John O. Norquist, Change Agent
April 19, 2009
One of the panelists at this week’s annual meeting of the Metropolitan Development Association is John O. Norquist, a former lathe operator and community organizer who later became a state legislator and then mayor. As mayor of Milwaukee from 1988-2004, Norquist oversaw a revision of the city’s zoning code and reoriented development around walkable streets and public amenities such as the city’s 3.1-mile Riverwalk. He also earned widespread recognition for championing the removal of a .8 mile stretch of the elevated Park East freeway, clearing the way for an anticipated $250 million in infill development in the heart of Milwaukee.
As current president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a national organization promoting walkable, neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl, Norquist continues the highway to boulevard campaign, believing that urban boulevards offer an attractive option for cities with aging highway infrastructure. Cities like Portland, San Francisco, New York, and Milwaukee have found that removal of outdated elevated freeways – major physical and psychological barriers – stimulates investment and new development in the surrounding property.
A close examination of the Milwaukee experience is instructive for Central New York as we plan for the replacement of the deteriorated I-81 viaduct through Syracuse.