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Good luck on the playground

I've heard that a crane symbolizes good luck. A dear friend gave us 100 golden Origami cranes when my daughter was born in 2010. That was the year that 1.206 million gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico poisoning loads of birds, including cranes. That was also the year that Time Magazine told us that a family needed a household income of $75,000 to be happy. Wisconsin, by the way, is home to the International Crane Foundation and lots of sandhill cranes. The median household income in Madison, the capital, is $57,000.

I'm trying to make some connections here and let's see if I succeed.

Construction cranes seem to be all over the city. That is a symbol of jobs and promise and prospects. Forbes, which said Madison was a great place for young professionals to find jobs and live (in 2011), explains what seems like common sense to me: Companies look for places where there is always a fresh crop of college-educated people when deciding where to locate. And, duh, these 24-35 year-old people want to live in "tight-knit urban neighborhoods that are close to work and have lots of entertainment and shopping options within an easy walk." (Great news: fewer young people are buying cars)

That describes my neighborhood! The cranes in my landscape are making real one of a bunch of great-sounding projects at various stages of planning and discussion, all very promising for my downtown neighborhood. A central park, a full-service grocery store, and an improved playground. And lots of high-density housing.

I'm interested in the playground. It is in a big, well-loved and well-used field and near a very cool sports stadium where amateur soccer games attract small crowds and taco carts. There are plans for more strategically showcasing that stadium, too.

I'm not the only parent with young kids in the neighborhood, but there should be more of us. One of the city's best elementary schools is on my street. The big lake is a couple blocks away, as is a charming lagoon with ice skate rental and hot cocoa in the winter. It takes me 5 minutes to get downtown on the bus, but usually we just walk. Mature trees, sidewalks, cafes, restaurants, much-cherished businesses, you get it: it's such a cool neighborhood.

Families with young kids can be like artists to revitalization. Destination playgrounds are landmarks in a city. They end up on postcards and featured on tourism websites. 

Families want affordable homes in decent neighborhoods and they want a certain amount of critical mass. They will congregate around a park or a school or a playground. Families create stability. They reinvest in the neighborhood, feel allegiance, draw in like-minded families, the tax base grows, the housing prices reflect it. 

So don't botch this playground thing.

There is $75,000 set aside for the playground. Sounds like a lot but I'm told it is not. It's all a family needed to be happy in 2010, but my Alder told me to expect a modest play structure and not to rock the boat too hard or plans will be stalled.

Back in 2010, I had my heart truly broken. The newly elected Governor Walker sent back the money Wisconsin had to build a passenger Amtrak route through Madison. An $810 million federal grant refused after the trains had been bought! I'd been going to meetings, giving some thought to where the station might best be located. I had full-blown imaginary scenes of myself and my daughter taking the train to Chicago for the weekend, then on to visit family in Ohio....

I really am not over it.

Please, let's not miss this train. It's just one little playground, but let's pay attention.

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