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What’s in Milwaukee’s Downtown Plan 2040?

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A rendering of the Lakefront Gateway Plaza, which includes a pedestrian bridge crossing Lincoln Memorial Drive.
GRAEF / City of Milwaukee
A rendering of the Lakefront Gateway Plaza, which includes a pedestrian bridge crossing Lincoln Memorial Drive.

Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.

Thirteen years ago, the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Downtown BID #21 presented a plan that aimed to create a more connected, attractive and distinct Downtown area. This week, they presented a sequel of sorts — Connec+ing MKE: Downtown Plan 2040.

The full plan in its current draft is 138 pages of goals, ideas and projects that lays out, in the words of the Executive Summary:

… an aspirational vision for the future of Downtown — one that takes into consideration global post-COVID trends and Downtown Milwaukee’s distinguishing physical characteristics to unlock its full growth potential with a focus on creating great places connected by walkable streets, enhanced transit options, greater connectivity with surrounding neighborhoods, and active and inclusive gathering spaces and plazas.

That’s the kind of weighty sentence — both characteristically and in sheer word count — you expect from a document looking 17 years down the line. On this episode of Urban Spelunking, Nate and Bobby look right along with it, breaking down the details and giving you an idea of the big changes city leaders would like to see happen between now and 2040, from extending The Hop to tearing down I-794.

Listen to the episode using the player on this page or wherever you get your podcasts, and follow along below with a few key items from the Executive Summary, which you can find here. The full version of the plan is also available via the city’s website.

Goals for 2040

  1. Housing & Neighborhoods — Increase the Downtown population through density and diversity of housing, and improve the quality of life in Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
  2. Business & Education — Create environments and programs that support an increase of diverse businesses and a talented workforce.
  3. Retail, Services, Food & Nightlife —Create vibrant retail and entertainment districts with streets and public spaces that feature active uses and pedestrian friendly design.
  4. Arts, Culture, Entertainment & Sports — Create more opportunities for shared experiences, and highlight the diverse stories, people and places that make MKE unique.
  5. Sustainability & Resilience — Create an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable & resilient Downtown
  6. Transportation & Mobility — Redesign our streets to support walkability, and expand options for the safe, comfortable and enjoyable movement of people.
  7. Streets & Public Space — Invest in the public realm by improving streets, parks, and other public spaces in ways that encourage a more vibrant, inclusive, and resilient MKE.
  8. Land Use & Development — Create more opportunities for public and private investment in the built environment

Big ideas

  • Grow Downtown
  • Redesign streets as public places
  • Invest in parks and gathering spaces
  • Improve streets to support all users
  • Expand and enhance transit
  • Reconnect places divided by human-made barriers

Catalytic projects

  • Public Museum and State Office Building redevelopment at MacArthur Square
  • Public space management organization for parks and public spaces
  • Streetcar extensions
  • 6th Street complete street
  • Water Street entertainment district
  • Performing arts center parking garage redevelopment site
  • I-794 corridor and Clybourn Street