group composed of property owners, citizens, business owners, and organizations from throughout the northeast side. The full plan is available at:

Planning work continues to update the 1999 downtown land use plan and create new land use plans for the west side, southwest side, and near north side

- From City of Milwaukee Press Release, DCD Commisioner Rocky Marcoux

Special Note from Darrin Engel: 

I have an original copy of the General Neighborhood Renewal Plan, East Side Renewal Plan (Revised - January 1961) which is the 1960's version of the plan mentioned above.  Beleive me, there are no obvious similarities!  It is absolutely disgusting the change that the 1961 plan proposed.  Realize that the title has the word "Renewal" in it - that is enough to make my heart palpitate, fall, gasp and make me black out!

The plan called for the demolition of most of the homes on the Lower East Side.  They were to be replaced mostly by interstates, green spaces and Cul-de-sac subdivisions.  The industrial district along North Avenue was to be expanded with interstate access (there's an industrial district there is the question most of you Milwaukeeans are asking).  The two previous homes that I owned and lived in (magnificent 2.5 story 2600 s.f. Queene Ann Victorians) would have been demolished to make an arbitrary but huge multi-block "greenspace" buffer zone between an exclusively zoned professional office district and a low density cul-de-sac subdivision.

There are many of these arbitrary greenspaces and public land scattered about the map.  Also lots of "expressway right of way" land use designation.  Basically the whole goal was to eliminate "urban blight", a.k.a. old buildings especially those with "undesireable" mixed uses, it was to create segregated zoning uses and move the traffic much faster.  There seems to be no concern for micro-neighborhoods, retail districts, historic landmarks (remember in 1961 there was no such designation) and other urban qualities.  Interestingly no public transit shows on the maps, yet miles of interstates, parkways, parking lots and other street work is shown.

There is one page titled "Urban Renewal Plan".  This is the page with the district map that shows the "Area to be Cleared and Redeveloped" and the "Area for Rehabilitation or Conservation".  The area to be cleared on the map is the majority of the resedential neighborhoods which is about 66% of the area map.  The area for rehab. and conserv. is generally existing professional office, existing industrial, existing high denity/high rise residential and existing park and public space - the remaining 33%.  This 33% must have also posessed all the political clout in developing th plan.

In Hindsight - Milwaukee was a very conservative city and had an aversion to taking federal funding (urban renewal and interstates were federally funded).  So only about 10% of the plan was carried out.  The interstate freeway was never built through the neighborhood - but the buildings were cleared and hundreds of residents displaced.  Currently The East Side has the highest land value per s.f. in the Milwaukee Metro area (outside of downtown).  This includes property with Victorian houses and retail buildings still on it.  It still has mostly mixed uses which contribute greatly to its character and desirability. The neighborhoods subject to the 1961 report are now the most desirable residential neighborhoods in the City of Milwaukee.  At the time of the report they were far from the worst neighborhoods in the city.  I am confident that if the majority of this plan was carried out this area would not be desirable It would have had a profound negative affect to the image of the city and the future of its tax base.  I have confidence that the new Comprehensive Plan will be more feasible.  I will comment on it in the future as I read it and get familiar with it

Now I hope you can understand why I cringe in disgust when some one says "we need more green space there" or wants to declare something as "blight".  A few years ago I sold one of my formerly "blighted" houses for twice the metro area's median home price - and less than ten days on the market!

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