An update on all things Water City 3.0.
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Water City 3.0 - Becoming a Water City

Overview and Update - August, 2015

Milwaukee Water Commons’ overarching goal is to activate and connect broad and sustained community leadership on behalf of our waters.  Over the course of the last year, we set ourselves the exciting and wildly ambitious goal of catalyzing leadership and a guiding vision for Milwaukee as a water city.

We set our sights on greater community involvement while continuing to tap the deep expertise of established leaders.  By inviting everyday Milwaukeeans to envision a better water future and participate in substantive planning, we believed we would surface fresh ideas, broaden the scope of focus and activate new collaborations among an unusually wide range of organizations, sectors and community members. This “commons” approach, where everyone contributes, is our foundation for creating real change and growing the momentum for a vibrant water future in Milwaukee.

To date, over 250 leaders from faith, urban food, youth, architecture/design, public health and arts communities, as well as traditional environmental organizations, have participated in three visioning and planning sessions and 14 working groups.  

Patterns for a Water City

To guide our visioning and planning process for a water city, we adopted the language of “patterning”: identifying 10 overarching civic patterns that we believe will foster actions, decisions and policy for a water city:

1.     Empower all citizens for solution making about our waters.
2.     Increase knowledge of water and watersheds.
3.     Make connections:  water/energy, water/health, water/food, water/faith.
4.     Promote racial justice and water equity.
5.     Cultivate water responsibility and care.
6.     Increase the conservation, health, and vitality of water.
7.     Improve public health.
8.     Foster our civic identity and sense of belonging.
9.     Celebrate water.
10.   Foster community climate resilience.


We partnered with UWM and the School of Freshwater Sciences to conduct research and identify high bar initiatives and practices around the US and the globe from which we drew inspiration.

Initial Proposals

14 working groups identified an initial set of initiatives that would bring the patterns to life.  At our June 4 meeting, those working groups presented a number of initiatives in different areas of city life. To bring the focus on water to an expanding group of people and build their involvement we are testing these initiative clusters over the summer and early fall through a community balloting process and hosting at least five additional visioning conversations.  

The eight initiative areas:

1. Every child receives a water education and increased access to water fun. This means our kids know how to swim; how to get to rivers, pools and the lake; and engage in water-based curriculum across multiple disciplines and throughout the duration of their schooling.
2. Milwaukee, the City of Festivals, hosts an annual Water Festival that both celebrates and pays tribute to our waters.
3. Creative signage is installed to highlight our water recreation opportunities and other water and watershed features.
4. The number of public water bottle refill stations and bubblers are increased all over the city.
5. The City prioritizes green infrastructure and requires new construction to include more green roofs, rain gardens, water capture and reclamation systems, and other forms of water conservation.
6. Our three rivers and their tributaries are restored and naturalized so they meet or exceed water quality standards.
7. Milwaukee incentivizes the development of interactive water apps that allow users to share useful water info, alerts, events and citizen science.
8. As a city we foster technology and the development of jobs focused on water protection and conservation, positioning Milwaukee as a recognized leader in stewardship technology.

What’s Next: Refining and Shepherding the Water City Proposals

This fall, teams will refine the ideas into a set of concrete, actionable proposals that will be shared with the community, discussed and then voted on in a large public forum this winter. We will also launch a coordinating body that can guide and shepherd the implementation of this first round of initiatives throughout the City of Milwaukee.  We see this as the first year of what we hope will become a continuing process of initiative development as we strive to become a truly bar-setting water city.

Activating a bold conversation about our city’s water as a commons is giving people hope that we can create change together, heal some of our city’s divides, become more resilient in the face of climate change and discover a collective capacity for revival and innovation. To truly be a water city we need everyone caring about and contributing to water solutions, unconstrained by organizational position and issue silos.  By fostering a moral and cultural framework that calls for bolder change and a strong ecological commitment,  we deepen our care and connection to water as it relates to our history, identity, sense of place, and most profoundly, as the source of all life, past, present and future.

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