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Students recommend city-wide sustainability efforts

Susan McGrar, of Milwaukee, tills a section of her community garden plot on the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa in 2012.

Susan McGrar, of Milwaukee, tills a section of her community garden plot on the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa in 2012.

June 17, 2014

UW-Milwaukee students have dreamed it. Now it's up to city officials to see if they can build it.

After researching Wauwatosa and comparing it to cities throughout the Midwest, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate students have recommended a series of steps the city can take to become more sustainable in ways that also foster its economic and social interests. They compiled the report for their capstone project in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

"We got some independent minds not tied to the city giving us a fresh look at how we can do things, and a professional report that we frankly wouldn't have the resources to get together otherwise," said Alderman Jeffrey Roznowski, who worked closely with the team of students.

One of the students, Nathan McNichols, grew up in Wauwatosa. He said he was surprised to learn the steps the city has already taken toward sustainability and hoped his work would help it progress farther above its peers.

"To have that kind of support from city administration is huge," McNichols said. "Sustainability can be a hot button issue in some places, but to have them be open and accepting of it was fantastic."

Mayor Kathy Ehley called the report the "start of a conversation" through which the city will consider taking action.

Food waste to gardens

As a member of the city's Energy and Recycling Committee, Roznowski said he hopes to first tackle some recommendations surrounding food waste. The students suggested the city encourage composting by giving grants to neighborhood associations that want to operate a shared compost, and implementing a pilot program for picking up food waste curbside.

"We talk a lot about diverting certain waste from landfills, and if we look at the food element of that, it could be used in a more efficient, economical way," Roznowski said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food accounts for about 21 percent of waste in landfills. The students' report proposes the city work with a company like Purple Cow Organics to accommodate the compost and make the program affordable.

Compost could also be used in community gardens, which the students recommend expanding by way of a new city task force. Roznowski said there is a clear demand for more gardening space, and such a task force could come out of the Energy and Recycling Committee.

Transportation and density

Some of the biggest factors in energy consumption are where people work and how they get there.

In addition to advocating for denser private development to consolidate energy use, the students pointed out that the city could make better use of its public spaces by making it easier for organizations to book them. They advised staff to develop a web page where residents can see when different rooms or parks are available and schedule time with them.

To encourage more resource sharing, the students said the city could incentivize people who normally work at home or in personal offices downtown to share a communal workspace — or even an incubator — in Wauwatosa.

Getting people to and from work in green ways is the other half of the battle. The report proposes creating bike- and car-share programs in the city, as well as express bus routes. Roznowski said the city is currently waiting to hear if it will get a state grant to fund ten bike-share kiosks. Officials also are working with the Department of Transportation to attain more bus routes to serve its biggest employment destinations like Mayfair Mall and the hospitals.

Managing stormwater

To reduce stormwater runoff, which can spread pollutants, the students came up with a two-pronged approach. For residents and businesses, they suggested the city provide tax rebates on utility bills for those who slow the flow of water on their properties with tools like rain barrels and porous pavement, which allows rain to trickle down into the soil below.

The students also recommended the city add regulations, tougher than those imposed by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, requiring new developments to have a certain percentage of permeable surface to limit runoff. Small businesses could seek exemptions.

Before being implemented, the students' recommendations would require numerous public discussions and votes by city committees and the Common Council.

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