Community Engagement Our Work

Education Programs

Education Programs

HDI has worked with a number of schools that fall within a two-mile radius of the Harbor District to create fun educational experiences. Students are given a number of in-person class visits by HDI staff that range from community building to ecologies and are then brought to the Harbor District for a field trip.

Field trips range from wildlife field data collection to boat tours of the Harbor District. Our educational programming is free and flexible. More information can be found in our brochure linked below.

Community Engagement Our Work

Neighborhood Advisory Committee (NAC)

Neighborhood Advisory Commitee (NAC)

The Neighborhood Advisory Committee is made up of nearby residents who serve as our neighborhood experts. The NAC advises us on outreach methods, event ideas, and decision-making that will benefit neighborhoods surrounding the Harbor District.

If you live in or near the Harbor District and would like to be a part of the NAC please contact Natalia Hernández at

Environmental Improvements Our Work



Even though the Harbor District is in the very heart of Milwaukee and has been the center of economic activity for centuries, there is still a healthy community of organisms that live here. From mammals like deer, coyotes, gray and red fox, muskrats, beavers, groundhogs, squirrels, and bats all the way down to dragonflies, insects, and barely visible invertebrates in the water, a rich ecology is thriving just out of sight. The Harbor District has identified ways to improve habitat so that more things besides humans can find a home here, through rebuilding ecological functioning of the landscape. We do this by considering the needs of organisms for food, reproduction, shelter, and movement. Finding opportunities to re-introduce native plants and reserving space for animals is at the heart of this implementation, while also encouraging everyone to remember that nature is right here if you just stop to look and listen.

Harbor District has partnered with the Urban Ecology Center and Milwaukee Public Museum to learn more about the wildlife present. In 2019, we conducted surveys of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, bats, and mammals. We found over sixty different species!
A great way to help collect information on wildlife and plants in the Harbor District is to use the smartphone app iNaturalist. It connects you with experts who can identify the species you find and keeps a log of everything you have observed.
Even within our developed urban landscape, many different kinds of animals make a home or roam through. We can improve the Harbor District’s ability to support wildlife by considering their needs and incorporating native plants and trees, connections between green spaces, and softening armored shorelines.
The Harbor District Terrestrial Habitat Plan (2020) identifies current and potential habitat areas and a vision for improving the ability of the Harbor District to support a rich and diverse biotic community.
Milwaukee’s waterways, including the inner harbor at the heart of the Harbor District, bear the legacy of decades of pollution and contamination from past industries, dumping of sanitary waste, and other degradation. In fact, the EPA has characterized our estuary as one of the most “impaired” around the Great Lakes and designated it an “Area of Concern.” Harbor District, Inc. is active in efforts to clean up the contamination, repair ecological function, and make other improvements that will allow us to remove the Area of Concern designation.
Environmental Improvements Our Work

Trash Wheel

Trash Wheel

Harbor District, Inc. is exploring the possibility of having a “trash wheel” on the Kinnickinnic River to help collect trash and debris before it floats to the Inner Harbor and to Lake Michigan.

The trash wheel, a stationary trash-collecting device, includes a water wheel which runs a conveyor belt. A pair of booms direct trash floating down the river to the conveyor belt, and then trash is collected in a dumpster for removal.

The trash wheel technology was pioneered in Baltimore in 2014 by inventor John Kellett. There, “Mr. Trash Wheel” and “Professor Trash Wheel” have collected over 1.3 million pounds of trash in the past 3 years out of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Mr. Trash Wheel is very active on Twitter and is helping to spread the word about the health of Baltimore’s waterways. We think Milwaukee would be a great place for Mr. Trash Wheel’s cousin to get to work cleaning our urban rivers, too.

To learn more about our inspiration, Mr. Trash Wheel, please visit

Environmental Improvements Our Work

Habitat Hotels

Habitat Hotels


The Harbor District Habitat Hotels are underwater habitats retrofitted for steel sheet piling. They provide multiple vertical layers of habitat, including underwater plantshiding places for fish, and food for fish, and mimic the habitat that might be found along more naturalized river shorelines.



The downtown portions of the Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, and Milwaukee Rivers are dominated by steel sheet piling shorelines, making it extremely difficult for plants to grow along the bank. Steel sheet piling provides almost no habitat benefits, but it is used widely in urban areas because it serves other important purposes: protecting buildings and properties from flooding and storms, providing deep channels needed for shipping and boating, and allowing large freighter ships to easily dock. Further, the inner harbor is also dredged to maintain depths of 25+ feet to support shipping and industry in the area. As such, the inner harbor area of Milwaukee is known as an aquatic desert, lacking habitat and opportunities for fish to find food and cover. The Habitat Hotels provide needed “pit stops” for fish as they travel through the inner harbor between Lake Michigan and Milwaukee’s three rivers.

By introducing Habitat Hotels in the Red Zone, we are connecting areas of better habitat in the rivers to the habitat in Lake Michigan. Many fish swim between the rivers and the Lake to reproduce or to complete other life stages, so the inner harbor serves as a very important intersection.

Where are they?

Habitat Hotels are currently installed in three distinct locations across the Harbor District and are marked with fish art painted in the Harbor District colors. As the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences continues working on their Harbor Habitat Mapping Project, we will prioritize future installation locations based on potential improvements to habitat connectivity – essentially making a string of Habitat Hotels between other areas of rich habitat – in the Inner Harbor.
Repurposed restaurant grade fryer baskets serve as underwater planter baskets.
Water Celery that was planted in 2017!
Habitat Hotel being visited by a yearling perch!

Habitat Hotel Benefits


Project History

We received funding from the Fund for Lake Michigan to explore habitat solutions for steel sheet piling. This funding allowed Harbor District staff to work with scientists, staff, and students from UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences to inform the Habitat Hotel design process. In April 2018, the Habitat Hotels were granted a provisional patent shared by UW-Milwaukee and Harbor District, Inc.
We received a Mini Grant from the Southeastern Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, initiating the pilot phase. The pilot study included building 8 Habitat Hotels and installing them in May 2017.
Welding students from Bradley Technical High School build the Habitat Hotels as part of a class project. Over 100 students have been exposed to the project and have learned about Milwaukee’s aquatic ecology. Students get to apply the technical skills they are learning to a real-world solution.
We work with great partners who serve as “site hosts” for the Habitat Hotels, including The School of Freshwater Science, Elementis LTP, and Paul Davis Restoration.


Bradley Tech students perfecting welding skills.
Students operate the plasma cutter.
Elementary students present habitat plans
Students plant native vegitation.

Project Funders

Our Work Public Spaces

Kinnickinnic River Trail

Kinnickinnic River Trail

The KK River Trail (KKRT) is 2½ miles of off-street paved trails and on-street bike lanes following the river through a densely populated and industrial corridor. The trail links the Harbor District with Bay View and offers natural greenery and gritty industry.

The segment between Lincoln Avenue and Maple Street utilizes bike lanes on South 1st Street. The KKRT is a segment of the Bay View to Downtown route, which includes the raised bike lane on Bay Steet and bike lanes on South Kinnickinnic Ave.

The KKRT is part of the larger Kinnickinnic River corridor revitalization efforts underway that are improving the health and quality of life for city residents in general, and South Side residents in particular. 

Our Work Public Spaces




The waterfront of Milwaukee’s Harbor District has largely been off-limits to the general public for most of the City’s history. As much of the waterfront is no longer needed for heavy industry and shipping, there is an opportunity to open up the waterfront to public use and to reconnect surrounding neighborhoods to the waterways that flow through their community, while preserving the ability for marine-based businesses to operate or expand. A public Riverwalk extending from the northern end of Walker’s Point at Bruce Street up the Kinnickinnic River to Lincoln Avenue will be a great asset to the Harbor District, surrounding neighborhoods, and the city as a whole.


In 2018 the City of Milwaukee Common Council approved the Harbor District Water and Land Use Plan (WaLUP) as an element of the City’s comprehensive plan. The first of four catalytic projects in the WaLUP is an “Improved Waterfront Experience”, which proposes a new vision for the waterfront of the Harbor District as a “multi-purpose multi-use waterfront” that includes a public Riverwalk.

With the WaLUP completed, Harbor District, Inc. (HDI) and the City of Milwaukee are now moving forward with efforts to develop a public Riverwalk along the western shore of the inner harbor and the Kinnickinnic River. The first step in that process took place over 2018 as HDI and City staff worked with waterfront property owners to create and approve the Harbor District Riverwalk Site Plan Review Overlay Zone (SPROZ). This overlay zone covers the western shore of the inner harbor and both sides of the Kinnickinnic River up to Lincoln Avenue.

Following the adoption of the Harbor District Riverwalk SPROZ, a consultant team developed design standards, concepts for addressing challenging Riverwalk segments, and concepts for capitalizing on several more significant public spaces and access points. The Harbor District Riverwalk Design Standards will ensure the Riverwalk operates as a cohesive network with a common aesthetic theme and meets high standards for elements such as furniture, lighting, landscaping, natural habitat, and stormwater management.


The Harbor District Riverwalk SPROZ includes all waterfront parcels on the western shore of the Inner Harbor and waterfront parcels on both sides of the Kinnickinnic River between the Union Pacific rail swing bridge and Lincoln Avenue.  City Plan Commission approval is required for all projects located 50 feet landward of an existing dock wall or ordinary high-water mark. For any property located within or partially within the overlay zone, a Riverwalk that complies with the requirements of this overlay zone and associated design standards shall be constructed at the time of any new construction or substantial improvement of a principal structure on the property.  The requirement to construct a Riverwalk shall apply even in cases where the principal structure itself is not located within the zone.

For questions or comments related to the Harbor District Riverwalk Overlay Zone, please contact us at


We are excited to announce the Harbor District Riverwalk is a new member of the High Line Network, a group of infrastructure reuse projects located across North America. For more info, visit

Conceptual rendering of a Riverwalk on the north end of the Harbor District. Rendering by UWM Community Design Solutions.
Conceptual rendering of a Riverwalk and waterfront park along the Kinnickinnic River on the south end of the former Solvay Coke & Gas site. Rendering by SEH.
Conceptual rendering of a Riverwalk and waterfront park along the Kinnickinnic River on the south end of the former Solvay Coke & Gas site. Rendering by SEH.
Our Work Public Spaces

Harbor View Plaza

Harbor View Plaza

Harbor View Plaza is the first waterfront public park in the Harbor District, located at the east end of Greenfield Avenue in front of the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences. The Plaza opened in July 2019 with several hundred project funders, partners, community members, and other stakeholders celebrating in the Plaza on a warm and sunny summer day. Check out photo below from the grand opening event.
all photos courtesy of Rockwell Automation, Inc.

Harbor District, Inc. constructed the winning design from a public design competition for a new public plaza at the east end of Greenfield Avenue. The concept was created by Ayres Associates and Quorum Architects and is located along the waterfront next to the UWM School of Freshwater  Sciences.

The plaza design includes a play structure for children, a water play area and water feature, and a canoe/kayak launch and dock.  The play structure is designed to look like the shipping containers synonymous with ports around the world.  The water play area allows children to explore water flow and cool off on hot days.  The canoe/kayak launch and dock allows visitors to get to the water’s edge and provides the only public canoe/kayak launch and docking south of the Milwaukee River in Milwaukee’s inner harbor.

Harbor View Plaza provides a space for families and children to recreate outdoors and experience the waterfront, a place for neighborhood workers to relax at lunch, and a destination for canoers and kayakers. The plaza is the first major investment in what will eventually be a continuous network of Riverwalk and waterfront parks spanning much of the western shore of the Harbor District.  For details on the larger vision for the Harbor District, see the Water and Land Use Plan.

Harbor View Plaza was made possible thanks to the generous donations of Rockwell Automation, Inc., the City of Milwaukee, Brico Fund, and many other donors listed further down on this web page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are questions we have received regarding the Harbor View Plaza.  If you have a question that isn’t addressed on this page, please contact us through our online form or email us at


The Harbor View Plaza is located at the east end of the Greenfield Avenue along the waterfront of the inner harbor. See the map below for further detail on how to get to the Plaza.


Early in the Harbor District Water and Land Use Plan process, it was clear that new public space and access to the water were major points of interest and need for the residents that live in the area. In our one-on-one interviews, focus groups, public meetings, and surveys people consistently ranked “space for people to recreate and enjoy the outdoors” as the highest priority outcome for future redevelopment of the Harbor District. To further illuminate the issue, HDI compiled data that supported the community’s call for public space and access to the water.
These findings combined with public input led HDI to develop the Take Me to the River initiative to develop a new public park on the waterfront in the Harbor District. This park is the first step in a much larger effort to create public park space and water access for Milwaukee’s near south side. Future efforts, outlined in the Water and Land Use Plan, include a four-and-a-half mile extension of the downtown Riverwalk, a seven to ten-acre waterfront park, and a network of canoe/kayak launches.


HDI launched the Take Me to the River initiative in 2016 to create new community connections – both programmatic and physical – to the waterfront, and to focus on creating an “early win” for the area.  The project team quickly zeroed in on creating a public plaza at the end of Greenfield Avenue to provide access to the water and new public space for people to recreate and relax. To inform the creation of this new public space HDI conducted a variety of events and activities described below. The events were aimed at gathering input on what the community would want in a public space, familiarizing the community with the Harbor District, and bringing people to the waterfront.


Harbor View Plaza was made possible due to the generous donations of a number of organizations and individuals including those below.  The most significant contributions included a $600,000 donation from Rockwell Automation, Inc., $300,000 from the City of Milwaukee, and $260,000 from Brico Fund.


Rockwell Automation, located only a few blocks from the project site, was announced as the naming sponsor for the new park.  As the naming sponsor, they have collectively decided on the aptly name, “Harbor View Plaza”.


Ayres Associates and Quorum Architects design Harbor View Plaza.  Altius Building Co. managed the construction of the Plaza.  Gallas Metalworks designed, constructed, and installed the Fish & Ships Gates and the Donor Wall.  Containers Up designed, constructed, and installed the shipping container play structure.