Why Urban Rivers?
The River Alliance brings to its work to save urban rivers the same principles we apply to all our other river restoration initiatives: public education, strategic partnerships, community organizing and good public process.
We recognize that long-neglected and abandoned industrial waterfronts can in fact become economic and aesthetic assets to urban centers. Besides, cities are where people live and urban people ought to have access to clean and beautiful rivers. Such rivers cannot be the exclusive province of remote rural areas.
A River Runs Through Them All
A river runs through almost every city in Wisconsin -- no surprise, as most of these cities came to be precisely because the river was there. Those flowing waters powered the progress of our cities and towns, transported goods, flushed away our wastes and generated power. However, progress came at a price: many of our urban rivers became polluted and degraded eyesores from decades of abuse and neglect.
In Wisconsin, Lake Michigan cities such as Milwaukee and Sheboygan have invested millions of dollars into major waterfront redevelopment projects along both the lakeshore and their riverfronts. This growing interest in urban waterfront redevelopment also brings with it a need for a more holistic vision that focuses not only on the built environment but also human needs, such as public access, affordable housing, cleaner water, and open space.
A key step to achieving economically, environmentally and socially beneficial riverfront redevelopment is to have good public participation in the decision-making. This is how the River Alliance makes an important contribution: we build on our past work in river restoration to educate people about the benefits of beautifying urban rivers and encourage effective public participation in policy-making.
Our Winter 2008 Newsletter features several articles about urban rivers. Stories of the Baraboo, Fox, Milwaukee, Root, Wausau show why urban rivers matter.
First Stop: Racine’s Root River
Since early 2006, we have engaged with citizens and elected officials in the city of Racine to restore the Root River, where it courses through the city’s downtown, to an urban gem. With the help of the Root River Council, a citizens’ organization formed to champion the urban Root, we have developed a restoration plan, and we will promote the plan’s implementation through ordinances and possibly a riverfront development district. Learn more on the Back to the Root Web site.
Next stop: Connecting the dots
The journey leading an urban river from dirty and blighted to beautiful and valued is one of a thousand steps. But many cities around Wisconsin have started taking it. While more people are beginning to see what is possible for the river that runs through their backyard, there is a growing need for basic information about water in cities and for helping local citizens get organized and strategic. Navigating municipal policies and politics can be daunting. Sometimes, the most useful thing we can do is get people in a room together to facing common challenges to share what they’ve learned with one another. In 2011, we will be organizing the first of two workshops to bring a handful of communities together to do just that: gather information, get organized and get networked to make their urban river restoration plans happen. The workshops will be hosted by the Johnson Foundation at their breathtaking Wingspread center in Racine. Following the workshops, the River Alliance will continue to offer assistance to these communities as they work towards restoring urban rivers and riverfronts.
The River Alliance is actively involved in a collaborative project involving all three metropolitan Milwaukee rivers (the Menomonee, the Milwaukee and the Kinnickinnic) that investigates innovative ways of reducing polluted runoff. A new organization known as the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust (SWWT, known as Sweetwater), comprised of local governments and utilities, representatives of agriculture and other business interests, scientists and non-profit groups will oversee and guide the project. The ultimate goal of the pilot project is to determine if and how various organizations can commit to projects with the biggest positive impact on the river as a whole.
Learn about urban rivers in Wisconsin
Ecological Riverfront Design: Restoring rivers, connecting communities (AR and APA, 2004)
A great 2001 companion article in Open Spaces
Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Cities Initiative
Sarakinos, H. 2009. The Root River in Racine, Wisconsin: Planning for Riverfront Revitalization. In: River Voices, vol.19, issue 1.
DNR River Protection and Planning Grants, Brownfield Redevelopment Grants, Municipal Flood Control Grants, Recreational Boating Grants
Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund – Urban Rivers Program
National Park Service Rivers and Trails Program