Sharing the Urban Ecology Center model

The Urban Ecology Center Institute encompasses an ongoing effort to help people in cities around the world transform their communities by connecting to nature and each other. We have been building a network over the past four years in a deliberate attempt to share the model developed at the Urban Ecology Center‘s three branches in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This effort actually has a longer history. Visitors to the Center have, over the years, asked how it came to be. In some cases, they have asked for more detail about particular aspects of the environmental education programs. Others have been curious about how the parks and green spaces around the Center were restored. Every aspect of our programming has attracted attention, and we have been eager to tell the story… and what a story it is!

And what a storyteller we have, in Ken Leinbach!

Off we go, to explore nature in the city with Ken as the guide for the day, the week, the summer!

People have come back to the Center to meet Ken, to ask more questions, to interview the staff, to see the community gather, to understand how the land is healed, and to imagine this happening in their own neighborhoods.

By the time the original Urban Ecology Center branch in Riverside Park got settled in a new building in 2004, there were already requests for more locations. After careful consideration and invitations from the neighbors around Washington Park, the Center opened a second branch. When multiple partners looking to create new green space in the Menomonee Valley helped create a path to a third location, another branch opened there. The model, it turns out, can be replicated in different communities.

Ken was encouraged to write Urban Ecology as a way to capture the story for readers. Since the book appeared in 2018, we’ve been adding more details and sharing new case studies.

The story of the Urban Ecology Center Institute is just beginning. We have offered “Intensive” training sessions on site as well as online. We established a network of participants from these sessions, and folks have gathered teams from their home communities and come back for more. We offer Workshops and Classes for people nearby and from farther afield. New sessions are in the works.

We launched the Urban Ecology Podcast in fall 2020. Each episode provides a fresh look at how the Center functions, goes into detail with a featured staff member, or introduces a vital community partner.

Ken and other staff members are available for special Speaking Engagements. They demonstrate the abundance and excitement of this work in ways that are engaging and fun, but also filled with insight and inspiration.

For individuals or groups who are looking for a more detailed, on-the-ground look at our model, we arrange Tours of the three branches, led by Ken and experienced staff members, who are eager to share the special quality of these places. This also gives us a chance to get to know folks who have ambitions to replicate the model in more neighborhoods.

And if that is not enough (and people tell us, it is not!), we invite groups to join us for Customized Consulting, where we can dig into the details of what is missing in other communities and how they can meet those needs by implementing our model.

To be clear, we cannot claim to be experts who will solve whatever problems a park or neighborhood may face, but we have experience in multiple urban situations and have overcome a wide range of obstacles to make this model work. We can and do offer case studies to help others explore options for what is worth trying, what might work best, and what resources are needed to get started.

As others succeed in these efforts in more cities, we are learning even deeper lessons. We are excited to be partnering actively with groups across the U.S., in Atlanta, Rochester, La Crosse, Baltimore, Columbus, Madison, Washington DC, and Denver. In Mexico, we are working with groups in La Paz, Saltillo, Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Culiacan. We have also helped a group establish programming based on our model in Tiberias, Israel, and provided training and expertise in Karachi, Pakistan, and in Medellín, Colombia.

Visit any of the links above to learn more, or browse the Urban Ecology Center Institute pages.

Written and posted by Chris Young, Ph.D., Urban Ecology Center Institute Project Manager

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