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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!
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.