Milwaukee Transformed a Parking Crater Into a Thriving Community Space

The Spot 4MKE is a community hub. Photo: CAM

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Sometimes a parking lot is just a parking lot—a dead plot of land dedicated exclusively to cars. But sometimes a parking lot is transformed into a bright, vibrant public space dedicated to people and human-scale interaction. Such is the case in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where a downtown lot has become a beloved hub for the community.

The Spot 4MKE was created on a flat piece of asphalt that is most certainly a parking crater, defined by Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog as "a depression in the middle of an urban area formed by the absence of buildings."

In an effort to liven up the city-owned lot, project coordinators painted a corner of it and reclaimed the space for the people of Milwaukee. Chris Socha of Kubala Washatko Architects created the graphic for the site, with labor and materials donated by local contractor Crowley Construction.

What was once a parking crater is now a vibrant public space. Photo: PPS

The Spot 4MKE now serves as an attractive and engaging public space, complete with picnic tables and umbrellas. It plays host to a wide variety of events and activities, including dancing, storytelling, hula hooping, karaoke, musical performances, seasonal events such as pumpkin carving and marshmallow roasting, and local food vending.

Enjoying the day at the Spot 4MKE. Photo: PPS

The vision for the Spot 4MKE was created in early-2014 when the Wisconsin Ave. Milwaukee Development Corp (WAMDC) selected Creative Alliance Milwaukee (CAM) to lead a multidisciplinary team in a process to identify the best uses for the site. The process involved public engagement to determine what people wanted in the space, research, observation, surveys, and a once-a-month summer Night Market.

As the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), which helped the process, reports, the team discovered that there was “huge demand for more dynamic, inclusive, and community-oriented activity downtown and that any development of the site should include a flexible public space that supports a wide variety of activities as a key component.”

The Spot 4MKE has played host to a variety of events, including a marshmallow roast. Photo: PPS

Described as a “humble place,” the Spot 4MKE nonetheless brings the community together and reclaims a parking crater back for the people. It is, reports PPS, “full of evidence of a community that is trying to do things differently, a community that has the courage to lead with people and places, a community that understands that the project of making a more creative, inclusive, and prosperous city will never be finished.”

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