One of Milwaukee’s three intersecting rivers, the Kinnickinnic River was once a tree-lined stream with natural springs, fishing holes, and abundant wildlife before being channelized with concrete in the early 1960s. Referred to as Milwaukee’s “lost river”, it became a graffiti-covered drainage ditch that was inhospitable to wildlife and dangerous for people in nearby neighborhoods.
Flood management is a big issue for the KK River, as it’s known locally; the river stretches 9.6 miles with a watershed that covers 25 square miles of drainage area and is the most urbanized watershed in the state. More than 660 homes and businesses remain in the floodplain, and roughly 145,000 people live in the watershed.
In 2010, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), the agency that maintains the watercourse, knew that something must be done to revitalize the river. Flooding on the KK River had become more hazardous and sewer backups were causing health and safety concerns in the dense neighborhoods near the river. Partnering with the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, MMSD hired SmithGroup to engage the community around ways to revitalize the river while identifying improvements that would benefit the residents.
SmithGroup’s neighborhood plan resulted from a highly engaging process in the diverse community, including outreach efforts in both Spanish and English. The plan envisions an ecological greenway that provides habitat for wildlife, draws people in for recreational activities, and acts as a generator of new economic opportunities for local businesses and entrepreneurs. Our plan incorporates a major rebuild of the river corridor, removing the concrete lining and widening it to safely convey flood waters and provide more green open space, trails, and access.
Upon recommendation by the plan, MMSD acquired about 80 residences for removal in the densest stretch of the river to allow the riverbanks to be widened and laid back. The newly vacant land provided opportunity for community gardens, stormwater management and green infrastructure, open space improvements, mixed-use paths, and economic development in the established neighborhood.
The Kinnickinnic River Corridor Neighborhood Plan sets a vision that restores a neglected stream into an urban jewel for the Southside of Milwaukee. The plan creates a new natural environment for residents to use and wildlife to thrive in.