What makes ReFresh Milwaukee unique, and the recommendations quite poignant, is the fact that residents set the direction of this planning effort. — Mayor Tom Barrett

ReFresh Milwaukee is the official Sustainability Plan for the City of Milwaukee.ReFresh_MKE_cover It provides a vision for community sustainability over the next 10 years as it seeks to make Milwaukee a world class eco-city and the Fresh Coast Capital of North America. The City of Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO) is charged with implementing the plan in partnership with other city agencies and community partners.

On my May visit to Milwaukee, I had the opportunity to meet with ECO director Erick Shambarger, community leaders and my longstanding colleague and friend, Howard Snyder. As I have been exploring sustainability initiatives in other US cities, Milwaukee stands out not only for innovative diverse strategies but also for its strong community building approaches.

Groundwork Milwaukee is part of the Groundwork USA network of independent, not-for-profit, environmental businesses called Groundwork Trusts. I first encountered Goundwork Denver last year.

The US programs evolved from a model developed in the UK, where the first Groundwork Trust was founded in 1982 to revitalize abandoned industrial sites in northern England. Since then, Groundwork UK has grown into a network of fifty-two locally based groups.

In 1996, the National Park Service imported this successful program into three pilot communities: Bridgeport, CT; Lawrence, MA; and Providence, RI. Milwaukee was designated a Groundwork USA Pilot Community in 2003. Today there are 19 Groundwork sites in the US and another 9 underdevelopment.

MUG2In 2014, Groundwork Milwaukee merged with Milwaukee Urban Gardens, a non-profit that manages dozens of community gardens throughout the City. Today, they have grown to over 90 gardens that are exclusively run by community leaders and volunteers. Since 2006, Groundwork Milwaukee has worked on 284 projects benefiting 203,163 people and actively involving 2,558 adults (over 18 years) and 1,765 youth (under 18 years) thru partnerships with 30 schools.

The Northwest Side Community Development Corporation (NWSCDC) has served the economic development needs of Milwaukee’s low-income communities since 1983. It has assisted neighborhood strategic planning to improve safety, land use planning, development to spur retail growth, and numerous business and workforce development programs.

Under the leadership of Howard Snyder, NWSCDC has received 15 Office of Community Services (OCS) awards from 1986 to 2015; making it one of the most successful CDC manager of these impactful federal Community Economic Development (CED) funds. The 12 most recent OCS projects since the year 2000 have all been business expansion loans, totaling $7,545,981 lent. These 12 projects created 985 total jobs (including low-income and non-low-income) during the project periods, and 826 of these new jobs were filled by low-income job-seekers. Two active projects (awards from 2014 and 2015) are still generating new jobs.

On February 15th, 2012, President Barack Obama recognized the innovative efforts of Diamond Precision, a manufacturing plant that received a loan from Northwest Side CDC to expand its operations and create jobs for low-income people in Milwaukee. In his speech, President Obama stressed the importance of “insourcing” for America’s recovery, praised Milwaukee’s impressive job-creation projects and commended Diamond Precision on bringing work previously done overseas back to the US.

In 2008, the NWSCDC lent $580,000 to DRS Technologies as part of an $11 million facility upgrade that created 51 new manufacturing positions for low-income workers. DRSDRS is a high-tech manufacturer of power and control systems for US Navy ships and submarines. The NWSCDC loan also fostered the creation of a business incubator within the DRS facility, which supported 22 jobs for low-income individuals at Universal Housing Systems (a tenant of the incubator).

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago highlighted the DRS project and the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation as “transforming the approach to creating positive economic impact in distressed communities,” and an unique collaboration that could serve as a national template for community-corporate relations.

In 2012, NWSCDC won a $728,750 OCS grant award to assist in financing the purchase of the former Eaton Corporation headquarters, a seven-story 184,309 square-foot tower. Rebranded as Century City Tower, Century City Towerthe building was transitioned from a single-user R&D office building into a multi-disciplinary job accelerator, comprising a multi-tenant facility.

Partnering with the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) was key to saving Century City Tower and turning it into the Energy Innovation Center, an accelerator for businesses in the Energy, Power, and Controls Technology industry cluster. The offices of the NWSCDC and M-WERC are both housed in Century City Tower, further cementing their ongoing economic development partnership.

M-WERC is a consortium of 90 firms and 4 universities. Its Energy Innovation Center creates, tests, and licenses new technologies with lab space for collaborative research, advanced prototyping center, and large scale product piloting space. Current research is focused on: Distributed Energy Resources & Systems (DERS) and Conversion Architecture for Microgrids and Integrations of Renewable Energy Sources as the next big wave to accelerate growth of the building energy efficiency (BEE) market. NWSCDC is partnering with M-WERC to plan and design advanced Microgrid facilities at pilot sites in their community.

In the community development field, we often use “Re” words of reinvest and revitalize. As we now explore sustainability strategies for our communities we can also consider “restoring” vacant land to community gardens and “recharging” our power sources with renewable energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. But as we do so, we must keep focused that to really “rejuvenate” our communities we need to “revive” our local economies.

There are a lot “Re” words to be found in the Thesaurus for “refresh.” Many of them are being deployed in Milwaukee where they should be: in the community and by the community. That’s a “reality” to be remembered across the country in this political season.


On my first Saturday (2/28/15) of transition as the new CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA)-USA, I had the opportunity to meet Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation.

Michel Bauwens (L) & Ted Wysocki (R)

Michel Bauwens (L) & Ted Wysocki (R)

Michel is the global authority on peer-to-peer, social production and the new economic and social forms that are emerging around information and communication technologies. The P2P Foundation is an international organization focused on studying, researching, documenting and promoting peer to peer practices.

One of the great perks of my new job is the breadth of programming offered at ICA-USA’s headquarters, GreenRise Uptown Learning Laboratory. Michel was the invited “Keynote Listener” for Cooperation 2015: Connecting as Peers & Networks. This highly participatory “unconference” promoted:

Paradigm shifts in technology, economics, politics, local organizing, global movements and even spirituality pervade today’s world. Moving to a society that is peer-to-peer, where people can directly help one another, is the real “sharing economy.”

Michel Bauwens, born in Belgium, received his Master Degree (Licentiate) in Political Relations / International Relations from the Free University of Brussels in 1981. Most recently, in 2014, Michel was research director of the research group, which produced the first integrated Commons Transition Plan for the government of Ecuador. He currently lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where has taught at Payap University and Dhurakij Pandit University’s International College, as well as IBICT, Rio de Janeiro.

“Very rarely in history does a new mode of production to create value become prevalent,” Michel observed. “There is now an unprecedented capacity to scale up commons peer production.” Several of the practices, Michel shared from his international work, included:
• Open Value Accounting – acknowledging the value of contributions through peer review;
• Chamber of the Commons – promotion of services to be shared as a chamber of commerce does for small businesses;
• Assembly of the Commons – local community-driven planning for improvements; and
• Commons Festival – fairs to celebrate and encourage sharing as a market place.

Bauwens & LinaMichel recommended Marjorie Kelly’s Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution Journeys to a Generative Economy. Michel contrasted such “generative” capital for the common good to the “extractive” practice of platforms such as Facebook which does not share its monetary value with its participants that create its content. The value of peer production for the commons is also creating community.

In closing the conference, Michel highlighted the growing emergence of solidarity co-ops for social care, citing initiatives in Quebec and Northern Italy, which are governed by multi-stakeholders. When they reach a certain scale, they go “viral” and launch another one to assure local responsiveness.

I didn’t get a chance to ask Michel for his favorite song lyrics related to building a new economy commons. But he reminded me of a 2001 panel that I participated on for the Asset-Based Community Development Institute. I referred to facilitators then and it’s relevant to “keynote listeners” today as “cleaning windows” so people can clearly see alternatives for a better world.

Thanks to Michel and the organizers of Cooperation 2015 for bringing him to Chicago to share with us.

What’s my line?
I’m happy cleaning windows
Take my time
I’ll see you when my love grows
Baby don’t let it slide
I’m a working man in my prime
Cleaning windows…
Van Morrison, Cleaning Windows


I had a great education and was fortunate enough to have scholarships to become the first in my family to obtain a Master’s degree. But I made a career choice in 1974 to forego a PhD for experiential learning. I didn’t know that at the time. For me it was a job then not just a student internship. Soon enough, it would become a vocation.

This month I had the opportunity to attend the 40th Anniversary Conference of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning [CAEL].  The theme was: “Mobilize Learners. Revolutionize Assessments.”

“CAEL Through the Decades” Panel 11/13/2014 [left to right]: Paul LeBlanc, President, Southern New Hampshire University [CAEL chair current] Harriet Cabell, Retired, University of Alabama [CAEL chair 1984-85] Alan Guskin, President Emeritus, Antioch University [CAEL chair 1993-5] Carolyn Williams, President Emerita, Bronx Community College [CAEL chair 2003-5] George Pruitt, President, Thomas Edison State College [CAEL chair 1986-7]

What I learned from the plenary panel “CAEL Through the Decades” was how a movement of committed education professionals have battled over four decades for recognition and resources for adult learning. The panel was comprised [left to right in photo] of four previous CAEL Board Chairs and moderated by the current CAEL Board Chair:

  • Paul LeBlanc, President, Southern New Hampshire University [CAEL chair current];
  • Harriet Cabell, Retired, University of Alabama [CAEL chair 1984-85];
  • Alan Guskin, President Emeritus, Antioch University [CAEL chair 1993-5];
  • Carolyn Williams, President Emerita, Bronx Community College [CAEL chair 2003-5]; and
  • George Pruitt, President, Thomas Edison State College [CAEL chair 1986-7]

First history lesson: 40 years ago, only 1 textbook had 1 paragraph that even used the words “experiential learning.” Second factoid: Registrars Rule; not College Presidents. It’s all about the credits.

As a past board chair and now a director emeritus of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, I could relate to the CAEL stories. Their campaigns for social justice then and today for workers who didn’t have and still don’t have the resources for college mirror other justice campaigns. When CAEL started as the “Cooperative Assessment of Experiential Learning,” the founding leaders didn’t intend for it to become an organization, but then advocacy for resources became paramount.

One primary testimony to the success of CAEL and its members is the continuing development and deployment of technology to deliver education. One panelist reminded us that while we now rely on email, it didn’t exist as a tool 40 years ago. I remember the IBM Selectric typewriter as a technological breakthrough. Go ahead “google” it if you are too young to know what I’m talking about.

Today, CAEL has developed an on-line innovation: Learning Counts to provide portfolio assessments to earn college credit for what adult learners already know. Students can save time and money. It includes a free “Credit Predictor Tool” to identify areas of knowledge and expertise that could be evaluated for college credit.

CAEL offers customized consulting solutions for colleges and universities, employers, and workforce developers, based on how to best influence the success of adults seeking further education in their respective communities.

As the millennial generation reels from their student debt and Congress continues to ignore interest rate relief, one has to wonder how we are affecting college education for future generations. As one panelist emphasized, the barriers between students and institutions need to be broken down even more now. As another stressed, we are sweeping too many people under the rug by not counting what adult learners know.

CAEL’s President & CEO Pamela Tate welcomed conference attendees by noting:

“Yes, Prior Learning Assessment has been around since CAEL’s inception 40 years ago and Competency-Based Assessment has been around almost as long. But never before, have these ideas captured the imagination of so many. Where once we were few, we know find an army of supporters ready to push the boundaries of higher education to include even more adult students.”

To no surprise, the CAEL elders concluded their panel by sharing the same concern of the community development field: How to best recruit and build the next generation of leaders to pass on the torch. There are many local initiatives on which communities and colleges could better partner in our collective striving to improve lives and the economic health of families. There is much we can learn from each other.

With apologies and respect to Paul Simon, here are this week’s adapted lyrics…
I met my old prof
At work last night
He seemed so glad to see me
I just smiled
And we talked about some old courses
And I shared some new skills I’m
Still learning after all these years

Now I sit by my window
And I watch the years go by
I fear I’ll regret that lost degree
One fine day
But now know I would be credited
By a jury of my peers
Still learning
Still learning
Still learning after all these years

i.c.stars: “LEEDER” IN HOPE

“I believe that the definition of leadership is making opportunities for others. I am a leadership geek and find that the richest opportunities for all of our futures lie in education. I am a believer in reciprocity in education and that as educators we are both teacher and student. I believe that the world can be a classroom if we open ourselves to the notion that application, concatenation and liberation start with listening.” — Sandee Kastrul, President & Co-Founder, i.c.stars

During my 12 years at the Local Economic & Employment Development [LEED] Council, I worked with many “Traders in Hope” on staff, among our training graduates, and as business and community partners. Organizationally, we played off our name and called them “LEEDers.”

Sandee Kastrul

Sandee Kastrul

I was inspired by Sandee Kastrul the first day I met her when she was the graduation keynote speaker for one of our computer skills classes. I quickly recruited her for our board of directors and workforce development committee. Sandee was and remains one of those quintessential peers that we all seek for counsel.

For those of you who stumbled on “concatenation” as I did, I went beyond the Word Thesaurus to ascertain that it is defined as “the linking of things together, or the state of being interconnected.” That works as an objective for community development. Used as the adjective, concatenate, it certainly describes Sandee. No surprise to its tech origin as “the linking of computer characters, strings, or files in a specific order to form a single entity equal to the sum of the lengths of the original entities.”

Sandee shares that a key motivation for her to start i.c.stars in 1999 was seeing one of her most talented students from her teaching years working for minimum wage as a housekeeper in a Chicago hotel. This chance encounter made her wonder what she could do to make sure underprivileged workers could meet their fullest potential. She sought to create opportunities for people who were highly talented but lacked career opportunities because of their socioeconomic background.

Since then, i.c.stars has been identifying, training, and jump-starting technology careers for Chicago-area low-income young adults who, although lacking access to education and employment, demonstrate extraordinary potential for success in the business world and for impact in their communities. To date, over 300 students have graduated through this rigorous program.

i.c.stars offers a unique two-year program that provides an opportunity for low-income young adults to develop advanced technical and leadership skills while earning an Associate degree. The program begins with a sixteen-week internship that immerses participants into the technology sphere, where they learn and master business, leadership and technology skills. Using project-based learning, participants work in teams on a range of projects. There are 300 learning objectives over the length of three projects. Each project is four weeks long and the initial program wraps up with career readiness training and job shadowing to provide interns with on-the-job training. Each student earns as much as 1,000 hours of hands-on practical business experience and social media expertise.

After this initial training period, eligible participants are promoted into residency and fellowship programs. An i.c.stars “resident” will work with an outside partner or within the i.c.stars|* social enterprise, i.c.connexion, to deliver social media management for paying clients. After a period of 4–8 months, individuals may opt to move into the Corporate Fellowship Program working as i.c.stars fellows on technology projects at major corporations in the Chicagoland area.

Upon entering the residency program, trainees receive college counseling and assistance with enrollment into the City Colleges of Chicago to obtain additional credentials and expertise. Participants who complete their i.c.stars requirements and their Associates Degree receive full-time job placement assistance for career opportunities at some of Chicago’s top companies.

You can check out this short Chicago Tribune video interview with Sandee to hear from her directly.

You can follow her on Twitter: @SandeeKastrul and check out this 10/28/14 tweet with a link to video highlights from i.c.stars’ recent iOpener Innovation Conference.

You can also download a quick fact sheet about i.c.stars.

When you do any of these, you will discover why I consider Sandee Kastrul to be a “LEEDer in Hope” as she helps others trade up from their current situation by seeing the stars in their future.

I asked Sandee for her choice of inspirational lyrics.
She recommends “Never Too Late.”

Don’t fear ur teachers,
coz if u listen u can hear music in the school bell
And don’t fear your preacher
if u can’t find heaven in a prison cell
And don’t fear your own self,
paying money to justify your worth
And don’t fear your family,
because you chose them a long time before your birth

And it’s never too late to start the day over
It’s never too late to pick up the phone
(pick up the phone and call me)
It’s never too late to lay your head down on my shoulders
It’s never too late to come on home,
come on home
Never Too Late
Michael Franti