• Watermarks 2018
  • Watermarks 2018
  • Watermarks 2018

Watermarks: An Atlas of Water and the City of Milwaukee Blog


November 7, 2017, 4-5pm
Hidden Water Stories
WaterMarks CALL Walk

On November 7, 2017 more than twenty-five students, teachers, interested community members, folks from local non-profits, and WaterMarks project partners gathered after school at UCC Acosta Middle School for the inaugural WaterMarks neighborhood walk. The interdisciplinary walk was facilitated by visual artist and longtime Walker’s Point resident Jill Sebastian and environmental engineer Justin Hegarty, director of Reflo - Sustainable Water Solutions.  Sebastian and Hegarty invited walk participants to uncover “hidden water stories” in the surrounding area.
In the heavily reshaped environ of Walker's Square, the walk explored the disjuncture between the historic natural water pathways and the legacy of industry and infrastructure on our current perceptions. The group explored buried water in Walker Square Park, and followed storm drainage to a man-made canal sculpted from a landfilled Menomonee Valley.  The walk circled the massive I-94 interchange, allowing participants to consider its environmental and social impacts on the neighborhood. Cement dominates the area, burying from view the presence of birds seeking sanctuary among the ruins of factories.
Sebastian reflected, “As an artist who generally works in public space, I had exempted myself from doing projects where I live. Having been attracted by the diversity and grittiness of Walker's Point, I admit to rather liking it the way it is. However, that is changing around me, and like my neighbors, I am challenged by questions of gentrification. As I do with projects I have done elsewhere, I complemented my direct observations, in this case over 25 years, with research that filled out the questions I ruminate upon - things that catch and hold my curiosity. How has what we see come into being? What forces, commerce and habitation, have formed the unique character of how we live here?  The environmental engineering perspective that Justin Hegarty provided deepened my understanding of what we cannot see and what we might do.”
The group wondered—how can the ample water resources that were exploited in the late 19th and early 20th century be revealed to enhance our densely populated urban-scape? How might we live more responsibly here? In the area, local schools are becoming sites of responsibly—reclaiming green space from pavement. Under sections of the high overpass, one finds evidence of adaptive community engagement—activating underutilized spaces that currently work as barriers to community cohesion. As the group returned to their starting point, they explored historical photographs and discussed how local water use—and misuse—speaks to the potential power of water in an urban context.
The first WaterMarks maker will be installed at UCC Acosta Middle School in summer 2018.  In the coming months, we invite you to join us—along with Milwaukee-area artists and scientists—in considering how we can all become active partners in recognizing water as a resource that is vital to both life and general well-being throughout the region.

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