Milwaukee Green Map: What Place is Milwaukee?
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What Place is Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

Milwaukee in Wisconsin

Milwaukee is located to the west of the great freshwater Lake Michigan, on a drainage basin formed by ancient glaciers, the development of marshland and the cultivation of earth.

An interstate system of highways meets here, then spreads to the west, south and north. People live here and travel through from other places. Commercial flights race over the lake or across the western counties. From the air, in spring and summer, trees obscure the view below, hiding streetlights, industry, backyards and highways.

Birds rest here as they migrate north and south, traveling through passageways over water and land. At night, geese reflect the wasted light from below, glowing and calling as they drift. Monarch butterflies visit. In early summer they stop and feed on milkweed, lay their eggs and move on. In September they stop again, heading south. In the evenings, Little Brown Bats and Chimney Swifts feed on insects, calling.

Winter lasts. Although the climate of Milwaukee is buffered by Lake Michigan, it still gets very cold. During the summer season, this "lake effect" offers those near the shoreline cooler temperatures and moisture.

In winter, heat escaping from Lake Michigan's waters rushes upward and spirals into steam devils which whirl across the freezing water. During the summer the weather travels north and east from the Gulf of Mexico. In winter, air from Canada and the west sweeps in across the plains. With heavy rains come flooding. Small concrete-lined creek-beds fill to overflowing, and buildings' basements fill with water.

Water surrounds Milwaukee County. The Menomonee River runs in from its western edge, the Milwaukee River drains down through the neighboring counties to the north. To the south, the drainage basin of the Root River carries its water away. The eastern edge is described by Lake Michigan. Fish are here. Stand in the Milwaukee River and watch as fish strike and swim. Tainted with toxins but still here, and they are returning through opened dams and fast water. We drink Lake Michigan. We take its water, clean it, use it, pour it away, clean it again and return it.

Milwaukee County has a share of green and open space. These are both managed and wild landscapes, forgotten places and places remembered so much they are overused. This landscape, edged by people and industry, consists of healthy areas and those overrun by invasive plants. Pushed and used by everyone, in some forgotten places, the green spaces push back.

This pushing and pulling is what makes this urban place. Peregrine falcons nest on power plant stacks. A concrete riverbed is torn up and becomes rock and mud. People build homes and roads and industry and farms and dump trash and waste and cover it up and uncover it later and ship it away and clean the soil and protect the groundwater and discover new land. This is new.

Like all cities, people drive trucks and cars and bring with them noise and waste. Like all cities people walk to work and find what they need nearby. They grow vegetables in their backyards, they ride bikes and buses to work and make a place for themselves. Some dream of light rail.

People here are thrifty. They see a great bargain in reusing things, in rummage sales and recycling. They make garbage and throw it out and someone else finds a a use for it. This is not new.

Here, people imagine a community and work to realize it. People find their place, for now, and live in it. All the while we travel along, in this same place to somewhere imagined, ahead.

Also see Where is Milwaukee?

Wisconline: What's Happening!
A project of Milwaukee Green Map. Matthew Groshek, Director.
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