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COA and Riverwest Residents Propose Kilbourn Park Trust

by Tom Schneider

Once a great park with a spectacular view of Milwaukee’s skyline, Kilbourn Park has been little-used and barely maintained for several years. Today, the north end of the park, known as Reservoir Park, is an eyesore surrounded by barbed wire fences. But now a new partnership between COA Youth & Family Centers (“COA”), area residents and organizations, and the City of Milwaukee is proposing to change this. The City has already approved a plan to re-landscape the part of Kilbourn Park south of North Avenue. New park space will be added by landscaping all the way down the bluff and west past the Holton Street Bridge. Plans also include fixing the bathrooms, and bike and pedestrian walkways. But after these improvements are made, who will maintain the park and provide park programming? COA and area residents are proposing a public-private partnership to operate and maintain the soon-to-be relandscaped Kilbourn Park and adjacent new park space. With this partnership, the City of Milwaukee, COA, and residents of the Riverwest neighborhood will operate and maintain this park as a vibrant new community resource and asset, resulting in a significant enhancement to the Riverwest neighborhood and the City of Milwaukee. This partnership was initially proposed by residents at a public meeting last fall. COA is a nonprofit organization which has served Milwaukee’s culturally diverse Riverwest neighborhood for 96 years. This new collaboration will positively impact COA’s ability to serve the Riverwest neighborhood through its programs including childcare, after-school and summer youth programs, and family activities. Other participating organizations are also interested in providing park activities. As part of the discussions with the City, COA Executive Director Tom Schneider proposed the creation of the COA-Riverwest Park Trust. The Park Trust will be made up of area residents and organizations and will be responsible for the daily operation, maintenance, and programming of the park. Already participating in planning discussions are representatives of the Riverwest Neighborhood Association, neighborhood block watches, YMCA-CDC, Urban Ecology Center, OW Holmes school, and area businesses. Participants believe that there are 3 major reasons why this community partnership is essential: 1. Enhancing Urban Green Spaces: COA, the City, and residents all recognize that Kilbourn Park is a vital resource for Riverwest residents and for the Milwaukee community as a whole. The presence of precious green space in urban neighborhoods directly affects residents’ quality of life. Urban parks are places where people can get outside and enjoy open green spaces; where residents can gather and socialize; and, where a diversity of people can engage in a wide range of recreational activities. If Kilbourn Park is to serve as this type of positive community resource and gathering place, it must be well operated and maintained. A poorly maintained park will be a community eyesore and detriment to the neighborhood. Improving and maintaining the park and providing recreational opportunities can only serve to enhance the neighborhood. 2. Empowering Residents: With 96 years of experience serving the Riverwest community, COA knows that neighborhood involvement will be essential to creating and maintaining Kilbourn Park as a well-utilized and valued resource. The proposal empowers residents to take responsibility for Kilbourn Park’s revitalization. It seems obvious to point out that no one is better situated to know what will be attractive to residents, and will in fact attract residents to use Kilbourn Park, than Riverwest residents themselves. The park must not be a place that “they” provide for “us”. A strong, working partnership between Riverwest residents, COA, and the City will go far to instill a sense that “the park is ours, and we all have an interest in maintaining, using, preserving and protecting it.” 3. Enhancing Agency Impact: COA Youth & Family Centers, located immediately adjacent to and connected to the park, has a direct interest in making certain that Kilbourn Park is properly maintained and available for appropriate, positive youth and adult programming. COA already uses the park for a wide variety of after-school recreational youth activities, as well as for its family activities, early childhood education, and childcare programs. Area residents have already noticed a major change this summer with the daily presence of kids and staff in COA’s Goldin Summer Day Camp, and the Saturday Summer Soccer League. This summer, the park has had more usage and looks better and cleaner. Current discussions call for the City to continue to provide police and fire protection services and maintain liability as it currently does for the park and for all City-owned property and facilities. Donna Schlieman is one of many participants in this planning process, and was actively involved in securing Kilbourn Park’s historic designation. Schlieman stated, “This is a cutting edge proposal to secure this park’s future and make sure that residents have a key role in maintaining the park as a vital community resource.” All residents and interested parties are invited to participate and attend planning meetings. For further information, call. COA’s Executive Director Tom Schneider at 263-8383 extension 103. Schneider stated, “It’s a shame to have badly needed park space become neglected, go unused, and even surrounded by barbed wire. It’s great to see so many diverse members of the neighborhood coming together to make Kilbourn Park a great place for kids and families and a key neighborhood resource.” Tom Schneider is the Executive Director of the COA. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 7 – August 2002
by Tom Schneider