Milwaukee – Making Every Dollar Count

Despite its general success receiving budget support from the city, the Environmental Services group also looks to outside sources for funding and revenue to keep its existing programs afloat and to fund new ones.

As a division of the Department of Public Works, Environmental Services is always at the table when new business developments come to the city for consideration. All project proposals that come through the department from new water lines to new street lighting have to be approved by Environmental Services.

According to retired Milwaukee Urban Forestry District Manager Ken Ottman, “What led us to having strength as a department was our position at the table with the other key infrastructure partners in the city.”

Being at the table also means that the forestry team is aware of new developments in the works throughout the city, as business improvement districts (BIDs) have to bring their projects to the Department of Public Works for approval. Environmental Services capitalizes on this connection.

An area where Environmental Services has made boulevard landscaping changes to reduce maintenance costs while maintaining asthetic appeal. Credit: City of Milwaukee

An area where Environmental Services has made boulevard landscaping changes to reduce maintenance costs while maintaining asthetic appeal. Credit: City of Milwaukee

“The business districts saw that street trees were something they wanted to use to beautify their areas to attract people into their business improvement districts, so … they’re willing to put the money forward to put some new tree plantings in place,” says Milwaukee District Manager Boeder.

When BIDs elect to participate in streetscaping activities, the forestry team provides the expertise and information on the requirements for greenspaces within the developments, while the BIDs put up the funds for planting and maintenance care. Similar arrangements often happen with suburban and neighborhood developers, which helps keep the division’s costs down, but also increases the canopy on private property, benefiting all of the city’s residents.

As Landscape Designer Baran adds, it’s important to get into the development process at the beginning and get the designing architect to incorporate structural soil and space for trees in the design plans because without space and soil, there can be no future tree canopy: “If we can’t expand the soil mass for it, it’s just a vicious cycle.”

Another way the forestry division cuts costs is through the city’s nursery. For decades, the city of Milwaukee has owned and operated a 160-acre nursery. In the 1970s and 80s, this nursery produced millions of flowers each year for the city’s boulevard system. These days, the nursery has expanded its focus and now produces the large-caliper shade trees that the city uses along its streets. This keeps the division’s costs down, as purchasing the trees from unaffiliated nurseries would cost a great deal more than growing its own. Plus, it provides the added benefit of allowing the forestry staff to choose the types of trees being grown for use around the city. Then, there’s the $100,000 in revenue generated annually from contracts with other area cities for plants and trees.

Beyond the BIDs and nursery, Environmental Services has another funding weapon: grants. With a grant writer on staff, the team pursues a number of state, federal and private grants to fund their work and research. Over the past five years, Environmental Services has been awarded $2.4 million in grant funds for forestry projects. One grant gave the division funding to convert asphalt parking lots at Milwaukee public schools into greenspaces with turf and trees. Another grant awarded the division with funds to conduct a public relations campaign geared toward educating Milwaukee’s residents about the benefits that the city’s trees provide, such as one billboard’s statement that Milwaukee’s trees provide a $900,000 cooling benefit. The goal of this campaign, which has been conducted in the last few years, is to increase public awareness of the ecological-service benefits of trees, while also garnering support and funding for Environmental Services’ work. As Boeder points out, people often take their trees for granted, but by being aware of their benefits, Milwaukee’s residents can better appreciate the importance of their city’s urban forest and encourage elected officials to keep forestry management a funding priority.

“If you didn’t have trees or if the trees were gone, that would be one thing that people wouldn’t stand for,” says Milwaukee County Parks’ Radakovich. “It’s one of the things people value.”

Part of this value rests in the fact that the parks and trees have been a priority for generations. MCP is celebrating its 105th anniversary in 2012, and the city of Milwaukee hired its first forester almost a century ago in 1918. This long-standing care for the area’s greenspaces — combined with a number of environmentally conscious mayors during the early and mid-1900s — has resulted in a city that has a history of caring deeply about its public services and maintaining the city’s natural beauty.

As Radakovich adds, “Being that Milwaukee is such an urban area, to be able to go out and walk in areas where you can get lost in nature in your own backyard is something to be appreciated.”

Previous: Milwaukee– Securing Greenbacks             Next: Focus Story – Learning From the Past, Protecting the Future