10 July 2015

Milwaukee Musings

IMG_7620Escaping the hellacious summer heat of Phoenix, Nate found respite this early July in his all time favorite city: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Now Milwaukee is not the city most people associate with an epic life of grandeur. Often hidden in the Second City shadow, responses to Nate’s Milwaukee love are fraught with confusion and skepticism. The long running nickname “Killwaukee” probably doesn’t help either.

Upon request, the following post will aim to articulate the beauty that lies within the bounds of this mysterious city.

The basics: Milwaukee is a city on Lake Michigan with a population of roughly 550k people. Far smaller than Chicago, the sense of community is strong and established. Milwaukee embodies the greater Wisconsin quality of genuine friendlies and the kindness of stranger. The neutral division of neighborhoods amplifies this communal quality, creating numerous small towns within the larger. From the south side neighborhood of Bayview, to the northern Riverwest, each area has a distinct architectural and cultural identity. One easily knows where they are and has a sense of belonging. It is easy to be content and have all the basic social and practical needs met within a tight radius. When boredom strikes, adventure is blocks, not miles, away.

IMG_7656The breathtaking beauty: Milwaukee county has one of the most extensive and interconnected park systems in the country. One park will consist of a sandy beach reminiscent of the Pacific Coast. A quick bike ride will take you through majestic Maple and Oak trees where green is the only color seen for miles. Not only do the parks exist, they are well utilized. Despite the brutal winter, Milwaukee is a very active community. Jealously abounded within Nate when he could not jump on his bike and hop on the miles long trail. The Milwaukee river teases the trails, creating easy access to water no matter where the path takes you.

The built environment: As an architect, Nate was awestruck by the extensive inventory of historic homes from the turn of the century. Generally speaking, no two homes look alike. The rich architecture has been preserved. As new development occurs, it does so gently and respectfully. Nature prevails in the midst of development, as most homes are tucked beyond canopies of trees.

The intellect: Despite the reputation of Wisconsin as a whole, Milwaukee is well rounded, diverse, and educated. Several thriving universities call Milwaukee home, leaving no shortage of interesting conversation. High quality local musicians thrive in the intimate scene, and have opportunities to perform that would never occur in larger cities. Because people are established, they are able to hone their craft, and each establishment and exchange is a piece of art, including the famous Milwaukee Art Museum.

IMG_7676The access: Although it would be completely sustainable to never leave the great city of Milwaukee, convenient opportunities to do so make it even more appealing. A short drive or train ride will take would be urban enthusiasts to the cultural mecca of Chicago. When complete, they can return home to their quiet Milwaukee neighborhood. There are many places in the greater Chicago area that have a longer commute to the city and steeper rents. An hour or two in the opposite direction leads to the north woods where some of the greatest camping and fishing can be found on secluded lakes too abundant to number.

The energy: Similar to Tucson, Milwaukee embraces it’s quirkiness and supports local businesses. The quality of food, coffee, and beer surpasses that of most cosmopolitan cities, without the hour long wait and intense pretense. People come as they are, live fully, and laugh frequently. Not a single person Nate interacted with wanted to leave. The lack of transience creates roots. Trees with established roots bear fruit. While comfortable in their own skin, Milwaukee still welcomes newcomers. It isn’t trying to be anything, it just is.

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