This space to meant to be a platform for an extended conversation over the years regarding the meaning of “primary environmental corridors” and their significance for big cities like Milwaukee. It begins with an on-line interview with Sura Faraj, followed by a dialogue that now includes Howard Hinterthuer and Ann Brummitt(see interview with Ann at

If you would wish to add your thoughts, send an e-mail to or, since this is a wiki collaborative web site, click on the edit button and write on!

Sura Faraj

Godsil. In the course of community discussions and debates about the future of the Milwaukee River and its surroundings, I was introduced to the concept “primary environmental corridor.” This is a new term for me and I would very much appreciate your thoughts as to its meaning and significance for urban planning and development.

Faraj. Environmental Corridors are recognized as valuable natural resources. They include not only woodlands, prairies, and wildlife habitat areas, but lakes, rivers, bluffs, floodplains, wetlands, open greenspace and more.

A Primary Environmental Corridor (PEC) is at least 400 acres and 2 miles long and 200 feet wide.

Secondary environmental corridors usually connect to primary environmental corridors, but are smaller, at least 100 acres and a mile long.

The Milwaukee River and surrounding bluffs north of North Avenue have PEC designation.

If we are to preserve these areas in any meaningful way, we must curtail development, at least to the extent that we are disallowing high density development in these areas. Examples would include condos, hotels, apartments and dorms.

Internationally renowned environmentalist Betsy Damon, who was recently in Milwaukee to discuss water issues said the most important thing is to “save as much greenspace around the river as you can.” She even went as far as saying, “Take back greenspace. It should never belong to developers.”

To learn about Betsy Damon, see

We live in a world that is rapidly changing. Cities all over the world are looking for water resources. Wars are being fought over it. Water has become a commodity that is rapidly becoming privatized, not just in other countries, but here at home.

We need leaders who are visionary enough to see what’s coming down the pike, so to speak. Protecting our water has already become the main focus of resource management. It is vastly more important that protecting or finding oil resources. We can live without oil. We cannot live without water.

Howard Hinterthuer

I just finished reading Michael Frome’s autobiography. Michael has many stories to tell with regard to the destructive pressure placed on national parks by “over use.” Too many people—stuff gets ruined. Here’s another: When the elephants fight, the grass suffers. Michael is a resource for your discussion group. The man has been there. He possesses wisdom. Or check out his books.

High density development along a environmental corridor invites over use. Kids will play there. They will build forts. Street people will sleep there. Hikers will hike there. Bikers will bike there. Etc. Pretty soon the ecology is compromised. Initials are carved. Trash collects in the thickets. Soil is compacted. Frogs are harassed. Rocks are skipped. Firewood is collected. Paths are worn bare. Slopes erode. Plastic fails to degrade. Old tires get discarded. Police will fail to enforce—they have bigger fish to fry. Budgets are limited. Feral cats will roam looking for feral rats. Raccoons will become militant. Geese will become “urbanized”, copping an attitude.

Ask the developers how they plan to prevent degradation of environmental corridors on their doorstep? Don’t bother. They have no plan or concern. They haven’t thought it though because it is inconvenient to their mission.

Imagine what Woodstock did to Yasgur’s farm. Yuck! Too many people in one place. What a mess!

Ann Brummitt

Ho-One big difference is that National Parks have patrolled entrances and exits.. The Milwaukee River Corridor is in the middle of 1.3 million people. And I think we do want kids and hikers and bikers. Maybe forts too. I think we need to think about the lesson from the Last Child in the Woods. This is the only playground for many kids. And I think we need to plan and be thoughtful for this usage but not try to keep it out. This is our city’s finest outdoor classroom. And I also think that the arguments against density in the overlay or along the Primary environmental corridor lack substantiation. 700 students in a metropolitan area of a million plus does not impress me that much. And those very same students also represent an opportunity. Finally, it is hard for me as an environmentalist to argue much against density. Frankly, I think many of our resource, habitat, and quality of life issues would be solved by more people living in cities. So I think we have to be careful about these assumptions

Coordinator Milwaukee River Work Group

Ho Here:

I think developers should be required to create wilderness areas, using them as “offsets” to the environmental destruction they foster. Otherwise we will quickly suffocate in our own waste. Our planning models are too narrow.

The National Parks used to have a policy of trying to accommodate everyone who showed up. It quickly led to disaster. That’s my point. It was only after the Park Service enforced limits on camping that they were able to slow and/or reverse the destruction caused by too many people.

So the choice is to either limit access to environmental corridors or make more parks, woods, meadows, wilderness within easy access of developments. Impact fees may require developers to help pay for things like sewer, water, schools, and transportation infrastructure, but there are other environmental “costs” associated with development that they seldom bear.

Ann Brummit

Well an interesting idea would be to propose just such an impact fee. If a developer wants to locate along a sensitive area-then maybe part of that fee-and apparently a fee is being negotiated with UWM that was referred to as a PILOT fee-siince UWM is a non-tax generating client for the Hometown site. This fee goes to the city to pay for all those infrastructure goodies they will use. Maybe part of that fee goes to the Milwaukee River green way foundation for support for sustainable trails and planning and what not. Just thinking out loud.

Nik-you reading blueberries still? Is this something that could happen?


Exellent idea. The focus of the Milwaukee River Greenway funding would be to enhance the resource via expansion, preservation, thoughtful adaption, or all of the above.

Everybody wins! Ultimately even the developer benefits.

Sura Faraj

Just my thoughts:

  • Yes, we need more central city parks.

  • But this project isn’t about creating access to the river for city kids. It’s about plopping a dense development right on it’s doorstep.

  • Calling a primary environmental corridor “Milwaukee’s Central Park” gives the idea that this is a place primarily made for trampling and human recreation. It’s not a playground!

  • Ken Leinbach brings 60,000 people to the river corridor every year. Those visits are maybe an hour or maybe half a day. Many of them are young children on guided tours staying on the path. 700 students x 9 months of the year = almost *200,000* additional “visits” to the river which will include hard uses such as biking, mountain biking, off-path hiking, beer drinking, etc.

  • The question isn’t how much good will come of this, if so much more damage will result. That’s like saying it’s ok to use plastic, b/c we can recycle it.

  • It’s hard for me as an environmentalist to not point out that high density in a built urban area is completely different than high density abuyting a Primary Environmental Corridor. Otherwise, what’s the point in recognizing the difference between the two scapes?

It’s disingenuous, or simply naive, to misconstrue this as a suburban vs. urban argument. Our ecologically sensitive habitats deserve a deeper understanding and respect than throwing around 2-bit sound bites.

Bill Sell

Is there a way in which the influx of people (I think of the UEC 60,000 visitors) into a sensitive area can be guided to grow caretakers? I think of “my” Kinnickinnic River down here in Bay View. One reason it went bad is that our culture turned its back and allowed industry to work its will near the waters. Post war, allowing so much housing on the flood plain west of 6th Street was a major blow to the river, resulting in a concrete channel that sent more polluted water to the lake.

Accommodating a sensitive environmental area to a city might take advantage of inevitable numbers, maybe by growing environmentalists out of thousands of short term visitors. Or, would it be more effective to have few nearby residents who take possession of the environmental concerns in exchange for the privilege of living there? (Is this impossible in a market-driven housing market?)

Consider Howard’s suggestion of offsets paid for by developers. The offsets, plus a growing population of stakeholders - could this be the combination that protects the river corridor? Does the overlay require these offsets? Do the developers have specific, written, legal obligations in exchange for the location?

Rosemary Oliveira

It is important to note that SEWRPC (Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission ) tells us what is and what isn’t an environmental corridor. Their criteria is very weak and they are very prone to changing the delineations when development is in the offing. Environmental degradation at the perimeters of the corridors means that every time the corridor is mapped, it shrinks a little more. Over the past 20 years the county has lost hundreds of acres of corridor due to SEWRPC. I witnessed some of this on my watch as County Conservationist in the ate 80′s and 90′s (mostly in Franklin, Oak Creek and South Milwaukee at that time).

As a planning agency, SEWRPC should either improve their protection criteria for these corridors or give the responsibility to an agency that is better qualified and actually responsive to the public. The DNR might do a better job though they have been shown to be much more responsive to developers than to the public lately.

One good way of handling this would be to bring back the Public Intervener position at the state level. This would give the people more of a voice in environmental matters. This position used to be headed by Kathy Falk now County Executive of Dane County. The position was cut by Gov Thompson at the request of WMAC (Wisconsin Manufacturer’s and Commerce) and MMAC (Milwaukee Manufacturer’s and Commerce) as the public were stopping development in sensitive environmental areas too successfully. The desire was to break down the ability of the public to look for state intervention in local projects. And it worked very well for the developers.

It would be excellent to pressure the Governor to bring this position back and level the playing field again for the public. Energies should be focused on this.

In the absence of a Public Intervener, we are left with disjointed local skirmishes which eat up people’s time, stifle meaningful discourse and leave everyone feeling powerless and burned out. These skirmishes are almost always lost by the public since no one with any teeth really speaks in their behalf.

Let’s bring back a fully functioning Public Intervener!

Last edited by Howard Ho Lewis. Based on work by Godsil, bs and Tyler Schuster.  Page last modified on December 16, 2008

Legal Information |  Designed and built by Emergency Digital. | Hosted by Steadfast Networks