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A desire to save old buildings evolved…

Darrin Wasniewski

Darrin Wasniewski’s journey into building communities can best be described as iterative. What began as a desire to save old buildings evolved into a passion for fostering social connection, creating places for all ages and all abilities, and unleashing the power of locals as experts in their future. By day, Darrin is one of 2 directors of community outreach for AARP Wisconsin, co-leading the office’s work to create Livable Communities throughout the state. Outside of work, he is a partner in Grow Co-Lab, a consulting firm, with Nora Roughen-Schmidt. As a volunteer, Darrin is a Global Walkability Correspondent for, a collaborative focused on advancing walkable communities around the world, where he leads international workgroups focused on Architecture & Urbanism and the Walkable Economy. In the state, his passion finds an outlet as a steering committee member of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin’s Active Wisconsin Network. And locally, in his home of Madison, he serves on the steering and transportation committees for Madison is for People, is a member of Downtown Madison Inc. participating on the organization’s transportation and economic development committees, and as a transportation commissioner for the City of Madison. Additionally, he maintains membership in Wisconsin Downtown Action Council, Congress for New Urbanism and American Planning Association.

Darrin’s relationship with WDAC began as an ex-officio board member connected to his role as downtown development program manager with Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. From the get-go, he felt a connection to the organization and its mission to the downtowns throughout the state and has never looked back. Even with a new employer, he carried this relationship forward looking for ways to connect the work of AARP’s Livable Communities to that of WDAC. A few highlights for him from the past 8 years include:

  • the “mundane” task of updating by-laws that he and past-president Beth Weirick undertook. Beyond just performing a necessary task to maintain a healthy organization, this project afforded Darrin the opportunity to learn from one of Wisconsin’s greatest minds in downtown development.  Read more on Beth Weirick here.
  • The collaboration with AARP Wisconsin to bring a Walk Audit Workshop to Green Bay. This idea, led by Jennifer Stephany, began prior to his joining AARP and deployed after he came on AARP staff, so it was great to be part of the project on both sides.
  • Bringing Gil Penalosa, founder of 8 80 Cities, as keynote speaker to the 2022 Downtown Summit.

Above all, though, Darrin counts the relationships he’s built with people from across Wisconsin through mutual service to the mission of WDAC as the penultimate highlight of his years in working with the organization, it’s always about the people!

In support of Wisconsin’s downtowns, he would be remiss if he did not mention AARP Wisconsin’s monthly Small Dollar, Big Impact Grant,,  that is entering its third year. The grant funds ideas for proof-of-concept initiatives to create an impact in communities across the state. Some downtowns receiving funds over the years include: Appleton, Darlington, Osceola, La Crosse, Milwaukee Eastside BID, Milwaukee Downtown, and Rice Lake. A full recap of winners can be found on the website linked above.

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