REVISITING THE RIVERWALK
HOW LIFE CAME BACK TO THE BANKS OF OUR MAJOR ARTERY
Nearly 30 years in, the Milwaukee RiverWalk has returned the city’s attention to a long-neglected asset and catalyzed a social and economic boom.
By Kevin Mueller
FOR MUCH OF its history, the city turned its back on the Milwaukee River. The buildings faced away from its banks, the waterfront lots off limits to a public that largely saw the river (Downtown, at least) more as a sewer or a railroad line than as a leisure resource. But in the early 1980s, with rumblings of a contiguous public walkway along the river, the physical and mental landscape started to flip. The city formed a crucial public-private partnership with riverfront property owners to help foot the bill, and by 1996 much of the RiverWalk’s Downtown segment was completed.
Soon the path would grow south to the rapidly redeveloping Third Ward and upriver to the Beerline neighborhood. Over the past two decades, the RiverWalk helped transform those areas into desirable places to live, work and shop. Property values have soared throughout.
Those remarkable feats have won notice. In November, the RiverWalk was one of 13 winners of the Urban Land Institute’s prestigious Global Award for Excellence, which recognizes outstanding development or land use.
In separate interviews, we asked four key people involved in the RiverWalk to recount the past and look into the future of the project.