About Us

Urban Ecology Center

Urban Ecology Center

At the Urban Ecology Center, we connect people in cities to nature and each other. Read more about us here!

The Urban Ecology Center hosted our 7th annual HKE MKE from September 25 through October 2, 2021! Hikers had over 30 hikes to choose from including a sunrise hike in the Menomonee Valley, a history hike in Washington Park and a hike and watercolor painting session in Riverside Park.

Through the combined efforts of all of our hikers and some generous matching donors, over $57,000 was raised! We are humbled by the generosity of our participants, and by the generosity of their friends and family. HKE MKE raised important funds to support the Urban Ecology Center's mission to connect people in cities to nature and each other.

Thursday, 07 October 2021 16:03

Member Highlight: Catrina Crane


“My daughter and I are not outdoor people. UEC is an organization that helped us see things differently.” Catrina Crane laughed as she explained how her relationship with the outdoors has changed during an interview with the UEC discussing her experiences as a member. She began by recalling how she first became involved with the Urban Ecology Center, “I have a daughter who is 18 now, but at the time she was maybe 6, and I chaperoned one of her school trips [to the UEC] and it was really cool to see the kids work on plants and things like that. I was an up and coming Girl Scout leader so I kind of piggybacked off of what I experienced during that trip and brought my troop back to UEC a couple of times. It was a lot of fun! From there I started putting my daughter into some of the summer camps.”

Paige Simenz fondly recalls her experiences as a kid in the Urban Ecology Center summer camps. Growing up in nearby Shorewood, she says, “I had this sense that whenever I was here, I was exploring, I was doing big things, I was making scientific discoveries. And that stayed with me throughout my entire life.”

Summer at the Urban Ecology Center is a time where community engagement is at its peak. From Land Stewardship, Community Programs to children’s summer camps, the Urban Ecology Center grows tremendously. To keep up with the increase in activity summer brings, interns are recruited to help fill in the gaps. With 26 total interns hired this summer to fill an assortment of positions, they bring a fresh perspective to the team and gain valuable experience to help propel them into future careers.

Friday, 16 April 2021 15:31

A Reason to Look Up in 2021

“Why should I look up?” Bob Bonadurer, Planetarium Director of the Milwaukee Public Museum, rhetorically asked this question during an interview that the Urban Ecology Center hosted with him and some members of the Urban Stargazers. Bob marveled that the universe is the ultimate connection, and that looking up and basking in the vastness of it all is incredible.

Friday, 26 March 2021 08:01

Summer Campers Reconnecting to Nature

We have all been and continue to be affected by the ongoing pandemic and the new lifestyle and norms that have come with it. Children have been uniquely challenged in this respect - they have had to adapt to learning virtually, away from their peers, and the structure a typical school environment provides. This last year, more than ever, getting children outdoors and in nature was critical. The Urban Ecology Center made this possible by hosting several safe Summer Camp programs for kids of varying ages and interests. Children who attended last year’s camps were able to reconnect to the constants that are nature, friends, and community during a time filled with so much uncertainty.

Monday, 08 March 2021 17:02

Spring Begins

The vernal equinox is upon us! And with it, comes longer days, shorter nights, and (eventually) warmer temperatures. March 20th officially marks 2021’s first day of spring when the hours of daylight and night are roughly equal. This makes sense, given the Latin roots to this event’s name; “equi” stemming from “equal,” and “nox” stemming from “night”: “equality of night and day.” From here, the days will continue to grow longer until the summer solstice on June 21st - the longest day of the year. For this reason, the spring equinox often represents new life and new beginnings as the light overtakes the dark. After months of cold and snow, when many animals hibernate and plants senesce, life returns.

Thursday, 04 March 2021 12:06

Short-lived Spring Wildflowers

Early spring brings us more than just sorely missed warmer temperatures with more daylight. It’s a “goldilocks zone” where the snow has melted but the trees' leaves don’t yet shade the ground. For a short period of time, when conditions are just right, spring ephemerals begin to bloom. Ephemeral - describing something as transitory or lasting for a short period of time - in this case, refers to the curious spring wildflowers we only see briefly each year around this time.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021 12:33

Anti-Racism Glossary

Our Anti-Racism Action Statement addresses serious issues and uses language that may make some readers uncomfortable. These terms can have different meanings to different people. Dismantling racism together requires a shared vocabulary. To make sure we’re all on the same page, we have put together a glossary to help define the words we are using. As these terms have complex meanings, it is difficult to define them with a single definition. Therefore, multiple ideas have been gathered for each term. We hope these resources help provide a clear context for our statement.

White supremacy:

The belief that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races - Merriam Webster

You don’t have to be a “white supremacist” to benefit from or perpetuate white supremacy. “White supremacy is a racist ideology that is based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and that therefore, white people should be dominant over other races. White supremacy is not just an attitude or a way of thinking. It extends to how systems and institutions are structured to uphold this white dominance.” Layla F. Saad, Me and White Supremacy

Why it matters to our mission: Connecting people in cities to nature and each other means creating equitable opportunities regardless of race. Acknowledging and dismantling white supremacist systems is a critical part of serving our diverse city.

Systemic racism:

The term was originally coined in 1967: “Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms: individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community. We call these individual racism and institutional [or systemic] racism. The first consists of overt acts by individuals, which cause death, injury or the violent destruction of property. This type can be recorded by television cameras; it can frequently be observed in the process of commission. The second type is less overt, far more subtle, less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts. But it is no less destructive of human life. [Institutional racism] originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than the first type.” - Black Power: Politics of Liberation, Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton

Wikipedia defines systemic racism as: “Institutional racism, also known as systemic racism, is a form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organization.”

Systematic racism affects people’s abilities to accumulate wealth. “For centuries, structural racism in the U.S. housing system has contributed to stark and persistent racial disparities in wealth and financial well-being, especially between Black and white households. In fact, these differences are so entrenched that if current trends continue, it could take more than 200 years for the average Black family to accumulate the same amount of wealth as its white counterparts.” - Center for American Progress

The Nature Gap study explains how systemic racism impacts access to nature: “Historically, the United States has systematically segregated and excluded people of color from public lands and other natural places. Black people have experienced segregation from the Civilian Conservation Corps to the National Park System; the nation’s public lands, beaches, and other natural areas have also been venues in which communities of color have been the subject of legalized and institutionalized racism. [...] It also affects visitation to national parks and other public lands and participation in outdoor recreation, as well as causes people of color to feel unwelcome or in danger in nature.” In addition, “The history of public lands in the United States is rooted in the violent dispossession of lands from Native Americans. For centuries, settler-colonists on the North American continent displaced tribes from their ancestral homelands and engaged in the deliberate destruction of vital natural resources—many with economic and cultural significance—as a tool of genocide against the Indigenous population.”

Why it matters to our mission: To connect people in cities to nature and each other, we must recognize the forces of systemic racism that impede those connections for BIPOC so that we can work against them.


Action against racism towards marginalized groups.

Camara Jones makes a great analogy. It is as if we are all on a conveyor belt with society, moving in the same direction of racism. If one were to simply stop walking, or stop performing individualized racist acts, they would still be moving forward on the conveyor belt because of how ingrained racism is in our society. In order to be anti-racist, one must turn around and start walking against the pushes of society. We have to make a conscious effort to act equitably. The full two-minute analogy can be found here: Youtube at 17:16 - 19:43

"To be anti-racist is to think nothing is behaviorally wrong or right -- inferior or superior -- with any of the racial groups. Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races. To be anti racist is to deracialize behavior, to remove the tattooed stereotype from every racialized body. Behavior is something humans do, not races do." - Ibram X. Kendi

Why it matters to our mission: Connecting people in cities to nature and each other requires an anti-racist approach so that our branches and greenspace around the city are safe, accessible, and welcoming to everyone.

Historical trauma:

Historical trauma is intergenerational trauma experienced by a specific cultural group that has a history of being systematically oppressed. Historical trauma is cumulative and reverberates across generations. Descendants who have not directly experienced a traumatic event can exhibit the signs and symptoms of trauma, such as depression, fixation on trauma, low self-esteem, anger, and self-destructive behavior.” - Administration for Children and Families

Why it matters to our mission: If we don’t acknowledge historical trauma, we can’t understand why some folks may be uncomfortable in certain spaces. Ignoring historical trauma makes healing impossible and further divides us.


Just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.” - Policy Link’s “Equity Manifesto”

How is equity different from equality? Equity involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives. Equality, in contrast, aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. - Annie E. Casey Foundation


Dignity is a mutual sense of worthiness; my sense of how worthy I am in relation to how worthy others are in my community.” - Ubuntu research and evaluation


‘Giving to each what [that person] is due.’ …a set of universal principles which guide people in judging what is right and what is wrong [with the purpose of] elevating the dignity and sovereignty of the human person.” - Center for Economic and Social Justice


Black, Indigenous and People of Color

Wednesday, 10 February 2021 12:06

Equity, Dignity, and Justice at UEC

Hi everyone! I’m Kirsten, one of the Environmental Educators at the UEC. Usually, I’d be here to tell you about the many ways you can connect with nature in your own neighborhood, but this time I’d like to share with you some information about another equally important part of my work at Urban Ecology Center: the Equity, Dignity, and Justice (EDJ) committee.

So far the EDJ committee has largely focused internally, on learning about oppression alongside our fellow staff at the UEC. Now, with the public release of our anti-racism commitments, we felt it’s time to share the history of this work at the UEC and honor the work that many folks have done that led to this point. Que the proverbial slide-show!


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