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Painting rain barrels

Arts @ Large Community Gathering on Paliafito Arts Stage

Harbor Fest Boat Parade with Indigenous Theme

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People enjoy spending time near pristine water bodies. Lakes, rivers, and oceans can provide scenic views, recreation, and a sense of peace, wonder, and possibility.

Cities can create infrastructure to sustain and restore natural water bodies while increasing community access to these assets.

Milwaukee's Leadership

Settled on the shores of Lake Michigan, at the confluence of three rivers, Milwaukee’s unique environment and water source has shaped its culture, residents, and history. Historically industrial, Milwaukee is now using its water source to position itself as an American Fresh Coast City. The stunning lakeshore beaches, impressive inner harbor, and miles of river that wind through the city have attracted residents and visitors to gather by the water.


Water Current Tour

Green infrastructure educational sign at Paliafito Arts Park

The self-guided walking tour includes educational signs and artwork to help visitors experience the various water-related assets in Walker's Point and the Harbor District.

Milwaukee Water Stories

Miranda, Water Guide Graphic of Woman Smiling

Online technology and storytelling come together to engage the public about the city's community green infrastructure.

Freshwater Toolkit

Aerial View of Lake Michigan and the City of Milwaukee

This online collection of free activities is available for educators to help students meet multiple state educational standards on water.

The Principle in Action

Natural amenities and art can be powerful educational tools, inspiring citizens to appreciate and connect with their city, stimulating creativity in work and schools, and influencing the city’s future. Cities that embrace their natural amenities or enhance them with art embody their culture, residents, and history.

Public Water Access

Milwaukee’s connection to the water runs deep. In fact, the name comes from a Potawatomi word Minwaking meaning “gathering place by the waters.” The City of Milwaukee encourages residents and visitors to gather by and on the water. The rivers are lined with public docks ensuring residents and visitors alike access to the rivers and lake. The water can be enjoyed by boat cruises, kayak and stand up paddle board rentals, and a variety of urban kayak trails. Explore Milwaukee’s water access options with VISIT Milwaukee.

Another great resource is the Milwaukee Urban Water Trail Map, which includes access points, portages, hazards, and resting sites (sites accessed only from the water), and also includes information on historic, cultural, ecological, or scenic points of interest along the way.

Kayaking photo by Sara Stathas, Visit Milwaukee

Kayakers on the Milwaukee River Downtown


Water Education through Art

Milwaukee Water Commons, a cross-city network that fosters connection, collaboration, and broad community leadership on behalf of Milwaukee’s water, educates residents using community outreach and art. Working closely with residents, Milwaukee Water Commons uses art as a way to connect people to water and foster environmental stewards to help protect our common waters.

Milwaukee Water Commons also extends its outreach throughout Milwaukee by facilitating community mural paintings, recycled sculptures, and other art installations and educational tools such as the Watershed Wagon, Water Cycle, and Mobile Filter Sink. Frequently seen alongside Milwaukee’s scenic waterways, farmers markets, and community events, unique traveling interactive displays educate Milwaukee residents and visitors about water.

We Are Water Art Piece with Lights Displaying the Great Lakes

"We Are Water" Art Installation of the Great Lakes (Photo: Pat Robinson)


A Gathering Place at Bradford Beach

Milwaukee has worked diligently to restore a once underutilized beach to one of America’s top urban beaches.

Bradford Beach is now a gathering place for the entire community and is considered an asset and source of pride by everyone. Offering everything from tiki huts and cabanas to 35 sand volleyball courts for over 500 summer league teams, residents can now enjoy the fresh water and soft golden sand.

Bradford Beach filled with people

Bradford Beach in the Summer (Photo: VISIT Milwaukee)


The RiverWalk as a Connector

Access to Milwaukee’s three rivers—the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic—has started to be reclaimed with the help of Milwaukee’s stunning RiverWalk. Instead of a collision between the built and natural environments, the RiverWalk combines nature with the historic city.

While strolling along the river you will pass historic bridges and Milwaukee’s Art Walk, an outdoor art gallery that includes both permanent pieces, such as “Gertie the Duck” and “The Bronze Fonz,” and temporary installations that change periodically. Plans are in place to extend the RiverWalk south from the inner harbor to Bay View. Incorporating the rivers into city life celebrates Milwaukee’s culture and has created unique restaurants, bars, parks, and other entertainment spaces for residents to gather.

Milwaukee RiverWalk in the Third Ward

Milwaukee RiverWalk in the Third Ward


Strengthening Community in the Inner Harbor

Continuing to reconnect residents to Milwaukee’s fresh coast, an enormous effort is underway to transform Milwaukee’s inner harbor into a vibrant and productive waterfront that strengthens the community and regional economy.

In partnership with many organizations, most noteworthy the non-profit Harbor District, Inc., huge strides have been taken to turn the harbor into a center of prosperity and enjoyment for Milwaukee residents. The innovative projects of the Harbor District, such as the Harbor View Plaza, Kinnickinnic River TrailGreenfield Bridge Mural, and expansion of the Milwaukee RiverWalk, are making successful progress in gathering residents by the water.

Harbor View Plaza (Photo from OnMilwaukee)

Harbor View Plaza, the first waterfront public park in the Harbor District

Water Tour by the Milwaukee RiverWalk


Highlighting Our Water Assets

Discover Milwaukee's Water Story. The Water Current Tour is a self-guided walking tour that includes educational signs and artwork to guide visitors to Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood, along the Water Technology District and into the Harbor District to experience the city’s various water-related assets, including the Global Water Center, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences and Harbor View Plaza.

Tour Stops Include: Harley-Davidson, Rockwell Automation, Confluence Point, Boone & Crockett, Paliafito Eco-Arts Park, Harbor View Plaza, and the Global Water Center. Use the Water Tour Map to Plan Your Trip

Learning How Water Flows

Reflo uses technology and storytelling to share how water flows through our lives, jobs, environment, and society. Community members can leverage the following digital engagement projects to catalyze amazing community green infrastructure in Milwaukee:

Water Education in Schools

Providing environmental education to K-12 schools has increased in recent years with the help of Green & Healthy Schools Wisconsin. This unique program supports and encourages schools to prepare students to understand, analyze, and address major environmental and sustainability challenges now and in the future. Green & Healthy Schools Wisconsin, administered through a partnership between the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Public Instruction, and the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education, provides information, resources, and announcements for all school staff, community members, and others interested in green and healthy initiatives and activities for Wisconsin schools.

The Green Schools Consortium of Milwaukee (GSCM), administrated by Reflo, is an association of green infrastructure practitioners, agencies, and foundations. The consortium shares resources and works together to develop green infrastructure projects and educational opportunities for schools and the community. Its mission is to promote green infrastructure in projects for Milwaukee area schools that result in improved environmental outcomes and greater eco-literacy among students, families, educators, and community members. 

Work to be Done

Milwaukee’s use of public art to connect residents with their culture, history, and water is progressing in a big way. Art installations such as the Coakley Water Tower and Sculpture Milwaukee, and future installations such as the planned Lakefront Gateway Plaza, are beacons for creativity and future growth.

Coakley Water Tower at Night photographed by Lee Matz
Coakley Water Tower Unveiling at Night (Photo: Lee Matz)