This will generate Open Graph meta tags for t

Three Cheers for Lapham: Wisconsin's first scholar

Mention Increase Allen Lapham and you’ll get a mixed response. His first name is unusual enough to be intriguing, confusing, and forgettable. The last name is associated with so many different things it has lost connection with the man and his story.

Increase Lapham is called things like “Wisconsin’s first scientist” or the “Father of the U.S. Weather Service.” Plants, a trilobite, and meteor markings are named for him, as are streets, parks, and even a WWII U.S. Navy ship. I have always thought it was too bad that his story isn’t more commonly known, especially among those of us living in ‘his’ neighborhood and for the many kids who proudly sing ‘his’ school anthem.

Increase was born in 1811. He was an explorer and tinkerer who was full of delight and appreciation for the land that we now know as Wisconsin.  He had a respect for ecology, the Native heritage, and our place in the universe that was unusual for his time.

He moved to the Milwaukee area twelve years before Wisconsin became a state and immediately directed his curiosity and his skills in observation to understanding the region. He wrote the first book written and published in Wisconsin. He studied and wrote about the geography, topography, history, geology, mineralogy, natural history, trees, conservation, soil, and ‘antiquities’ (Indian mounds) of the region.

He was a man of endless curiosity who drew the flora and fauna of the area with beautiful precision, who surveyed the land and made the first maps of the area, who discovered mounds and archeological sites in the region, and who marveled at everything in the natural world. 

Increase called himself a citizen scientist. He didn’t have a college degree, but he was interested in trying everything. Much like your typical elementary school student! 

When I moved to Wisconsin to work for a state-wide cultural organization, I had to get caught up on the people and places of the region’s history. That’s when I met Rob Nurre, an enthusiastic expert on Increase Lapham. 

My first daughter started kindergarten at Lapham Elementary School in 2015, 110 years after it was dedicated in honor of Increase Lapham. Rob is the one who told me that Increase’s daughters, Mary and Julia, annually donated something from the explorer’s collection to the school on March 7th, his birthday. One year they gave the school one of his microscopes. These items all ended up as part of the enormous Lapham collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society when the school closed briefly in the 1980s.

Currently there is only a small plaque above a bubbler in the school memorializing Wisconsin's first scholar. It is made of tan ceramic and is hard to read, if you even notice it. My kids are not impressed by this boring sign and I agree: it doesn't really speak to Increase Lapham's playfully curious character.

Celebrating Increase Lapham by educating the next generation of citizen scientists

Here is where the story takes a modern turn: This spring every kindergartner, first and second grader at Lapham Elementary School will make a personal acquaintance with Increase Lapham. Hopefully that antiquated first name will start rolling off the tongues of neighborhood children (and their parents)!

Using grant money from the Madison Community Foundation, with additional funds from our good neighbors Stone House Development and materials from Thermo Fisher Scientific, Lapham Elementary students will be celebrating the legacy of Increase Lapham through art and music and more

  • Increase Lapham will spend a day visiting each classroom! Rob Nurre, dressed in period clothing and with pockets filled with trilobites, rocks and other curious bits from the natural world, will come in character to talk with students about the world of Wisconsin in the mid-1800s.

  • An exhibit about Increase Lapham in the school hall will help students, teachers and parents get to know the curiosities and achievements of this influential Wisconsinite. It will include images of Lapham, copies of some of his drawings and journals, as well as the kinds of scientific and artistic tools he used.

  • Students will make special notebooks to record their observations on the natural world. Modeled after Lapham’s own notebook held in the Wisconsin Historical Society collection, a little pocket in the front of the notebook will hold a magnifying glass. Fact sheets will be pasted inside the cover of the book. Guest artist Amy Mietzel will spend two weeks in the art classroom to help each student decorate and customize their notebook.

  • Information about Increase Lapham’s interests and studies will be provided to all teachers so they can make connections within their lessons. For example, in music class students will to compose lyrics to a song connecting the dots between life as a Lapham student and the endless curiosity that leads to a life of learning. The Gardener-in-Residence will help the students use their notebooks to record observations in the garden.

Increase Lapham was interested in and influential in so many spheres, the story has many entry points. There are fun ways for Kindergarten, first and second grade lessons to connect to his studies and accomplishments. For example, my second grader observes the weather every evening and records the data. My kindergartner made binoculars in art class. Now they might also come away from their time at Lapham Elementary School proud that they, like Increase Lapham, are citizen scientists. And curious about all there is left to explore around them!

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!

Related Stories

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...