Why they stand out
The City of Middleton demonstrates the power of commitment and steady progress in creating a healthy, active community over time. In 1998, Middleton’s completed a park and trail system comprehensive plan. Twenty years later, an extensive network of 20 parks and 15 nature trails spans over 28 miles throughout the city, and the Friends of the Pheasant Branch volunteer network promotes, maintains and advocates for this beloved local asset. Middleton’s trails strategically connect residences to workplaces, schools, parks and the conservancy, bolstering transportation choices and economic development. Middleton funded the trail system in part through Tax Increment Financing (TIF), using property tax revenue increases that resulted from new economic development in order to subsidize publically beneficial projects. Although a number of trails were damaged in 2018 flooding, the city is working with FEMA to restore the system. Officials agree that floods would have been much worse if not for the stormwater mitigation infrastructure improvements added to the trail system in recent years.
Another important asset is the compact development policy in Middleton’s comprehensive plan. Over time it places new developments and destinations closer together, making it easier to walk and bike to work and school. For example, the city’s affordable housing strategy has incentivized 1,500 multi-family apartment units into an old industrial area along its trail system, located between existing jobs and current residential neighborhoods. Similarly, the city and school district partnered to renovate and expand the existing centrally-located high school and a middle school building so they remain walkable and bikeable. This is a huge accomplishment because school expansions often lead schools to transfer to the outskirts of town where property is cheaper and easier to obtain; however, the school district’s partnership with the city made it possible to maintain safe routes to schools in the city.
The City of Middleton patiently and effectively makes positive changes to increase activity in the community by providing safe infrastructure for walking and biking. The community’s diligence has been recognized four times as one of four finalists for the national Gold Star Award by the National Recreation and Parks Association as well as by the League of Bicyclists with a Bronze-level Bike Friendly Community Designation. In the future, the City hopes to add a safe bike path on Century Avenue, a high traffic road that connects two parts of the city and expands the trails system to better connect with neighboring cities. Plan on, Middleton!
Approach to Equity
The City of Middleton ensures that parks and trails are accessible to residents from all walks of life. For example, the community partners with Access Ability Wisconsin to provide wheelchair rentals along a subset of trails within the Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Additionally, the City made trails more accessible for low-income families by planning new affording apartments along a trail that connects families to jobs, schools and recreation. Housing developers used affordable housing tax credits to enable the new development for which the City also provided financial assistance. Equity was also a deciding factor in the location of a splash pad that is situated within walking distance to a lower-income area of the community near an elementary school. It is extremely accessible and attracts a diverse range of people that enjoy the park.
The City of Middleton also ensures that residents are included in city planning processes. They meet with groups at locations that are most convenient for them in an effort to best encourage participation. Community engagement not only informs their projects, but encourages project buy-in and helps residents to keep their communities involved in projects after they’ve been built.