Back in July 2021 Near West Side Partners (NWSP) hosted a 3-day Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Summit with the goal to create and set in motion collective action for a brighter future for the Near West Side. Along with a diverse group of community stakeholders, NWSP explored the community’s strengths, envisioned what kind of future we as a community wanted, and used rapid prototyping to design initiatives that addressed topics that arose. Since the conclusion of the AI Summit, NWSP has integrated several of these projects into its Strategic Plan, one such initiative is the Green and Renewing NWS.
A common question in the planning of most urban settings is the effect that the design of the city has on the population that lives there, and on the environment itself. To answer this question, the creation of sustainably designed green spaces is paramount to improving the quality of life for urban dwellers. Planting native trees and other flora as well as grass along sidewalks, plazas, or parks while aesthetically pleasing, also serves to improve air quality, assist with erosion and runoff control, and even prevent disease and ease mental health symptoms. With the help from community members, the Green and Renewing NWS Initiative will make the Near West Side a greener, more sustainable community through nature-based solutions for existing homes, businesses and new (re)developments to ensure healthier people, ecosystem, and planet.
To get more information on this exciting project, I spoke with Allyson Nemec and April Gianeselli. Two of the chief architects behind the Green and Renewing NWS Initiative.
Allyson Nemec currently serves as a Principal Project Architect at Quorum Architects, a business located right here in the Near West Side in Highland Avenue and is the Co-Chair of the Commercial Corridor Working team. Nemec also happens to be a resident of the Near West Side and resides in the Historic Concordia neighborhood. April Gianeselli works at Harley-Davidson and manages their foundation and social impact. Harley has a long history with NWSP, going all the way back to its founding in 2014, and Gianeselli supports AI summit working teams, health working teams, and PARC Initiatives.
The Green and Renewing NWS Initiative had its beginnings during the AI Summit. Gianeselli explained to me that after the first day of listening to residents and stakeholders share their vision for the Near West Side, a small core met that evening to come up with several “how might we?” statements. The statements were largely positive and focused on ways to make the Near West Side a safer, healthier, and more vibrant community. The next day, participants were able to choose groups to discuss projects that they were passionate about. Nemec stepped up and chose the Green and Renewing project and ran with it. Nemec added that from their discussions within the working team the goal of creating a greener, safer, and more sustainable Near West Side was established.
To hear more about the AI Summit and how this project came into existence click the link below:
In the six months since the AI Summit, Nemec was excited to tell me that the Green and Renewing working team has progressed what was at the time a vision for the Near West Side, into a feasible project with three smaller initiatives. One is a recognition program for past, present, and future sustainable initiatives much like the Green and Renewing initiative. The second is Routes & Roots, which will aim to integrate pedestrian, bike, and vehicle traffic in the Near West Side in a greener and more sustainable way, while creating pathways making downtown Milwaukee more accessible to Near West Side residents. The third, and as Nemec describes it is the “brainchild of our AI Summit working team”, is Arbor Fest, which will aim to bring in native plants to the community in order to create more green spaces, and a sustainable environment. The plan is to make these plants and trees accessible to the community through a one-day festival that builds into a year-long program where residents are educated on how to plant sustainably with these native plants. The goal of having these three smaller initiatives is to create solutions for the short term and also the long term.
To hear more about these three initiatives click the link below:
Nemec and the Green and Renewing working team’s vision is to have the inaugural Arbor Fest in the early summer of 2022. Currently, they are looking to widen their group to include interested stakeholders from the community. Working with the Urban Ecology Center, the group is figuring out the best way to spread information on how to plant sustainably to the public, as well as how to coordinate a long-term project on landscape management.
To hear more about Arbor Fest Click the link below:
While Arbor Fest represents a more short-term initiative to create a greener Near West Side, Routes & Roots represents a long-term commitment from the Green and Renewing team. At the moment the team is working on identifying corridors in the community that will allow them to collaborate with other groups. For example, working with the Department of Public Works to determine how the current plans for the development of downtown can be integrated into Routes & Roots so that the created pathways are continuous with future developments. Involving pedestrians, bikers, and vehicles the Routes & Roots initiative will create a sustainable commuter strategy for the Near West Side.
To hear more about Routes & Roots click the link below:
Not only will the Green and Renewing Initiative reap tremendous benefits for the residents of the Near West Side, but it will also bring a wide variety of benefits for the environment. Bringing native plants and trees into the area will increase the biodiversity of the environment, which is essentially the number of various plant species in the environment, creating a more healthy ecosystem. Trees also play a part in improving air quality. By removing air pollutants such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter, a mixture of various chemicals and soot. An increased presence of plants and trees has also shown to have beneficial psychological impacts on nearby residents’ mental health. The Green and Renewing initiative will not only improve the aesthetic of the Near West Side, but will also create a healthier community.
To hear more about the benefits of this initiative click the link below:
The Green and Renewing team is excited about the work that they are doing on this project. The initiative represents the combined vision of numerous residents and stakeholders, for a healthier and more sustainable Near West Side. Street construction and urban development can oftentimes be sluggish, so Routes & Roots is still in its beginning phases. However, the first Arbor Fest is scheduled to be held in the Near West Side this summer. Be on the lookout for updates on the progress of this initiative.