Parlez Vous Urbanisme? Radio Canada TV reports on subtracting a freeway, adding jobs & vitality

I had the opportunity to serve as location scout for a smart reporter/photographer team from Montreal as they explored Milwaukee's experience with removing the .8 mile Park East Freeway. I think you'll agree that Milwaukee looks quite good in the report. (If you speak French better than I do, I expect you'll find it sounds pretty good too.) Although it's a rust-belt city, its urbanism is obviously alive and kicking.

The opening footage is of the streets and sidewalks in and around East Pointe Commons, a 1990s-era development that brought urban townhouses, apartments and a grocery store to the vacant weedy blocks that had been cleared in the 1960s for what would have been an extension that brought the Park East to Milwaukee's lakefront and the exquisite site now occupied by the Calatrava-designed art museum wing. Fortunately, that misguided project was stopped back in the 1970s by state legislators (including a young John Norquist) and it now supports a neighborhood a young man in the Canadian report calls a draw for young professionals.

Milwaukeeans sometimes express frustration with the pace of development on the actual footprint of the old Park East, which started coming down in 2002 — it's been slowed by cumbersome County development restrictions and the economic recession. But the report astutely points out the new apartments, condos, hotel and employment centers occupying sites formerly in the shadows of the freeway and formerly ignored by the real estate market. A high point is developer Gary Grunau standing in front of the international headquarters of Manpower Inc. and stating definitively that his chances of luring the Fortune 500 company to its new riverfront home would have been nil if the freeway were still there.

Besides suggesting that the urban renaissance visible in the vibrant livable public spaces of Milwaukee's Brady Street will, with patience, come to the Park East neighborhood, the report reinforces the economic development value of matching urban places with appropriate urban infrastructure — hopefully a message that will resonate north of the border as Montreal mayoral candidates wrestle over the future of several boulevards and highways.


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