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Milwaukee's Green Roofs: Sowing the Seeds of Prosperity for People and the Planet

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When most people think of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, they think of beer. But Milwaukee's history as the beer capital of the world is just one illustration of the water-rich history Milwaukee enjoys because of its proximity to Lake Michigan. Looking to its freshwater future without turning its back on the past, Milwaukee is also becoming known as a sustainability showcase. Milwaukee's showcase is not just about environmental sustainability though; it's also about economic and social sustainability.

While the seeds of sustainable green infrastructure were first sown here more than 10 years ago, they've spread nowhere faster than they have across the region's flat rooftops. In fact, the sustainable development model established by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) and the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM) features green roofs at its nexus, where water resource enhancements meet not only energy benefits and cost savings, but also environmental justice.

The benefits of green roofs are easily demonstrated in Milwaukee where a small, central portion of the City's sewer system is a combined stormwater and wastewater system. The vast majority of the City is laced with separate sewer systems. Whether combined or separate, MMSD knows that green infrastructure can play a crucial role in supplementing sewers to manage water – a role that's likely to grow if storms continue to intensify as climate change models predict. In addition, HACM knows that green roofs contribute to economic development and good mental and physical health of residents who live in its buildings.

Recognizing this, MMSD has funded green infrastructure projects resulting in nearly two acres of green roofs and HACM has installed over one acre of green roofs. The collective benefit from these roofs that MMSD sees every time it rains is to hold over 55,000 gallons of rainwater that would otherwise pick up pollutants and could flow into area waterways or need to be treated at a water reclamation facility. Simultaneously, the collective benefit HACM provides through green roofs (together with other green amenities) is high-quality living that helps stimulate adjacent economic and social improvements in the City of Milwaukee. Water resource, energy, and quality-of-life benefits go hand-in-hand where Milwaukee's green roofs are concerned.

This paper showcases the benefits of green roofs in Milwaukee as they relate to MMSD and HACM. MMSD collects, conveys, stores and treats wastewater and also manages flooding. HACM provides decent/quality, safe and affordable housing with transition options. While both agencies have significantly different focuses, each has come to the independent conclusion that green roofs are good for the City, the water systems it depends on, and the collective region as a whole!
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Keywords: Green roofs; green infrastructure; stormwater; sustainability; sustainable infrastructure

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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