Category Archives: Good Ideas

Milwaukee's Effort to Build a New Industry Around Clean Water

The three lake sturgeon in Discovery World’s “touch tank” aren’t given official names, but that hasn’t kept at least one employee in this newish Milwaukee educational center from christening them female superhero names like Tank Girl and She-Ra. As a Michigan native, I’d heard of Sturgeon before, but I wasn’t prepared to fall for them the way I did when I put my hand in the tank.

Sturgeon are big – in the wild, they’ve been known to reach up to seven feet long. And they’re unlike any other fish I’d seen. Their rough skin is scale-less and their spine is bony like dinosaurs you’ve seen pictured in kids’ books. In fact, sturgeon have been around for at least 200 million years. It’s a mind-blowing story of survival.

Tank Girl and She-Ra swam right up to my still hand, rubbing against it as they passed over and over, like a cat might. Perhaps they were just hoping for food or were bored from swimming endless laps in their tank, but the woman overseeing the aquarium that afternoon likes to muse on the possibility that they get some pleasure from being touched.

Photo: Riveredge Nature Center

Photo: Riveredge Nature Center

Sturgeon have been around since the Cretaceous, but it took no time for humans to decimate their populations in the Milwaukee River by the early 1900s. Now, thanks to nearly a decade of stocking efforts by Riveredge Nature Center and Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, the fish is coming back. “Sturgeon Fest” draws Milwaukeeans to the mouth of the river to release hundreds of tagged fish into Lake Michigan every autumn. It’ll be several years before they’re able to spawn on their own, but the whole region is pulling for them.

The sturgeon’s fragile comeback mirrors the city’s own. More than any other Great Lakes city, Milwaukee is prioritizing the value of the water in its midst. Could it base its economy on the protection of a resource rather than its exploitation? Its first forays into this concept point to “yes”.

Near the site of Sturgeon Fest is the University of Wisconsin’s brand new School of Freshwater Sciences building. I had a chance to visit the school in early October with the members of Rachel’s Network who were holding a conference on – what else? – water. The women of Rachel’s Network hail from around the country, but all share a passion for (and ability to) fund impactful environmental projects.

A tug pushing coal in front of UWM's new School of Freshwater Sciences building

A tug pushing coal in front of UWM’s new School of Freshwater Sciences building

We travelled to the school along the Inner Harbor, aboard the UWM research vessel Neeskay. Decades of industrial misuse were on display. The school itself is sandwiched between gigantic storage tanks filed with foul-smelling asphalt on one side and a huge pile of coal bound for the city’s power station on the other.

The choice to site the school here is a testament to Milwaukee and UWM’s faith in the future. When professors and students look out their wide classroom windows on the second floor of the school, they don’t see the hundreds of acres of brownfields and unsightly heavy industry: they see the potential for a new economy built on social and ecological sustainability. Efforts are now underway to redevelop the Inner Harbor in this vision.

The amount of collaboration that happens in this city is enviable. Urban farming pioneer Will Allen collaborates with UWM on aquaponics. The Water Council, a collection of innovative water companies, counts the Metro Milwaukee Sewarage District among its members. Small businesses like Lakefront Brewery work with environmental nonprofits and Discovery World to advocate for clean water. Milwaukee’s new water economy is a remarkably cohesive effort.

Lakefront Brewery President Russ Klisch appeared on the front page of the Journal Sentinel the day after we toured his brewery.

Lakefront Brewery President Russ Klisch appeared on the front page of the Journal Sentinel the day after we toured his brewery.

Meghan Jensen of the Water Council, Ann Brummitt of Milwaukee Water Commons, Karen Sands of Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, and Lynde Uihlein. Milwaukee's water community is very collaborative.

Meghan Jensen of the Water Council, Ann Brummitt of Milwaukee Water Commons, Karen Sands of Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, and Lynde Uihlein. Milwaukee’s water community is very collaborative.

All this work could be undermined, of course, by forces like federal and state politics and climate change that are beyond the city’s control. Water rights advocate Maude Barlow gave Rachel’s Network a sobering picture of extreme energy development and transportation that’s ramping up around the Great Lakes, from bitumen (tarsands) shipments on lake freighters to growing capacity on pipelines like one Enbridge line that runs the length of Wisconsin and the aging Line 5 that carries oil and gas right under the Straits of Mackinac.

The coal-fired Edgewater Generating Station mars an otherwise beautiful Lake Michigan coastline in Sheboygan.

The coal-fired Edgewater Generating Station mars an otherwise beautiful Lake Michigan coastline in Sheboygan.

Environmental engineer David Flowers talks about the natural sewage system he designed at Riveredge. Wetlands and underground cisterns treat water coming from the facilities.

An interactive model of the Great Lakes at Discovery World.

An interactive model of the Great Lakes at Discovery World.

Great Lakes residents take water abundance for granted. But this abundance is far from guaranteed in the future, says Jenny Kehl, UWM’s Chair of the School of Freshwater Sciences. Many regions of the country are already experiencing serious water scarcity and the Great Lakes will become an obvious place to make up the difference. The system’s recharge rate is only 1 percent. Harvest anything more than that, and (heaven forbid) you might have an Aral Sea on your hands.

Some of the best days of my life have been spent along and on these restorative inland seas. I’ve climbed dunes in Saugatuk at sunset and fished with my dad on Lake Huron. I’ve wandered the shore with my inquisitive nieces and nephew, searching for stones and feathers and fish skeletons. To think this is all at risk is a terrifying proposition.

Although we arrived in Milwaukee after Sturgeon Fest concluded, Riveredge Nature Center allowed me to “adopt” one of their released sturgeon. Should the fish tagged with #985120030644058 be found and scanned somewhere, I’ll receive notification. I’m hoping like hell that fish comes back to spawn someday, and that when it does, Milwaukee’s fledgling water ethic will have caught on around the Great Lakes.

By Erica Flock and originally published at Negwegon.


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The Possibility Corridor: What if We Downgraded I-490?

I-490, the 24 year old stub of a highway between I-90 and E55th, has seen recent interest as a connector via the proposed Opportunity Corridor. Advocates for the Opportunity Corridor cite its value as an “Urban Boulevard” in contrast to the limited access highways that had been blocked by the “highways revolts” of the 1960s. With this is mind, it seems appropriate to reconsider I-490’s role in our region. 

Having been meant to merely form one link in a continuous limited access network of highways, I-490 never fulfilled its original purpose. As such, it provides an interesting opportunity for redevelopment as a parkway or boulevard that would more appropriately segue into the urban boulevard concept of the Opportunity Corridor.

For this reason we propose that once the second Innerbelt Bridge is completed that I-490 be shutdown over its full length. Note that construction of the Opportunity Corridor has already proposed closing the segment between I-77 and E 55th. Once closed, this expansive highway can be reworked within the existing paved right-of-way to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists – a new active transportation east-west connection thoughtfully placed in a parkway setting. This link would serve to provide important connections to the Towpath Trail, Morgana Run Trail (via the proposed Downtown Connector Trail), and the proposed Kingsbury Run Greenway, not to mention University Circle and beyond. Moreover, this realignment would set the stage for a reduced footprint through the future deconstruction of certain highway-style interchanges currently serving the corridor – reducing long-term maintenance obligations and opening up land for development and/or greenspace. These changes may also help reduce costs on the opportunity corridor itself by eliminating the need for an underpass at E 55th, and the property acquisition and displacement that this will accompany.
The cross sections, show, from west to east how the corridor might change while still accommodating truck and car traffic along it. The overview map shows how this reimagined I-490 would interact with both existing and proposed infrastructure.
Writing and renders by Christopher Lohr

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Lansing Area Logistics to "Go Green"

Source: gogreentrikesllc

Scheduled to launch in Greater Lansing on Earth Day, 2014 (Tuesday, April 22nd), Go Green Trikes, LLC (Facebook webpage link) is the brainchild of local green business entrepreneur, Yvonne LeFave. Utilizing heavy-duty electric-assisted cargo trikes capable of carrying loads of up to 600 pounds, Go Green Trikes will provide prompt and sustainable delivery services throughout the urban heart of Greater Lansing – essentially an area bounded by I-96 on the south and west, I-69 on the north and Van Atta Road to the east. Here’s a maplink of the service area.

These are not your childhood tricycles folks, but industrial-grade cargo trikes designed to efficiently serve businesses while avoiding the tangles associated with trucks and street traffic. They also allow for door-to-door delivery of goods without the hassle of blocking lanes and/or customers in the process.

According to Yvonne, Greater Lansing will be at the very forefront of this cutting-edge form of “last mile” delivery/logistics service. Within North America, cargo trike delivery services such as Go Green Trikes only operate currently in Portland, Oregon (B-line); Vancouver, British Columbia (Shift Urban Cargo Delivery); Boston (Metro Pedal Power); and New York City (Revolution Rickshaws). Needless to say, Greater Lansing will be in good company, while also being the smallest urban center to support such an exciting and sustainable business venture.

If early indications

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are a guide, it appears Go Green Trikes, LLC will be pedaling off to a successful start, as they already have three clients lined up to date. So, starting April 22nd, keep an eye out for Yvonne LeFave as she plies her way about area streets and bike trails. Kudos to her for setting a sustainble standard for all of us to strive for!

– Rick Brown

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"Bikenomics" – An Instant Classic for Planners and Bicycling Advocates


Certain books become a classic in their field of study because of their comprehensive nature (i.e. The City in History). Others do from their advocacy and groundbreaking nature (i.e. Silent Spring).  In the case of Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy, both of these reasons apply. Author Elly Blue has written “the” definitive book on bicycle planning that clearly identifies the societal, physical, environmental, and economic benefits of bicycling, while also completely debunking the myths, fables, urban legends, half-truths, and outright lies spread by naysayers and automotive apologists.

Facts are funny things. They tend to get in the way of spurious and superfluous arguments. In Bikenomics, Ms. Blue lays down the gauntlet with factual truths about bicycling and how a vibrant cycling culture can go a long way to curing many of our nation’s ills. If one could quote the entire book in a blogpost, I would.  There are so many quotable gems contained within this publication, that I could fill gigabytes of pages with them. But alas, you should read the book, so I have only provided a few of them at the end of this post.

Believe me when I say this is a book that every planning professional must read and own. It will single-handedly serve as your go-to resource on the benefits of bicycle planning in your community. Kudos to Ms. Blue providing all of us with a fantastic source of information. Enjoy!

Here are a sampling of quotes from the book:

“People who ride bicycles also pay taxes, which means they often pay more into the road system than they cost it. By one estimate, a carfree cyclist would overpay by an average of $250 a year — a few dollars more than the amount that the average driver underpays.” (page 13)

“As it turns out, gas taxes have paid for about 70% of the construction and maintenance costs of the Interstate system to date, with that percentage going down with each passing year. Local roads fare worse when it comes user funding. If you take the nation’s road system as a whole, only 51% of its cost over the years has come from direct user fees.” (page 39)

“When you brush away the rhetoric, though, even the fanciest bikeways are a screaming bargain. For the cost of one freeway interchange, you can completely transform your city and immeasurably improve the wealth, health, and happiness of its citizens.”  (page 49)

“Large road projects are often funded in a down economy because they create jobs. But roads are actually the least job-intensive of any transportation investment. Bikeways are the most, creating more jobs per million dollars spent than roads-this is because there are so few materials involved and most of the budget goes to workers.” (page 51)

“Bikes may not be able to solve our health care crisis singlehanded…But bicycling is one of the rare areas where people can directly and concretely address our own health and the health of our community, and quickly see big results. In this light, bicycling for transportation isn’t so much a lifestyle choice as it’s a form of civic action.” (page 61)

“Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars’ – Donald Shoup.” (page 89)

“In the US, 99% of trips by car end up in a free spot [parking spot]. The value of that land—and to a lesser extent, the costs of paving, sweeping, policing, and maintaining it—makes [parking one of the largest subsides going.” (page 90)

“In a car-oriented world, old age becomes a disability for many, long before it might in a more walkable neighborhood. The more car-reliant your daily life, the lower the threshold becomes for frailness, injury, or failing eyesight to be experienced as outright disabling.” (page 104)

– Rick Brown

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Does your community suffer from power pole blight?

I don’t know about your community, but here in Greater Lansing there seems to be an intense love affair between public utilities and power poles. “Holy pincushions, Batman, you’d think they’d all been raised by a family of porcupine.”

In some places, the primary roadway corridors look like a long, linear parade of power pole blight. Sadly, all too often this leaves communities in the region with disjointed and unpleasant streetscape aesthetics to viagra for sale overcome. I know Greater lansing is not alone, as I have seen power pole blight across many parts of the Rust Belt. the middle of a roundabout?
Seriously…in the middle of a roundabout?

Attempts have been made to convince area utilities to remove portions of the visual blight and bury the power lines, but that is usually greeted with consternation and rebuttals on the costliness of such actions. If the community or property owners wish to pay for burying the lines, they would be glad to oblige. As a result, instead of a modern and efficient electrical grid, numerous locations end up with a cobbled together third-world styled electrical grid that struggles to maintain service during ice, snow, and wind storm events.

One would think that after a certain number of repetitive power outages and emergency repairs to broken, damaged, and fallen power lines, electric utilities would initiate routine burying programs on their own to reduce the number of outages and their firm’s long-term maintenance costs. Throw in discount viagra regular tree trimming efforts and eventually burying power lines doesn’t look so expensive anymore. Apparently the bean counters differ on that assessment.

Years ago, power utilities were often active participants in economic development, community enhancement, redevelopment, and revitalization efforts. It was seen as a way to increase the utility’s customer base. Today, some utilities can be a stubborn impediment to new initiatives and progressive streetscape design ideas. Whether this is a function of the short-term profit mindset or local firms being bought out or merging with multinationals is not entirely clear. Unfortunately, whatever the reason, local communities across the Rust Belt and other parts of the nation are left with paying the price of power pole/line blight with unsightly pincushionesque landscapes dotting the horizon.

No one is advocating for the burying of the entire power line infrastructure. That would be viagra for men impractical. But, in those areas where the power poles have become overbearing and omnipresent, or in places where redevelopment and revitalization efforts are trying to get underway, burying the power lines makes sense. As stakeholders in the community and the Rust Belt generally, it is hoped the region’s utilities will join any and all localized efforts to achieve a more aesthetically pleasant streetscape and overall community vision.

– Rick Brown

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Ten Lessons from Boulder, Colorado


View of Boulder from the Flatiron Mountains - photo by author

I had the great pleasure of visiting Boulder, Colorado for the first time over an extended weekend. As an urban planner, I was able to take away many useful lessons for Rust Belt communities from the lovely city abutting the Front Range. Granted, not every place can be set aside majestic mountains, but every community does have unique attributes.

Here are what I would quantify as the top ten. Many of these are remarkably similar to the ten lessons from European industrial cities published earlier this month.

  • Cherish, protect, enhance, and enjoy your natural surroundings, attributes, and amenities.
  • Don’t worry, be active! As one of the healthiest and most active cities in the United States, Boulder residents practice this every day.
  • Active transportation (walking, hiking, cycling, mass transit) is absolutely key to a vibrant, healthy community.
  • Design the city to be human-scaled and pedestrian friendly.
  • There is a place for cars, but not at the forefront (both in the city and on college campuses) – the University of Colorado campus is amazingly compact and is only bisected by a few streets.
  • Skyscrapers and sprawl are not necessary for a healthy community – sprawl, in particular, is the antithesis of a healthy community.
  • Create third places and amenitiesdowntown Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall (a closed street) is an amazing third place filled with people and constant activity.
  • Embrace street art, performers, and vendors – they add life and vibrancy.
  • Preserve and protect your community’s architecture and cultural heritage – they’re the only ones you’ve got!
  • People will pay the necessary premiums (taxes, fees, rent, cost of living, etc.) to live, work, and play in a well-planned, diverse, eccentric, healthy, innovative, and sustainable community.

– Rick Brown

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Help Bring Bike Composting to Cleveland

Compostadores: Minneapolis, Minnesota

There is a popular thought experiment that goes a little like this: ‘What would you do if you had a million dollars?’ Frankly, I have no idea. A million dollars is something I cannot even fathom. I work two jobs, and fill my ‘free-time’ working to get ideas off the ground so that one day, I can pursue one of these more meaningful endeavors as a full-time gig. So, for the sake of discussion, lets scale things down to a more human scale; ‘What would you do if you had $10,000?”

This is a question I have an answer to!

Starting October 14th Enterprise Community Partners is working with Ohio Savings Bank to provide $10,000 in jump-start funds for an idea. The winner of a fundraising campaign, hosted on CrowdRise, will be the recipient of $10,000 in unrestricted funds. The idea that generates the most funds raised through this campaign will not only receive all the funds they have generated through crowd-sourcing, but get an additional check for $10,000 thanks to Ohio Savings Bank.

According to Mark McDermott, vice-president of Enterprise Community Partners: “The awards are designed to help them take calculated risks and try new projects, providing the resources they need for their transformative ideas to flourish.”

Rust Belt Gardens, in collaboration with Detroit-Shoreway Community Development Organization, Groundz Recycling, Ohio State University Extension Campus, Bike Cleveland, and Cleveland’s Office of Sustainability are hoping to launch Cleveland’s first human powered, carbon negative, residential compost removal service.

What our group aims to do is build on two of Cleveland’s most radical movements in a complimentary fashion so as to raise the visibility and economy of scale around both our cycling and farming communities as they continue to grow. The business model is anything but new, with its predecessors finding roots in the Twin-Cities, Northhampton, Mass. and Burlington, Vermont to name a few. Residents, and eventually businesses, will have the ability to sign up for a fee-for-service compost removal program based on their needs. If your household produces a lot of food-waste, a weekly pick-up subscription might make sense for you. Perhaps you live alone and would only need your compost removed once a month? Different subscriptions

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will allow for flexibility based on the need of the user.

One Revolution: Burlington, Vermont

What makes this program unique is its commitment to sustainability in every aspect of its planning. By using bikes with custom-built trailers to haul compost we are reducing the overhead cost, virtually eliminating maintenance cost, and doing away with concerns of fuel price fluctuation. Additionally, this service will directly benefit the community it serves by generating compost for community gardens who are committed to providing fresh produce, free of charge, to their neighbors. This close looped cycle reduces community waste, improves community soil content, connects residents to community building projects, and advances the visibility of cycling while birthing one of Cleveland’s only bike-based businesses.

The business will be owned and operated by the cyclists who conduct the pick-up and drop-off. We will be modeling our growth after the wildly successful Pedal People Cooperative who have made over 120,000 pick-ups since 2002.

If you want to help see a new business get the chance to prove itself, to advance a new kind of localism that turns what otherwise would be garbage into a value-added service, please consider donating to Rust Belt Gardens’ crowd-funding campaign. For more information please follow the links below:

Facebook Page:


Stay in touch as we will be hosting a benefit concert and other community wide events to raise awareness about our cause, our goals and learn from our neighbors as we roll out this project!

For more specific questions/ inquires please email:

Thank you for your support, you all rule!

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