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The Mills of the Gods

“The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small.” — from the ancient Greek Three years ago the Riverwest Currents published its first issue . The front page headline was, “Reservoir No Longer Needed?” The headline for this issue, three years later to the month, is “Reservoir No Longer Needed.” People in this neighborhood have been planning and talking and dreaming about the reservoir in Kilbourn Park for three long years, and all that has changed so far is a punctuation mark. But there’s a lot behind that small change. There were a couple of years of testing by Milwaukee Water Works to determine that, indeed, the city no longer required the services of the 130-year-old leaky limestone tank embedded in the hill. There was an ongoing battle, first joined in 1998, to maintain the historical integrity of the shape and size of that hill. There was the dawning recognition by the neighborhood that this treasure, the green hill with the “million dollar view” of the Milwaukee skyline, was something we couldn’t take for granted. The place where we played and sledded and slipped under the fence to watch the fireworks might be taken away from us if we didn’t exercise vigilance. So we spoke up. We participated in neighborhood discussions and brainstorming sessions about redesigning the site, even as we wondered if our work would have any real impact. We didn’t have the luxury of being cynical. We took advantage of every public forum. The Riverwest Neighborhood Association wrote a position paper, incorporating the voices and opinions of as many people as possible. And they sent that position paper off to as many public officials as they could think of. When the opportunity arose, we created the Kilbourn Park Planning Committee — a coalition of neighborhood organizations, near neighbors, and COA Youth and Family Center. That group shouldered the responsibility for the section of Kilbourn Park south of North Avenue, as well as the newly created parkland on the slope down to Commerce Street. With that body in place, we stand a better chance of keeping control of the Reservoir section of the park. Because the Riverwest neighborhood has taken power during the past three years, the City has come to us with their proposal for the park. Granted, there are some things this proposal is not. It’s not an answer to the safety issue created by the dangerous traffic slicing through the park on busy North Avenue. That problem represents an area where, once again, the neighborhood is going to have to stand strong. The neighborhood would be best served by a pedestrian footbridge linking the path to the top of the reservoir and the south part of Kilbourn Park. But we’ll cross that bridge, as they say, when we come to it. Right now, it’s time to celebrate the other thing that the Water Works proposal is not. It’s not the dim memory of a beloved green space now bristling with condominium towers, where only millionaires would get to enjoy the million-dollar view. The reservoir is a space that will become what the neighborhood wants, because this neighborhood knows how to get together and get things done. It’s a symbol of our strength, and a focal point for our ongoing attention to the beauty of our neighborhood. And if three years seems like a long time to change a punctuation mark, maybe that should tell us something. Like, if there’s anything else we want to change, maybe we’d better get started. Now.