The Future of Garden Park and Gardener’s Market: Somewhere, Somehow, Some Place for Us

Part 2 in the last of a series on Garden Park. Prairie Garden, Garden Parkby Vince Bushell “There’s a place for us. A time and space for us. Hold my hand and we’re half way there. Hold my hand and I’ll take you there.” This romantic lyric from West Side Story captures the spirit of the lost urban landscape on the corner of Locust and Bremen streets. Neighborhood dreams centered in an old commercial building died and were buried under the weight of polluted soil dumped on the site from a nearby torn down tannery from Milwaukee’s industrial age. If you lie on the ground you can almost hear the echoes of the music from the basement nightclubs — Tiny Tim strumming his ukulele on “Tiptoe through the tulips” at Humpin Hannahs… the cash registers ringing and neighborhood gossip flowing in past co-ops. Neighbors hoping for a community that was people-centered. All dead. All gone. And what was left was a littered, wind-swept vacant lot filled with hard clay. The dying young man’s song in West Side Story somehow expressed hope for an unseen, unknown future where things could be better. And things did get better. In 1995 a community garden was started in Garden Park, and it continues to this day. A farmers’ market joined the site, and people started to come. Commerce again thrives on this corner on summer Sundays. Music again fills the air, this time above the ground. But will it continue? City officials seem willing to work with an organized community group that would oversee the stewardship of this land. There is an existing structure of a few volunteers that help maintain the garden and run the market. At least two non-profits that promote green spaces and gardening have expressed an interest in working with the neighborhood to secure long term tenancy, if not outright ownership of the land. MUG, Milwaukee Urban Gardens, would consider owning the land if a partnering neighborhood group would accept responsibility for garden upkeep. MUG would also need to have the State Department of Natural Resources sign off on a mutually acceptable remediation plan regarding the contamination of the site. The Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park has an established historical relationship to Garden Park and was the driving force behind establishing a Prairie Garden on the site. Their board also could be approached with the idea of the Center having a role in the future of the Park. I hope these two articles in the Riverwest Currents (last month’s article can be viewed online at have increased neighborhood awareness of the status of Garden Park and the need to develop a long-term stewardship plan for the land. A stewardship plan is the community’s best hope of maintaining the Garden and Market as a community asset into the future. In that vein, I am inviting all interested parties to attend a planning meeting on Monday, November 11, at 7 p.m. at the YMCA CDC office at 604 E. Center Street. Submit any comments or questions, as well as your contact information if you cannot attend this meeting but would be interested in participating, to the Riverwest Currents at 733 E. Clarke St. Milwaukee WI 53212 or email Vince Bushell. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 9 – October 2002
Prairie Garden, Garden Park