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Why old tires and an abandoned railroad line could make The ARTery the best Milwaukee-based Kickstarter Ever!

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Since it’s launch in 2009, Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform, has been helping artists, inventors, directors, etc. raise money for their creative endeavors. I first wrote about this pioneering site back in 2009 and Milwaukee artists have been taking advantage of the crowdfunding site for a variety of projects such as films, albums, games, and even an opportunity to blow up a car. The latest Milwaukee-based Kickstarter aims to make an impact on the city of Milwaukee, or at least a couple of neighborhoods via the use of an abandoned 2.4 mile railroad line and old tires. The name of the project is called The ARTery, which was created by Keith Hayes and Rob Zdanowski of Beintween (a social & spacial network). The two were also responsible for the the tire swings under the Marsupial bridge. The two discovered a unique use for these tires that involves the proposed ARTery. They developed a prototype called MaTIREal, which would become the trail for the 2.4 mile linear park. They also saw that these tires could be re-used and adapted for the trail, but also other aspects of the park including seating elements. The goal of the Kickstarter is to raise $10,000 for a shipping container to store the old tires, power tools, several hundred blades to make the local reduction of tires more efficient. The project has currently raised over $5,000 via the Kickstarter page.

 

 

The ARTery is a proposed linear park that connects the neighborhood of Harambee and The Riverworks Center. The proposed linear park is in old rail corridor located between Keefe Ave and Capitol Drive. Keith and Rob found out that this area has become a ‘victim’ of illegal dumping, which consisted primarily of old, discarded tires.

“The MaTIREal prototype is an 18 inch by four foot reduction of automobile tires set inside a polycarbonate case. We’ve taken actual gravel from the rail line and backfilled cells."

The MaTIREal is structural and it will allow for flexibility in the trail. The leftover gravel will come from the old railroad, and it will cost less than an asphalt-based trail. Keith and Rob are currently working with the current owner, Brian Monore of Earthbound Development, of the land occupied by the abandoned railroad. The city is trying to acquire the land because of the opportunity that The ARTery could provide. The project also received a grant from the Youth Council of the City of Milwaukee.

While the project is a very cool idea, it has a very important motive. The ARTery would help address segregation issues by connecting two different neighborhoods. The path would connect the predominately African-American Harambee neighborhood with the middle-class retail area of the Riverworks Center. The ARTery could also eliminate the risk for residents to cross the very busy Capitol Drive. The project could potentially spur economic development in the future. According to Keith Hayes, there are several abandoned structures that could be redeveloped in to new businesses and residential uses that could lower crime rates and increase property values around the area.

Keith and Rob called the ARTery and MaTIREal a WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN:

- win #1: matireal removes hazardous waste from the environment, transforming this infinite resource into a geo-textile.

- win #2: matireal is a low-tech solution that reduces tires locally, creating a measureable carbon offset from current recycling methods.

- win #3: matireal can fund manufacturing jobs through revenue associated with municipal disposal costs (up to $2/tire).

- win #4: matireal can be constructed by and for the communities it connects, helping to revitalize neighborhoods and integrate Milwaukee.

- win #5: this catalytic product will matirealize the artery, and is an ecological best management practice, replicable on a global scale.

 

 

So why do I think this is the best Milwaukee-based Kickstarter campaign? To understand my logic, one must look at similar projects like the High Line in New York City and Atlanta’s Beltline. For those who aren’t familiar with the project, the High Line is a public park built on historic freight line elevated above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. The High Line is owned by the City of New York and operated by a the non-profit, Friends Of The High Line. Before the High Line was developed, the city, the owners of the land and buildings surrounding the decaying railroad wanted to remove it. However, Mayor Bloomberg saw a different reality. In a New York Times article, Bloomberg stated that preserving the High Line as a pubic park generated $2 billion in private investment surrounding the park.

“The mayor pointed to the deluxe apartment buildings whose glass walls press up against the High Line and the hundreds of art galleries, restaurants and boutiques it overlooks. All of that commerce more than makes up for the $115 million the city has spent on the park and the deals it has made to encourage developers to build along the High Line without blocking out the sun, Mr. Bloomberg said. On top of the 8,000 construction jobs those projects required, the redevelopment has added about 12,000 jobs in the area, the mayor said.”

The High Line has become one of the most successful economic development project for the mayor. The proposed Milwaukee ARTery could experience similar successes if it is planned and executed properly and had buy in from the city, the residents and businesses from around the area. The High Line has also encouraged other activities such as public art, dining experiences, and entertainment such as movies on The High Line. The creators of the ARTery have also proposed similar activities such as a playground, media garden, bike polo, and urban agriculture. All of these activities could help strengthen and bring communities together. 

New York is not the only city transforming an old, sabandoned railroad line, Atlanta is doing it on a grand scale. The project is called the Beltline, which originated from an Architecture student’s thesis.

"The Atlanta Beltline is the most comprehensive revitalization effort ever undertaken in the City of Atlanta and among the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment and mobility projects currently underway in the United States. This sustainable project is providing a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit by re-using 22-miles of historic railroad corridors circling downtown and connecting 45 neighborhoods directly to each other."

Even though the Beltline is a larger scale project, the Milwaukee ARTery can learn a lot from it’s planning and execution. For example, Altanta is incorporating transit along the Beltine. Milwaukee’s planned ARTery is wide enough not only to accommodate park features, but transit options such as the Milwaukee streetcar. The Beltine also has a comprehensive plan for public art, which the ARTery could use as a model.

Other cities like Philadelphia and Milwaukee’s next door neighbor of Chicago are redeveloping abandoned railroad lines. In Philadelphia, they are planning to convert an old elevated railroad line into linear park called the Viaduct Greene. Chicago is in process of transforming a former 3-mile long rail line into a park called the The Bloomingdale Trail.

These projects are examples of cities embracing the concept known as Placemaking, which has seen an increase interest throughout cities in the United States.

“In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, nonprofit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.” - Creative Placemaking White Paper via National Endowment For The Arts.

The ARTery can potentially be a successful placemaking endeavor/project for the city of Milwaukee, but it will need engagement at all levels from the community, businesses, and the city. The ARTery could eventually improve the quality of life for the residents, encourage creative activity, create community identity and a sense of place, and help revitalize local economies.