Sunday, June 3, 2012

Urban wilderness gets a nod in Journal Sentinel

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story posted yesterday by outdoors editor Paul Smith includes the following sentence, referring to the Urban Ecology Center's Teen Adventure Challenge program, "The 10th annual event was held in Milwaukee's urban wilderness, including Riverside Park and trails along the Milwaukee River."

photo by Paul Smith
It will come as no surprise, given the title of my blog, that I love the casual use of the term "urban wilderness." It wasn't so long ago that this didn't happen. In fact, when I titled my book about the Menomonee River watershed with that term I thought I was coining it. I'd never heard it before. That was 1999, not so long ago.

When I first googled the term, I forget when, but most likely around 2005 or 2006, only a single mention was found. (Someone had beaten me to it by titling a book about the New York City park system "Urban Wilderness" in 1986.)

Today google alerts me whenever the term is used on the internet. This happens almost weekly. I've been keeping a list of the most notable references and they've come from cities large and small all over the country - and Canada too. The conversation has shifted. People in cities everywhere have learned to value nearby nature, including many civic leaders.

Milwaukee's urban wilderness - it's 10,000 acres of natural areas - is bigger than most. It baffles me that community boosters don't promote this, one of Milwaukee's most significant and valuable assets. I believe we could rival Portland, OR for being a "green city" if we decided to make it a priority. Why not? Where are the civic leaders who will stand up for Milwaukee's prominence as a city with an abundance of nature?


  1. Do you know about google's n-gram viewer? You might enjoy seeing how the phrase "urban wilderness" charts in book usage over the past century or two.

  2. No, tell me how and I'll check it out.