• Watermarks 2018
  • Watermarks 2018
  • Watermarks 2018

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

May 8, 2018
WaterMarks Workshop

The WaterMarks walk series with United Community Center’s Acosta Middle School culminated in the May 8th Workshop, where we gathered at UCC AMS to celebrate what students, teachers, and community members learned through exploring water in their neighborhood. Students also voted on the letter to sit atop the first WaterMarks marker, which will be installed outside of the new UCC AMS building in August 2018.

Three teams of students served as "captains," sharing their new knowledge with peers in a poster-board session and were accompanied by the walk facilitators. We then broke out into three groups, led by the artist and scientist co-facilitators. Here, students were invited to share ideas about improving water management in their neighborhood, based on what they had learned during the walks. Students shared creative and innovative ideas and discussed how painting rain barrels, organizing their own neighborhood cleanup walk, and marking storm grates with aquatic animals could help call attention to the connection between water and the larger ecosystem. We re-convened as a large group where both students and parents shared stories about what water means to them and how it plays a role in recreation, cooking, and special celebrations.
Finally, it was time to count the votes for the letter and concept to represent the role of water in the neighborhood!  The group selected the letter “A” for several reasons; A is for Agua, Acosta, and Art, and it represents the highest grade that a student can receive. The first letter of the alphabet also seemed like an appropriate choice for the inaugural marker at this new pioneering school. We look forward to seeing the marker installed later this year!



April 22, 2018
Take a Walk with WaterMarks!

Identifying, Understanding, and Envisioning Storm Water Management

WaterMarks celebrated Earth Day on April 22nd, 2018 with another artist and scientist-led community walk. The walk, “Identifying, Understanding, and Envisioning Storm Water Management”, concluded the spring program series with community partner UCC Acosta Middle School. Marquette Civil Engineer PHD Candidate Paige Peters, who is also the founder and CEO of Rapid Radicals Technology, led the walk with Milwaukee artist Colin Matthews, who writes that, “traveling [a] very local and familiar landscape provide[d] the opportunity to introduce the hidden in plain sight architecture of storm water management.”  The walk began outside UCC Acosta Middle School on Washington Avenue with an introduction to the topic by Paige, who is an expert in rapid water treatment and its applications in stormwater management, especially during extreme weather events. Paige notes that "an entire network the footprint of the city lives underground where our wastewater and drinking water infrastructure provides necessary services to taps and toilets, [which allows] us to live in an urban setting."

 A scavenger hunt encouraged kids to identify stormwater infrastructure along the route, including manholes, storm grates, downspouts, and pavement types. Walking north toward National Avenue, the Colin and Paige stopped to discuss the fish markings on a manhole cover. The fish was accompanied by a sign reading, “Dump No Waste,” alluding to how stormwater travels from the streets through the sewer system and eventually into a fish’s habitat in Lake Michigan.
In making this connection, the kids on the walk became energized to pick up litter from the streets, making a timely Earth Day contribution to cleaner, healthier rivers and lake! The group stopped on National and 7th to discuss a new development that includes designs for green infrastructure such as rain gardens, green space, and, as one of the participants pointed out, possibly a green roof. Participants learned about the importance of integration of water management and green infrastructure in urban development.  At an empty lot, the group envisaged means for homeowners to contribute to a healthier water system by adding landscape features such as vegetation, intentional landscaping, and rain barrels to capture rainwater where it falls. Paige discussed how rain barrels help to reduce stress on the combined sewer system during periods of heavy rainfall. The day ended at Paliafito Eco-Arts Park on 3rd and Walker where the group witnessed the epitome of innovative, green infrastructure right in their neighborhood. We concluded the walk with an energizing open discussion on visioning the future of green infrastructure in Milwaukee and how communities can contribute to a sustainable future.

Many thanks to Paige and Colin for spending Earth Day with us and helping us brainstorm how to best manage stormwater in our community!


March 28, 2018
Exploring the Hidden Blue/Green

On March 28th, 2018, 44 UCC Acosta Middle School students, teachers and community members met for the second installment of WaterMarks neighborhood walks. Melanie Ariens, artist in residence for Water Commons, and Dr. Carmen Aguilar, Associate Scientist at UWM School of Freshwater Sciences, teamed up to facilitate a multifaceted exploration of green infrastructure in the neighborhood and its impact on water systems management.
The walk titled, "Hidden Green/Blue," led students from UCC Acosta Middle School to the School of Freshwater Sciences by way of Washington Street, South Polycn Street, and Greenfield Avenue. Melanie Ariens stenciled "Hidden Blue/Green" logos along the route, which students enjoyed pointing out at each stop along the way. The scientist/artist team pointed out the green roofs at UCC, Bruce Guadalupe, Braise restaurant, 88.9 Radio Milwaukee, the Clock Shadow Building, and the School of Freshwater Sciences as well as raingardens, rain barrels, pervious pavement, and water reclamation systems. Carmen Aguilar was excited "to see students using their knowledge about the water cycle and how that relates to the effects of rain." She started working with rain in North Carolina, looking at the effects on Chesapeake Bay, coastal areas, and open ocean in the Atlantic, and now continues her research in Milwaukee with Lake Michigan.
The walk engaged its audience by heightening awareness of green infrastructure and exploring simple ways to relocate water in concrete-dominated urban environments, highlighting community members and businesses, big and small. Students and community members learned how landscape choices and infrastructure help retain water and prevent runoff, and learned about the Greenfield Avenue Gateway, a fountain designed by UWM architecture professor Jim Wasley that treats runoff from the roof of the building.
The walk culminated at the School of Freshwater Sciences where participants viewed a classroom laboratory aquaponics system and observed a quagga mussels science experiment that demonstrated the impact of invasive species on Lake Michigan. Melanie then lead a hands-on activity where students used origami to create a pamphlet about the Great Lakes. At the end of the day, everyone received a blue marble which represented the importance of water and put the "earth" in the palm of their hand.
Many thanks to Carmen and Melanie for sharing their knowledge and helping us become active stewards of water systems in our own neighborhoods!


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. At Walker Square Park, the group explored how the surrounding water and landscape in the area has changed due to human activity. They then 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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