Award of Excellence Winner
Project Name: Burnham Playfield Renovation
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Design Team: Milwaukee Recreation & Site Design Group
The bulk of playfields in the city of Milwaukee were constructed in the first half of the 20th century; many have not been routinely upgraded since the initial construction. These facilities have significantly deteriorated over time and no longer meet the evolving community needs. Burnham Playfield was ranked highest amongst the equity prioritization index, a data-driven rating system that aims to identify playfields for capital reinvestment through an equitable lens.
The Burnham Park neighborhood is a high-need and high-density area, both of which only exacerbated issues at the former playfield facilities, to the point of unsafe conditions. Reinvestment in the space has subsequentially created a stark reversal of attitude towards Burnham Playfield and encouraged positive active use as communal hub. The playfield has transformed into a bustling, dynamic, recreation area that provides a healthy third space that reflects the neighborhood's collective identity. The power of landscape architecture is on display at Burnham Playfield, where the renovation shows that this kind of work can foster change beyond the site perimeters. This project is a catalyst for the neighborhood, as it has transformed the space into a hub that offers beneficial resources that support community health and cohesion. It echoes the principle that the profession can initiate change beyond built-environment improvements, and it reinvokes the belief that landscape architects serve as stewards for the greater good.
Historically, Burnham Playfield is located on a large wetland that required large amounts of fill to raise and stabilize the area. While this was not an issue in the original park development in 1925, it created a substantial risk in attempting to support modern facilities. As a result, 340 rammed aggregated geopiers were installed to create the necessary structural support for new facilities. Significant strides in equitable practice and inclusion have been made at Burnham Playfield. In terms of the built environment, the entirety of the renovated project contains ADA-accessible pathways and program elements. In addition, there were efforts to include narratives and motifs identified by the community from the engagement process to represent culturally significant nursery rhymes. Custom-built playground features were created based on Spanish nursery rhymes, thus creating a familiar and inclusive space for children within the community. The property owners also took initiative to include equitable contracting practices, such as: providing public-school students with job experiences, using historically underutilized businesses (managed by minority, women, or small business owners), and hiring unemployed and underemployed local community members.