More than 20 vacant lots in Milwaukee are being transformed into urban orchards and pocket parks through a matching grant secured by a consortium of city and philanthropic agencies. 

As the recipient of the Bloomberg Award for Partners for Places—a project of the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation is partnering with the City of Milwaukee and other members of the Community Development Alliance, including Northwestern Mutual Foundation, the Fund for Lake Michigan and Zilber Family Foundation, to expand Milwaukee’s urban agriculture capacity and add functional greens pace to Milwaukee neighborhoods.

This project builds off Milwaukee’s past successes in transforming vacant spaces as part of Mayor Tom Barrett’s HOME GR/OWN and Strong Neighborhoods program while putting neighborhood residents to work in improving their own communities.


The effort helps implement the City’s Refresh Milwaukee sustainability plan, HOME GR/OWN urban agriculture program and Strong Neighborhoods programs. Construction of the parks and orchards is being done by local nonprofit landscape companies Walnut Way Conservation Corporation and Ground Work Milwaukee, using fruit trees donated by Growing Power.  David J Frank Landscaping is also donating services to help plant the trees.

In Milwaukee, Partners for Places features neighborhood groups as sponsors of each site and will create six pocket parks and 15 fruit orchard gathering spaces across Milwaukee’s North Side, with a focus on the 6th, 7th and 15th aldermanic districts, where the majority of vacant lots are located.

The first pocket park, named Sunshine Park, located at 14th Street and North Avenue, was unveiled July 31. It was built and designed by HOME GR/OWN, Walnut Way & UWM Community Design Solutions and features fruit trees, boulders, a gathering space and a rain garden.


These parks and orchards will increase green space; engage residents in the planning, creation and tending of orchards; and support healthy, local food production and distribution. Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability and its HOME GR/OWN initiative in collaboration with Mayor Tom Barrett’s Strong Neighborhoods program, City DPW, DCD & CBGA have coordinated with the more than 10 place-based funders and financial institutions comprising the Community Development Alliance to further develop the community food system infrastructure in Milwaukee.

“Working with UWM’s Community Design Solutions, it is wonderful to see residents in at the ground level, designing these parks and orchards to meet the unique needs of their neighborhood,” said Mayor Tom Barrett. “This is exactly the type of public/private partnership I envisioned HOME GR/OWN to foster – in this case, private business, non-profits, neighborhood groups and philanthropics working together to create vibrant, fruitful spaces that revitalize neighborhoods, create safe, healthy gathering places and increase access to healthy food.”

In addition to the grant funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the Fund for Lake Michigan, Zilber Family Foundation and Northwestern Mutual Foundation have committed matching dollars to support the project. More than $75,000 in local funds has been raised to match the grant, while David J. Frank Landscape Contracting and Growing Power will be contributing in-kind donations of materials and staff time.

“The health of our region is directly connected to the health of our neighborhoods,” said Kathryn J. Dunn, Vice President of Community Investment at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. “The Bloomberg Award for Partners for Places advances our efforts to stabilize and improve both the physical neighborhood and the well-being of its residents by reducing blight and increasing access to nutritious, locally grown food.”

In addition, project leaders will partner with UWM’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning to develop an open-source prototype for a storage shed with rainwater catchment abilities. These “rain sheds” will be installed as a pilot project in some of the orchards to provide secure, on-site tool storage as well as irrigation for tree maintenance.

Partners for Places is a successful matching grant program that improves U.S. and Canadian communities by building partnerships between local government sustainability leaders and place-based foundations. National funders invest in local projects developed through these partnerships to promote a healthy environment, a strong economy and well-being for all residents. Through these investments, Partners for Places fosters long-term relationships that make communities more prosperous, livable and vibrant.

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