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If you have any advice for Riverwesters and Milwaukeeans on how to incorporate conservation and environmental philosophies into our own lives, please share.What actions can we take to start the paradigm shift to ‘waste not’?

Dear Valerie,

Thank you for giving me a chance to try to organize my thoughts about some very important question you have raised. Here’s my best shot today.

Confessions of a Late Comer to the Environmental Movement

I am a late arrival to the environmental movement. I’m a city boy who had very little connection with nature besides summer camps in grade school and fishing for 3 inch fish in St. Louis’ glorious Forest Park. I was thrilled by a small tomato garden and cherry tree in our back yard. My parents took me for Sunday rides in the small, forested hills in the St. Louis country surroundings. In highschool and college, when I had a drivers’ licence, my friends and I occasionally swam in small lakes or muddy rivers. Once I began to realize I had some responsibilities to humanity, my energies were absorbed in the civil rights and anti-war movements, raising children, and the historic preservation movement.

My “environmental consciousness” began to slowly develop in the late 1970s, when I bought a lovely English cottage at 3354 N. Gordon Pl., on a small bluff overlooking the Milwaukee River and Pleasant Valley Nature Preserve. I remember walking in the magical forest along the banks of the Milwaukee River with bittersweet feelings. On the one hand, I was carried away by the gentle power of nature the forest offered. When I encountered my first deer, I thought I had died and gone to Sherwood Forest or heaven. On the other hand, back in 1977 the Milwaukee River, before the North Ave. dam was opened, was like a stagnant pond. The river flowed not, was very dirty, and was filled with debris. Back in 1977 the Milwaukee River was unloved.

Riverwest environmentalists, scientists, and zen poets enlightened me about the environmental movement. I can remember Riverwest activist Rosemary Oliviera picking up peoples’ newspapers in a little pick up truck back in the early 1980s. I was amazed at the passion with which recent graduates of UWM talked about new ways of dealing with our sewage and waste. Books on “the limits fo growth” showed up. Gary Snyder’s “Turtle Island” told me to “walk lightly on Mother earth.” The nature philosophies of American Indians began to filter into the conversation of my friends. Elsa Ankel’s Urban Ecology Center offered people things to think about and do for the good cause.

The fruits of the labor of Milwaukee’s environmentalists are accelerating the environmental movement’s power these days. I am astonished at the growing influence of the Environmental Consortium, the Urban Ecology Center, and the coalitions to renew the Menomonee Valley, protect the river corridors and lakefront, establish urban gardens, land conservancies, and Growing Power’s city green and fish farms, Market Basket programs, and possibly a nationally renown tilapia, catfish, and lake perch fish farm in Building #3 of the new Urban Village of Pabst Hill.

The concept “exponential growth” for the environmental movement is beginning to make sense. Everywhere I turn, there are people introducing me to new insights and things to do for responsible living in our urban centers. The Riverwest Food Co-op, Outpost Natural Foods, Pieter Godfrey’s Reclamation Center, the Bicycle Federation, Friends of the Milwaukee River, Milwaukee River Basin Partnership, Milwaukee’s Urban Gardens, the Park People, the River Revitalization Foundation, the Sierra club are some great groups that come to mind. Will Allen and Mark Heffernan are developing a technology called anaerobic digestion, which will transform food wastes into sources of energy for growing greens and raising fish on city farms. Growing Power is also on the edge of sparking a movement that will find people able to raise much of their own food and some for the market in back yard or basement gardens!

So we are at the edge of a “paradigm shift” regarding our relationship with Mother Earth. A key step is the simple realization that there is now a critical mass of people and accomplished institutions to work with. The wind is at our backs! The structures are in place! There is no reason for cynicism or despair. A growing number of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, public and private enterprises, elected officials, and civil servants have awakened to the challenge. They have good things for all of us to do!

One critical next step, in my mind, is to harness the power of the internet to augment the mobilizational and educative power of the environmental movement. The internet affords a vast knowledge base and communication vehicle for fighting the good fight. Open source internet communities like the Bay_View_Matters Yahoo group and the Riverwest E-Mail network offer great educational and organizational tools for environmentalists. Bucketworks’ pioneering work with “wiki web communities” provides us with on-line public forums and city squares to share information and plan a velvet revolution that connects other popular movements with the environmental community.

Here is one open-source web site that Riverwesters can use to connect the environmental movement with the historic preservation, neighborhood, peace, civil rights, and sustainable development movements.


The citizens of Riverwest and the citizens of all Milwaukee neighborhoods are…

On the edge of a renaissance!

We are learning to walk lightly on Mother Earth. We are learning to live more responsibly. We are awakening!

With the wind at our backs in 2006,


Last edited by TeganDowling. Based on work by g.  Page last modified on February 01, 2006

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