Does Downtown Milwaukee Need More Street Trees?
Ask yourself what’s missing along most of Wisconsin Avenue as it crosses through downtown.
Then take a look at Milwaukee’s lower east side.
The biggest difference? The trees. The trees that cover the lower east side give it a sense of place, despite being just north of downtown. Despite sporting the highest population density in Wisconsin for a neighborhood, the lower east side seems calm, manageable, and cool (thanks to the shade provided by the trees).
Trees also have a large number of other effects.
Trees Increase Revenues
Merchants often oppose tree planting programs, fearing their signs or windows will be blocked from view. Careful species selection and trimming can maintain views and overcome these objections. But is it worth the effort? One study  found customers not only prefer shopping districts with trees, but are willing to pay more for products purchased there. Specifically, the study found:
- Customers traveled longer, farther, and more often to tree-enhanced shopping districts. The stayed longer, and were willing to pay more for both products and parking.
- Participants rated “Amenity and Comfort” of tree-lined sidewalks about 80% higher compared to non-shaded streets. Also, “Quality of Product” ratings were 30% higher in districts having trees, and customer service was considered better on these streets.
- When asked to estimate a price for each of 15 items in a “basket of goods,” participants consistently priced goods significantly higher in districts with trees. It did not matter what type or price range of products were being sold.
- Merchants also showed a general preference for trees, but they consistently underestimated the effect of trees on customer behavior and buying decisions.
So with numerous retail locations empty along Wisconsin Avenue and even more underdeveloped properties located just off the grand avenue, wouldn’t adding more trees be the equivalent of picking the low-lying fruit? This isn’t to say that the core of downtown Milwaukee is completely barren, some properties are wonderfully streetscaped, but the vast majority are concrete heat islands.
To any naysayer that claims adding trees would eat needed sidewalk space, I challenge them to stand on almost any downtown street during a weekday and count how many times they had to get out of the way because the sidewalk was entirely full. They wouldn’t need to use their toes to count, and would be lucky to almost run out of fingers.
The answer to the title of this blog post is yes. Adding more street trees to downtown Milwaukee is a no brainer. It would be a cheap and easy way to improve the business climate, encourage further use of the park once concept, and a good way to make the area more attractive to potential residents.