Home > Featured > New urbanists gathered in Oconomowoc for CNU Wisconsin’s annual meeting

CNU Wisconsin held its annual meeting in April at the Oconomowoc Community Center. Attendees came together from across the state to discuss pressing new urbanist issues and to learn about how the city reinvigorated its downtown through innovation and ingenuity.

The gathering started with an engaging discussion led by chapter president Chris McCahill. Then, Bob Duffy, the Economic Development Director for Ocomowoc, and Kristi Weber, a Planner and Community Development Specialist for the city, shared the unique and special aspects of Oconomowoc’s development. It is an attractive take on “live, work, play,” designed with connectivity in mind.

As background information, Oconomowoc is a community of approximately 16,000 in the lake country area of Waukesha County roughly halfway between Milwaukee and Madison. Oconomowoc’s active downtown and city center is on Lac La Belle and Fowler Lake, setting it up for water sports and a year-round resort-type atmosphere. The walkable downtown has all the ingredients that make it attractive in the time and place we live in–retail, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, professional services, a community center, a library, a band shelter, and a park and beach. The housing stock includes a mixture of lake mansions, mid-rise condos, apartment complexes, senior living, single family houses along the lakes, and many subdivisions that surround the downtown area. More suburban style retail is on the city’s fringe and several health care systems have hospitals and medical office buildings near the major access highways (routes 16, 67, and I-94).

All this constitutes a truly unique place that has done and does a lot right to create a city that is home to people from many walks of life.  

Bob and Kristi reviewed maps and plans and detailed the inner workings of Oconomowoc’s recent development to illustrate how they have been able to accomplish a place that speaks to how so many people want to live now.

There is so much to learn from Oconomowoc’s experience. Bob and Kristi’s expertise and professionalism guide development in a collaborative way. The schedules, timelines, maps, and planning documents they presented spoke to master planning and execution thereof. Participants learned about the city’s resilience during Covid, and its ability to add businesses and draw more people to the downtown in the time since.

A group of people is walking in downtown Oconomowoc with two- and three-story buildings, a bench, trees, lamp posts, a mural on the side of a building, and full on-street parking.

Following the meeting, participants toured downtown and saw the near 100% storefront occupancy, mixed land uses, activity on both sides of the streets, short blocks with welcoming portals to interesting venues Oconomowoc’s vitality was evident even on a very cold Saturday.

Oconomowoc is a city worth visiting, living in, and learning from. It’s a city that is inherently designed to easily and effortlessly live in and experience an active lifestyle.

By Pat Algiers, CNU Wisconsin Board Member. Photos courtesy of Chris McCahill.