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Neighborhood on display: A photo exhibition by Chris Norris

Seeing home with fresh eyes

Chris Norris is a neighbor and photographer who has been turning his interest in architecture and documentary film into a photo-investigation over the past few years. An exhibition of his images, a collection called "The Final Day," opens at Madison Central Library’s third floor gallery space this Friday during Gallery Night.  

As he says himself, these photographs are "a hyper-local, intimate look at the residential, industrial, and greenspace areas of the Madison Isthmus."

Chris moved to the neighborhood not too long after I started this blog. Like many of us, he has been fascinated by the rapid changes taking place since the area was named the Capitol Gateway Corridor to attract and guide development. Shot over the past few years, starting in 2014, he comments, "It's amazing how many of these photographs are already historical just a few years later."

What I love about these images is the way they present my home turf, my regular sights and scenes, as a city stripped down to elements. 

I realize that what makes this place, my neighborhood, feel like home is in large part the people. In these gorgeous compositions, I see the cityscape I inhabit as I might see a city I was visiting, a city of strangers to explore as an outsider.

I love exploring. I wander somewhat religiously, letting my eyes and feet lead. I see in these photos that Chris is also an explorer.

There is a playful and provocative little book by Keri Smith, called The Wander Society, that incites us to join thinkers, artists and poets who, throughout history and in cultures all over the earth have found wisdom through wandering. 'Solvitur ambulando' is the mission and the calling. It is revolutionary, and revelatory, to slow down, follow whims, and notice the canvas of our lives like this.

 Learn more about Chris's work at

'The Final Day' Opening Party
Friday, October 6th from 5-9PM
Madison Central Library, 3rd floor

A conversation about Makeshift festival

Olbrich Park became a bright spot on the city's map of experiments in placemaking when the new Biergarten opened this summer. With soft pretzels bigger than your head and an oversized Jenga set, I find the Biergarten playful and fresh. 

There are 237 parks listed on the City of Madison's website. That is about one park per 1,000 people. Of those parks, I think Olbrich is one of our crown jewels.

This weekend Olbrich Park will be host to another experiment in placemaking, the Makeshift art and food festival. This fundraiser for our city parks is the brainchild of several Tenney-Lapham neighbors, including folks from Underground Food Collective, Cork N Bottle, and FlakPhoto. 

Alongside temporary installations from artists from around the world will be food. Really special food. The organizers call it "ambitious, affordable dishes in a family-friendly, engaging and immersive experience. A one-day-only happening, Makeshift is Sunday, August 20th from 3-8PM rain or shine.

One of these food experiences is a collaboration between Underground Food Collective and REAP, served from REAP's new food truck.  REAP's mission is to support small family farms and local businesses in southern Wisconsin and increase access to fresh, healthy food for everyone. This pairs well with Underground's seasonal menus highlighting farm fresh produce and locally sourced products.

The Director of REAP, Helen Sarakinos, is a good friend of mine. We've come together around food and art many times--everything from canning beets to curating an installation of five artists work along the Yahara River--so this weekend we biked over to the Biergarten with our daughters and talked. 

Helen says, "Hats off to all the organizers. I really appreciate how they are getting people excited about the possibilities and the future of food in the Midwest. It's so inspiring to be in this city with such a rich food system and see how this could extend to the food our schools are serving children. I have loved working with these visionaries." 

ME: You are a fan of outdoor temporary art experiences like Eaux Claires and Fermentation Fest. You and I collaborated on a project called Yahara Reflections that had a very similar mission to Makeshift: to spark the joy of discovery in familiar places and remind us all of the natural beauty we have right here in our city parks. Are there any particular artists you are really excited to have exhibiting at Makeshift this year?

HELEN: I love the idea of this festival on so many levels, it’s the a fundraiser for public parks, it’s free for everyone, and it’s there and then its gone - placemaking at its best! I have always been drawn to guerrilla art, forcing me to see the same things I look at daily in a radically different way. So I am looking forward to seeing what Michael Duffy does for this event since I’ve always enjoyed his other installations. But so many of the artists are new to me so I’m showing up ready to be surprised, delighted and moved!
ME: Tell me about the food people can find at the new REAP foodcart at Makeshift. I understand it will be showing off your vision for school lunches of the future?

HELEN: REAP is so excited to be part of Makeshift and to feature our sweet new food truck, an incredible donation from Emmi Roth Cheese! One of the ways we hope to put it to use is as a food truck at Madison high schools - since the schools all have open campuses, kids can get their lunch to go, rather than choose between eating a proper meal or joining their friends. The lunch recipes are being developed specifically for the food truck - featuring local produce, and made to go. A few school districts around the country have incorporated food trucks and they’ve been really popular with students.

In partnership with Underground Foods, the kids’ meal at Makeshift will showcase the kinds of lunches we hope to be serving out of the food truck in the coming year. These lunches are good for your body, really delicious and full of seasonal and locally-sourced foods. The Makeshift kids meal will be a rice bowl.

REAP has been working to reform school lunch in Madison for over a decade. This is our vision for the future of school meals: 

  • We will view healthy, fresh food in schools as a vital component to academic achievement. 
  • Every child will have access to high quality, delicious and healthy food so they are ready to learn. 
  • Schoolchildren will know and love the taste of fresh fruits and vegetables - the stigma of “kids hate veggies” will be a thing of the past.
  • It will be normal for all children to know at least some of the farmers who grow their meals. 
  • More of the money spent on food for schools will stay local and help elevate our robust food economy. 

ME: If people reading this, or attending Makeshift, want to help make this a reality for our local schoolkids, what can they do?

HELEN: MMSD Food Services has made some real progress with school meals in the last few years. Did you know they buy almost 100 000 pounds annually of locally-grown fruits and veg for school meals? 

The single best thing we can do as parents is support those efforts. Madison elementary schools this fall will be featuring a weekly locally-sourced lunch. Buy your kids the local lunch! As a community, if we talk about wanting change, we need to support the change. We have to walk the walk. If the District sees interest in local lunches featuring fruits and vegetables, they’ll be willing to grow those options. 

To keep up with plans for local school lunches starting this fall, follow REAP on Facebook or sign up for the newsletter at

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

3-8PM at Olbrich Park 

We missed the train. Now what?

Keep it livable

My summertime travels have included chances to use the commuter rail systems in Chicago and New York. I love trains! So I also jumped at the chance to ride the brand new street car in Cincinnati. 

I'm now back home to the nagging realization that Madison is a long way from a viable, visionary public transportation plan. 

In that light, I think it so important that Madison continues to invest in our network of bike trails and bike lanes. We are a biking city and a biking state! We have that going for us! 

Tenney-Lapham neighbors are doing important work to make the East Mifflin Street Bike Boulevard safer. This will do a lot to make the streets safer for everyone and make it a happier place to live. 

We can keep our neighborhood livable by:

-making it safer for bike traffic by re-orienting stop signs at streets that cross the bike boulevard 

-slowing car traffic that crosses through the neighborhood, like on busy Baldwin Street, by adding raised crosswalks 

-keeping non-residential car traffic off residential streets with tools like 'diverters'

It's a visionary plan! Check it out and contact Alder Ledell Zellers and tell her you support the TLNA recommendations.

Almost shoulda, coulda, woulda

I get close to crying when I think about the high-speed trains that were coming to Madison, but were sent away when Governor Walker decided to lock the state in 20th century mistakes.

Tragically our Governor sent away the jobs and the money, maybe because he is bad at math so didn't understand the real costs, or maybe because he is good at math and gets lots of money from car and road construction project enthusiasts, or maybe he just wanted to screw Madison. Because a city without train service can't evolve gracefully into the 21st century.

Cities big and small are trying to be what put Madison on the map: a walkable, bikeable, livable city. “Madison is 30 square miles surrounded by reality," said Lee Dreyfus, future Governor of Wisconsin, while campaigning in 1978. I believe that was said with pride, though some doubters think it means we are naive to the 'real' American way of life (where cars rule). 

Reality is, Madison has grown and we've gotten stuck at our precocious peak.

Statistics report that people born in America these days are no longer crazy for cars. Turns out these wise, mature young Americans want to ride bikes, join car-sharing programs, spend money on exotic vacations, and live in creative, vibrant neighborhoods. And cities all over the country are bending over backward to attract and retain young people. 

“The goal is to rebalance the public space and create a city for people,” say forward-thinking urban politicians. Cities are developing waterfronts, building parks and bike lanes, and getting the cars off the downtown streets. Basically trying to be as cool as Madison is, was, or could have been. 

Does Madison have to let the streets decline into ugly, noisy, stinky traffic jams, or might we instead choose to retain our glory with some preventative measures? 

Madison is a street-car city by design

The central isthmus core spread outward into the leafy, livable "street-car suburbs" designed and developed for people who wanted to be able to step off the streetcar and walk home. 
In other words, the developers a hundred years ago knew their customers and responded to their demands. A history of Madison's early streetcar system (1892-1935) explains that the developers worked with the transportation system and actually subsidized the construction of the lines. In the case of University Heights development, "the subsidy was in the form of $10,000 in subscriptions paid by Heights residents. In return the trolley company gave the residents free passes to ride anywhere on the system for an entire month." 

At least one street car line was done for industrial economic development. "In 1919, the Oscar Mayer Company paid for a line extension to its East Side plant so that workers could get to and from their jobs more easily." 

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz planned to build a streetcar system in Madison and keep the city moving into the 21st century. It was going to be a major uphill battle, but smart urban planners understood the vision and were laying the groundwork. Then for some reason it was made into a joke, called the Trolley Folly. Ten years ago, in 2007, the plan was cancelled.  

Mayor Dave, who is a great student of history and extremely astute, explained his decision to shelve the streetcar idea altogether:

"Major public investments like streetcars should only be undertaken when there is broad consensus in the community, and that is clearly not the case with this issue."

Neighborhood by design


My neighborhood is being redesigned. Sadly, it's not a story of developers and transportation companies working together. 

The neighborhood, specifically the Tenney-Lapham Neighorhood Association, has stepped up to do what they can to address the issues of congested and unsafe streets very locally.

In an earlier blog post, I mentioned the neighborhood steering committee that formed around a goal to improve the East Mifflin Street Bicycle Boulevard. The larger goal is called "traffic calming" and includes measures that will make it safer for people walking or riding bikes throughout the neighborhood. 

The results of the neighborhood traffic survey and the "traffic improvement recommendations" can be found here. There is a cool map that pinpoints all the recommendations, which were as a whole very positively received by the city traffic engineering department.  Now it is time for them to happen.

We need this 


The neighborhood recommendations to Traffic Engineering will help resolve current traffic congestion and make sure that the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood continues to be an urban commercial-residential zone in which bike, foot, bus and car travel co-exist safely.

We need to demand that our public streets are designed for us. As the former mayor said, we need broad consensus in the community

We also need visionary leaders and collaboration among civic leaders.

And, I believe, we need some trains... 

Contact Alder Ledell Zellers and tell her you support the TLNA recommendations. The more she hears from us, the more she'll work to make the vision for healthier and happier streets a reality.


Party in the Park 2017

This year the annual block party is on Sunday afternoon, June 11th, from 4-7PM. 

It is summer and there is so much going on, so make this Sunday your chill-out time: come hang out under the trees, have some dinner, maybe some ice cream and a cool beverage, and soak up the relaxed neighborhood vibe. We have a great event planned:

4-5PM ROLLER RINK on the ROOFTOP. We provide the tunes, you bring your wheels. If you have no wheels, just come up to watch the fun.

4PM The Water Well is open for tour! Back by popular demand, this is your chance to see inside the building at Reynolds and learn a bit more about the water we drink and use every day.

5PM Morris Dancers bring rhythm and step to the 'hood!

5:30 The beloved TLNA unicyclists perform. These are kids of all ages doing tricks on one wheel you won't believe!

5-6 Transportation Revelations. Meet the city's patrol horses, try out a cargo bike provided by the new Cargo Bike Shop, & get aboard a Metro bus to plan your next trip.

6PM Drumming with Elmore Lawson! If you haven't been at one of Elmore's drum circles yet, you are in for a treat. He brings some extra drums so anyone can jump in, but if you prefer to listen instead, you won't be sorry you stayed to round out your weekend with some groovy rhythms.

Everyone is Welcome!

As always, there will be ice cream, beverages, great food and good times. Your area restaurants have stepped up again to bring you delicious offerings (Avenue Bar, Underground Food Collective, Cork N Bottle, and more!)

Still not convinced? It's so much fun...take a look at some pictures from 2015 and 2016.

See you Sunday!

Healthy and Happy Urban Living

"Cities are the greatest thing that people do."
-Stewart Brand, author of Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, and featured speaker at the 2017 Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference in Madison

We have a problem. Let's solve it.

Madison is projected to have 70,000 new residents by 2040. The current population of the city is around 250,000, so that significant shift presents all sorts of possibilities, and problems.

Like all American cities, the street systems are designed for cars. Like most American cities, the public transportation system is too inefficient or too inconvenient for a good portion of the population to want to use it.

The Cap East District, as envisioned and supported by city planning, is now booming. It's an urban-infill dream come true: unused buildings and empty lots are giving rise to high-rise mixed-use spaces. 

So the problem is: Lots of people who want to move around in a city. It is easier to design a system from scratch than to retrofit it. We don't want to clear-cut this urban isthmus (or any part of the city). However, what is happening in the Cap East District is almost like a new city by design.

So as this dream comes true for developers and city government, I hope the people don't get run over. Literally. We need a vision for human movement and behavior, and we need transportation systems to support the dream. We don't want to try to retrofit it in 2040.

This Wisconsin State Journal article about the Cosmos apartment complex alongside Starting Block Madison and American Family Insurance article ends with an admission of a part of the problem: "We have to take a better look at how we get people across East Wash. How do we get the people back and forth comfortably and safely? That's going to be a long-term issue we'll have to be looking at as we develop East Wash."

I'm struck by the fecklessness of this statement. Is it really possible at this stage of the game that this important piece of the puzzle is missing?

There is a transportation master plan and, like any average citizen, I know very little about it. It's called Madison in Motion. At a session of the recent Earth Day conference at Monona Terrace, Brian Grady from the city's planning division explained to a crowded room of people that is hasn't been as successful as it should have been.

The Earth Day conference, presented by the UW's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, was tagged "Hope and Renewal in the Age of the Apocalypse." It was a welcome chance to consider shining examples of human problem-solving. The featured presenters were there to push us to think big, thing bold, and think pragmatically.

Cities are beautiful and intricate systems for people to meet their needs while developing their well-being and happiness. Julian Agyeman, author of Sharing Cities and Just Sustainability, offered a concept called "urban acupuncture." The term was coined by Brazilian architect, urbanist and mayor Jaime Lerner. Agyeman told stories of 'pin-pricks of excellence,' such as High Line Park in New York City and Spanish Park Library in an impoverished neighborhood of MedellĂ­n, Columbia. These intense injections of visionary change have a healing effect on the neighborhood and the city. The good energy spreads. 

Excellence is contagious: once people experience what is possible, they want and create more excellence.

The Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association has decided to make traffic issues the focus of projects, events, and conversations this year. Residential and commercial density is concentrated and increasing quickly in this neighborhood and we feel the tension that can birth grand change. Positive, negative, both, either.

How much can a neighborhood association accomplish?

On April 17th, an initial meeting was held for neighbors to talk with traffic engineering specialist Tom Mohr. The agenda and scope of that meeting can be found here. The slides from Mohr's presentation can be found here.

There are many concerns, but at this meeting, the focus was on the East Mifflin Street bike boulevard and traffic around Lapham Elementary School. Mohr discussed the issues, brought to light the pros and cons of possible changes, and encouraged neighbors to work together to design solutions. 

Graphic from City of Madison traffic engineer Tom Mohr


Let's do some urban acupuncture. Let's be bold and move toward a vision. Let's look for shining examples, trust data, ask for expertise, and make changes.

A neighborhood steering committee is forming and will meet this week: May 18, 2017, 7:00 PM at Festival Foods 2nd Floor Conference Room. We are lucky to have people working on this and we owe it to them to respect their ideas and try them.

It seems to me we don't have problems of engineering or science. We have 'social science' problems. In other words, the real challenge is in presenting opportunities that allow us as individuals to feel lucky to be part of a community with equitable and healthy systems working in our favor. If we recognize and capitalize on our strengths, we will be resilient as other changes come.

At this moment in history, fully half of the world's population lives in cities. The median age in Madison is 30.8 years old. This is visible in the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood. But here, among the old trees and historic parks, we also benefit from the wisdom that comes from a diversity of experience.

We are ripe to become a pin-prick of excellence on the planet. I am looking for bold vision. I am hopeful we can experiment and strive to be an example talked about by conference presenters in the future.

"The person who is in love with their vision of community will destroy community. But the person who loves the people around them will create community everywhere they go." -German theologist Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Lapham Buildementary: Outdoor Sculptures by Kids

Lapham Buildementary is a twelve-week after school club for 20 first and second grade students. It's free for the Lapham Elementary students, thanks to a ton of support from the city and the community. 

The kids are busy this spring learning the who, what, and how of public art and sculpture. They have also begun plotting their own large, 3-dimensional pieces to build. This kid-made art will be installed in the parkway along the Yahara River this summer.

The artist-in-residence is Amy Mietzel, a former elementary-school art teacher who now teaches a full range of courses for adults and kids from her funky little space on Winnebago Avenue called Bare Knuckles Arts. 

About a year ago, I approached Amy with the idea for Lapham Buildementary. I was thinking of a follow-up to Yahara Reflections, a temporary installation of five artists' work in 2014. I barely knew her then, but had a feeling she was the person who could pull it off. 

When you walk in Bare Knuckles Arts, it's obvious that the workspace is the brain-child and baby of someone who delights in creative freedom, is open to trying new things, and has an eye for detail and a skill for organization. Watching her work on an art project with my daughters, I was impressed by how respectful, encouraging, relaxed and real she is with young people. 

Luckily, the Lapham principal was incredibly excited about the idea and Amy was on board.  I wrote a grant proposal to the Madison Arts Commission for the project and additionally received generous support from the Lapham-Marquette Parent Teacher Group, the Marquette and Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Associations, and local businesses Robin Room and Underground Meats. Amy started working immediately, sketching and networking and making things happen. She connected with UW-Madison and found two students to volunteer during class. Together we worked out the details with the school and got the blessing of the parks department. 

Lapham Buildementary kicked off in February

Over dinner after the first class, my six year old daughter told us about Andy Goldworthy. "He didn't get permission," she wanted to make clear to me. He just collected a whole bunch of snow and made huge snowballs, "like, bigger than me," she emphasized, stretching her arms over her head. He stored the snowballs in a freezer. Then in the summer, she continued, he put the snowballs in a park and watched as people discovered them. "They took over a week to melt!" she told us in awe. 

This example really spoke to my daughters, who have some icicles and a few chunks of snow in our freezer. 

Goldworthy is one of my favorite artists, too. He creates ephemeral works using natural materials. I really love that this can be done by anyone with materials that cost nothing, are readily accessible, and are naturally mesmerizing. It is what kids do with creative flair all the time, like when they make piles of rocks on the beach or build a fort from sticks in the woods.   

Amy started the first two classes with slides and stories. The focus during the second week was specifically on local sculptures, many of which were familiar to students. I watched the hands go up each time a new slide came on the screen, the kids eager to share their own ways of connecting with the artwork. After class, my children and I ran errands around the east side. We were so excited to point out many pieces we'd just been talking about.

Over the coming months, three additional local artists will come to meet and work with the students. The idea is to present a range of materials and give the children the chance to try out different techniques.

Eventually, working in pairs or teams, the kids will make their own unique designs into real sculptures. Sturdy bases for the sculptures have been welded by a friend of Amy's to meet Madison Parks' specifications. An exhibition of all the sculptures will be in the parkway along the Yahara River this summer. 

You can follow along with the project on the Bare Knuckles Arts website, where Amy posts a little story and pictures after each week's class. And check out the kids' designs on view at Bare Knuckles Arts during Gallery Night on Friday, May 5th from 5-9 PM. 

Midnight Resolve

The clock reads 12:41 AM. It is now officially January 20th, 2017.

I can't sleep.

Chances are good I'll be out of a job soon. The presidential inauguration in a few hours will affect all of us. The details are unknown, but all predictions and promises are terrifying to me. Targeted attacks on the vulnerable members of society, the artists and intellectuals...we know how this story historically goes. Intentions to de-fund the National Endowment for the Humanities would end my 15 year career as I know it, but that's not what is keeping me awake.

My mind is fixating on the challenge of kindness in all this. How I can be kinder. I feel so hurt, discouraged, and disheartened. I just want to find it in myself to grow kinder.

I am often awkwardly shy. I am not good at small talk. My social skills are inexplicably bad when it comes to things like simple interactions at cash registers and ordering pizza over the phone. And it's killing me right now, knowing these are just excuses for what boils down to a lack of energy for kindness.

What I mean is that every interaction we have is an opportunity to break free of our insecurities for the sake of human kindness. I have kind intentions, and am often capable of kind gestures. I know I am a good friend and many of my friends would claim I'm kind. But considering all that is going wrong around me, all the mean and cruel and disappointingly flawed humans flaunting themselves, I can think of nothing harder, yet more important, than to learn to be kinder.

I have a friend whose kindness is so disarming it is saintly. Her kindness is genuine and intelligent and wise. Does one have to be born with such a natural disposition toward kindness, or can I learn from her? Can I push myself to bother to be kinder? What will it take, on my part? And how can we inspire it in each other?

Thanks for reading.

It's really not like me to blog in the middle of the night. I've been less prolific, and less opinionated here, than when I started this blog. I was just getting to know the neighborhood as a parent back then and was so inspired by what was going on, I found I had a lot of opinions and things to say.

As I got to know more people who are truly involved, showing up to all the meetings, and taking care of this neighborhood, I was even more inspired. And also humbled. I know so little about what is actually going on around here. And there is so, so, so much going on in this thriving Cap-East district (more development proposals and projects than I can count). My kids are getting older, and busier, and I don't have the bandwidth to keep up, let alone comment intelligently.

But I believe there will be even more going on, and much of it will be inspiring thanks to all these good people around me, so maybe it will make sense to write more about it here. More unknowns. But why not hope?

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