Signs of sustainability are peppered across the City of Milwaukee landscape – from the exponential growth of the Bublr bike share business, to the wind turbine dominating the south shore skyline and an increase in solar panels blanketing rooftops in neighborhoods around town.
The City's director of environmental sustainability, Erick Shambarger, believes 2016 marks an important milestone.
“Ten years ago Mayor (Tom) Barrett created the Office of Environmental Sustainability. That was a key recommendation of a citizen group that came together when he took office called the Green Team. They made a whole series of recommendation,” Shambarger says.
He says today sustainability now infuses city operations.
“Whether it be the Department of Public Works, or City Development, the library, health department or police department,” and Shambarger adds, “the community has also come together on sustainability as well.”
Milwaukee SHINES, designed to increase access for solar energy, has become a core city program. It includes a group buy program that has rolled out in neighborhoods including Riverwest and Bay View.
“Communities can then buy into a single contract which gets bulk pricing for solar and brings the cost down and it creates some positive peer pressures among neighbors,” Shambarger says.
The HOME GR/OWN program helps transform vacant lots around the city into parks and garden space.
“This past year we converted 20 vacant lots on the north side into pocket parks, orchards and community gardens. And we put young men to work building those parks and the idea is that they can be signs of new hope and new growth in the communities that they serve,” Shambarger says.
He hopes the program is a sign that all Milwaukee neighborhoods are important “and have potential to grow and bloom."
Milwaukee recently secured a $750,000 Department of Energy grant. Shambarger says it will be used to create a “comprehensive suite of energy efficiency services.” It’s called the Better Buildings Challenge.
“We’ll help commercial building owners throughout the city benchmark their energy use, do energy audits to find energy saving opportunities. We’ll help finance those improvements with rebates from the Focus On Energy program and our PACE financing program which is very innovative.” Shambarger says.
He says signs of sustainability are to be found across the city – from solar installations to the wind turbine south of downtown. “Our Me2 program has retrofitted 1,300 homes throughout all the Milwaukee’s neighborhoods, saving the average homeowner 30 percent,” Shambarger says.
The sustainability office also took its 10th anniversary as an opportunity to rebrand itself.
“We had this long office title and we wanted to shorten it up and to we came up with the Environmental Collaboration Office which gives us the snappy acronym of ECO,” Shambarger says.
This year, Shambarger says he hopes to more formally engage UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University to come up with sustainability solutions.
"UWM has the School of Freshwater Sciences and the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, which we have worked with; and Marquette has the new Water Law and Policy Initiative. So we want to put the best minds – research minds – to work and try to put those ideas directly to work in our city,” Shambarger says.