THE BLOG
08/26/2013 06:35 pm ET | Updated Oct 26, 2013

Who Decided Milwaukee Would Be Known as the 'Rust Belt'?

Who decided Milwaukee and other cities in the industrial Midwest would be known as the "Rust Belt"? The "Sun Belt" has a much better connotation even though Milwaukee basks in humidity-free sunshine for over half the year. Our industry isn't rusty or dying; in fact, the Milwaukee region is the nation's most manufacturing intensive. The Port of Milwaukee ships manufactured products to China! One of the things I've learned as Mayor is that you cannot let others define you and that goes for our great city as well.

We're defining and in many cases redefining what Milwaukee is and what it can be. Water defines our history and will shape our future just as much if not more than our industrial roots. We sit on 20 percent of the world's surface freshwater supplies and have been named as a UN Global Compact City as a result of our water related research and technology cluster. More accurately, we are situated on America's Fresh Coast.

Building on the freshwater and Fresh Coast theme, in 2012 I appointed a team of public-private stakeholders -- the Milwaukee Green Team -- and charged them with developing the city's first Sustainability Plan, ReFresh Milwaukee. How can we reinvigorate our great city? How do we reinvest in our neighborhoods? And ultimately, how do we build a city where every neighborhood is a great place to raise a family?

This is actually my second Green Team. I formed the first Green Team in 2004 and never imagined the spirit of that work would continue into my third term as mayor. In 2011, I reconvened the original Green Team and thanked them for their hard work and for setting a solid foundation on which to build a more sustainable community. Their 2005 Green Team Report helped guide city policies and projects. The City of Milwaukee implemented 87 percent of their recommendations between 2005 and 2011, demonstrating our commitment to sustainability.

My second Green Team met with the community and many sustainability issue experts and practitioners over the course of 18 months. We know that residents want access to jobs, good educational opportunities, and safe neighborhoods. From a sustainability stand-point, we also learned residents want access to fresh, local food, multiple public transportation options, energy efficiency services for their homes, and plenty of green and blue (our three rivers and lake front) public spaces to recreate.

How can local government, with strategic guidance from the community, weave all these issues together into a coherent road-map for a more livable, sustainable city? This was the challenge of the Green Team and it delivered with the ReFresh Milwaukee plan.

Great cities aren't made overnight, nor are they "accidents." Just as city forefathers took purposeful steps to connect Milwaukee's first settlements, protect our lakefront, and build world-leading manufacturing companies, so too must our current generation take ownership of our challenges and future.

ReFresh Milwaukee is a call to action around a community-endorsed set of goals and strategies that creates smart economic growth while preserving our finite natural resources for our children and their children. Our climate is telling us that the old ways won't work anymore. ReFresh Milwaukee is our roadmap on how to do more better, but with less. I hope it's also a spark for community dialogue that leads to practical improvements in all of our neighborhoods and can serve as a template for other cities.

ReFresh Milwaukee provides guidance under a 10 year timeframe for personal goal-setting, as well citywide goal-setting. Individual responsibility complimented with collective action will yield impressive benefits. As a result, Milwaukee will be America's undisputed Fresh Coast Capital. The Bloomberg Mayors Challenge showed that Milwaukee is already a top innovative city. Tomorrow's planners, innovators, educators and civic leaders won't turn to the East or West Coasts for ideas. They'll turn inland to America's Fresh Coast for the next big idea.

Our world-renown water technology companies, good food movement, smart energy companies, stormwater management strategies and urban environmental revitalization successes will demonstrate definitively to the rest of the world what I already know: Milwaukeeans know how to get things done. We can build it, fix it, ship it, grow it and design it. We can do all those things when it comes to our neighborhoods and quality of life. Sustainability is the fuel for the great cities of the 21st century and the hope to revitalize our neighborhoods.

Let's begin the journey to a greater, more sustainable future. Let's ReFresh Milwaukee, and America, together!

Tom Barrett
Mayor, Milwaukee
www.refreshmke.com

Subscribe to Must Reads.
The internet's best stories, and interviews with their authors.