Milwaukee suburb struggles with people doing what they want in their yard

The village of Shorewood is the northeastern portion of iron ring of suburbs that box in the city of Milwaukee. It prides itself on having a respectable standard of living, and is sometimes referred to as a bohemian suburb, if such a thing could exist. Never mind that Shorewood is poised above the  bohemian (“troubled”) Milwaukee neighborhood of Riverwest; while folks in Riverwest pride themselves on generally being able to do what they wish with their yards, folks in Shorewood apparently do not have that luxury.

As part of the recent Victory Garden Initiative “blitz,” planting beds sprung up all around Milwaukee and the greater metro area. Shorewood was no exception, with its organizer Gretchen Mead in residence there. But it turns out that the Shorewood village officials are not so keen on having people used their yards as they wish.

According to, the village has issued fines to some residents for either planting vegetables in their front yards, and in some cases, on the parkway, the area between the sidewalk and the road. While the recent burst of urban gardening brought this attention on the newest offenders of the various rules pertaining to yard-farming, it’s not a new phenomenon. People have been using their lawns as the good growing space that it is for years. What’s more is the village committee that is supposed to meet and discuss such matters “never met.”

The horse may indeed be out of the barn.

August 11, 2009 Update: NPR ran a story done by Susan Bence of WUWM on this matter. Listen to it here.

Author: Jason Haas

Jason is an elected member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, occasionally moonlights as an amateur gardener, and is a proud father of two, or three, depending on how you do the math.

8 thoughts on “Milwaukee suburb struggles with people doing what they want in their yard”

  1. Oh, I had noticed two front-yard plantings in Shorewood and thought, how awesome! There was some kind of pro-gardening signage, as I recall.
    I really do love Shorewood though and I have to say I am disappointed in this fining business. First of all, veggies are beautiful and innovative landscaping. Also, I think of Shorewood as being community-minded and green (walkable, compact, good schools, well-planned, first-ring suburb with proximity to the university, shopping, restaurants, downtown and the lake..). A great example: library, community fitness center, parks, bike path, all an easy walk from each other. Not to mention beautiful and well-maintained rental properties and a certain ethnic and age diversity- very convenient for both the elderly and families.
    So logic would imply that the veggie farming is in line with Shorewood’s values. If this fining is happening, then I am very disappointed. I suggest hanging out laundry – including ALL manner of underwear- on a clothesline in the front yard in protest.

  2. I just looked at the Shorewood Now article more closely. Now, building a raised wooden planting bed in the space between the sidewalk and curb is kind of a separate issue. It could be a safety hazard, especially for people with disabilities or the elderly. It looks like the front-yard vegetables (with the exception of “8-foot-tall-corn”) are ok? Or am I missing something? Sorry- I just want to clarify. Not that I can afford to live in Shorewood anyway LOL.

  3. The City of Milwaukee allows plantings in the median, so long as they’re within a very narrow part of the median. I believe that the planting has to be an exact distance from either edge. But that has been ignored and not enforced for so long that it’s kind of a joke.

    Planting a raised bed in the median may be another matter. I’m not sure where I stand on it. The municipality is within their rights to enforce code. But people’s front yards are another matter. You should be able to do what you want, within reason.

    It may be worth pointing out on the message board there that having a raised bed introduces control to the garden; the plants will not get “out of control” in there. And god knows, I’m afraid of vegetable anarchy in my yard! (sarcasm alert…)

  4. I understand why shrubs, raised beds, sharp stakes/tomato cages, etc. are disallowed in the parkway/terrace area between the sidewalk and street–it’s usually part of the municipal right-of-way, and just practically speaking, structures could interfere with snowplows, kids on bikes, mail delivery (in areas with rural-style mailboxes), street sweeping, utility access, and general visibility.

    /code enforcer mode

    Beyond that, I fail to see the difference between a well-kept vegetable garden and a flower garden. (I do not believe Milwaukee draws a distinction.) Would anyone know that we’re growing onions versus some sort of ornamental lilly? Is there really a difference between training those purple flowery vines up your front trellis and training beans up the trellis?

    Municipalities can and do enact all sorts of yard and zoning ordinances that seem arbitrary, though, and they’re within their rights to do so, as long as they’re not doing so for discriminatory purposes and they can articulate a reason, however lame, for doing it. “Vegetable gardens visible from the public right-of-way disturb the aesthetic character of the Village” is good enough.

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