Milwaukee's New Sustainable Garden Park


Following in the footsteps of the fantastical Calatrava designed art museum, the new Public Market and the upcoming Discovery World science museum, the Erie Street Plaza will be yet another feather in Milwaukee's 'city progressive' cap. The city recently announced the winning design from a competition to restore a brownfield at the entrance to the Milwaukee Harbor. The plan was conceptualized as a ‘sustainable garden’ that will keep stormwater on-site in a creative, attractive way (runoff and sewer overflow are major challenges for the Great Lakes city). The winning design features a mix of industrial design, native plantings and a touch of the exotic-- illuminated fiberglass benches scattered among a grove of bamboo trees. Located in between the newly revitalized (or gentrified, take your pick) Third Ward neighborhood and the famed World Festival grounds, the area planned for the park is currently a gap in the increasingly vibrant waterfront area of Milwaukee.

One planned feature for the park sounds really nifty in theory, but in practice I've got questions as to its "sustainability:" the Stormwater 'Steam' Generators. Here's a description from the proposal summary:
"Stormwater from the upper portion of the site will be collected in six concrete pits, which are covered with steel grates. An immersion heater unit inside the pit generates steam from the collected stormwater. To ensure that all pits are functioning equally, a pvc pipe connects each of the pits to evenly distribute collected water. The warmth and moisture generated by the steam pits would help keep the bamboo evergreen in Milwaukee’s climate."

Question #1: Is it "sustainable" to be running heaters to create neat looking steam in the middle of winter in Wisconsin? (Maybe the water needs to be heated a bit to prevent freezing pipes anyway? But how much runoff is there when it is freezing?)

Question #2: Do you want to be vaporizing stormwater? What if its full of toxic oils and guck from the streets? (Maybe it is filtered before making its way to the steam generators?)

At any rate, it is exciting to see city planning, green design and urban renewal come together in this way!