Urban Design Resources

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this page is a work in progress and should be viewed stricly as informative.

The resources below are intended to establish the framework for the City of Milwaukee's urban design principles with details, standards, illustrations, and examples that promote high quality, context sensitive, sustainable, market-competitive, and traditional neighborhood designs. The information includes elements that are required by zoning, and other information that highlights best practices. They seek to sustain, restore and enhance the livability, character, and stability of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods.


Urban Design Components

This section includes links to components such as façade design, building materials, landscaping, signage and many other components that make up a property or a proposal. Here you will find more detailed explanations of the principles, diagrams, photo examples, adaptations to existing conditions, and various helpful links.

Building/Development Types

This section includes links to guidelines for various development proposals by type of development, such as commercial prototypes, residential infill buildings, industrial property guidelines and other specialized types of uses.  While this section predominantly highlights new construction solutions, retaining, renovating, restoring and/or retrofitting existing buildings often offers great solutions to high quality urban design for existing or new uses, while sustainably maintaining existing neighborhood fabric.

Urban Design, Zoning, and Area Plans

While sites should strive for best practices in urban design, they are required to meet zoning standards. The Milwaukee Zoning Code and related approved standards such as River, Interim Study, and Floodplain Overlays and Development Incentive and Neighborhood Conservation Zones should be reviewed to ensure properties and proposals are compliant with zoning.
Some urban design issues need to reference a context larger than the specific site. This is important at corner sites and sites at major intersections, those sites at terminating vistas, and at gateway locations. Area Plans include key sites and Catalytic Projects. The larger street network, public spaces and other circulation connections to the larger surroundings also may be a part of the best urban design solution. 

Principles of Urban Design

The City of Milwaukee's City Wide Policy Plan (Land Use Chapter, page 52) establishes the four basic prinicples of urban design: 

Principle #1: Neighborhood Compatibility

A cohesive neighborhood environment depends on buildings that compliment one another. The size, shape and location of buildings as well as the uses contained within them, create "patterns" that define neighborhood character. New development should be compatible with the pattern of its surrounding context.

Development that adheres to this principle will:

  • Relate to the physical character and scale of the neighborhood
  • Enhance linkages to surrounding uses, especially public services and amenities (schools, parks, mass transit)

Principle #2: Pedestrian Friendly Design

Cities are for people, and an environment designed to accommodate the pedestrian heightens human experience and sense of place. New development should be designed to create attractive, comfortable and safe walking environments.

Development that adheres to this principle will:


  • Locate buildings to define street edges and corners
  • Enliven street frontages to enhance the pedestrian experience
  • Create memorable places for people



Principle #3: Land Use Diversity

Many Milwaukee neighborhoods are comprised of a rich mix of land uses. Such diversity uses land efficiently, provides for neighborhood convenience and contributes to unique urban experiences.

Development that adheres to this principle will:

  • Encourage a compatible mix of uses at the neighborhood scale
  • Identify opportunities for shared uses

Principle #4: Transportation Diversity

Milwaukee’s neighborhoods are connected by a functional circulation network of streets and blocks. This system should be maintained and improved in ways that accommodate various modes of transportation balanced with needs for pedestrians.

Development that adheres to this principle will:

  • Create a balanced circulation system that accommodates mobility choice (pedestrians, automobiles, bicycles and transit)
  • Enhance public transportation by making it more comfortable and convenient to use

For More Information

[email protected]

For information on permits and zoning letters please contact the Department of Neighborhood Services.

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