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Make New Friends and Keep the Old

It's a Boomtown
Got another Boomtown
And it'll boom
Just as long as boom has room.

The guy from California moves in and relaxes.
The natives have to move - they cannot pay the taxes.
Santa Fe has had it. Sedona has, too.
Maybe you'll be lucky - maybe your town will be the new...

-Greg Brown, Boomtown

Happy New Year!

Madison 2015. We are living in a boom town. The cranes surround us and the skyline is shape-shifting. Living amid the constant banging, it is hard to imagine what this place will look like by 2020.

Like my neighbors in the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood, who are striving admirably to stay involved as each new proposal for change is unveiled, I want to cherry pick the best of the past and paste it onto a visionary plan for the future.

National Geography published a piece for the new year called "Top 10 Happiest Cities." One in the bunch notably "blends a medieval Old Town with modern living around its natural harbor. Local residents celebrate their city's income equality, free health care and day care, and excellent education from the many local colleges and universities."

Not exactly Madison. That describes Aarhus, Denmark.

Photograph by Kaare Viemose, The New York Times/Redux

Tenney-Lapham has been described as a place where "[s]leek high rise apartments are providing enticing choices that complement the surrounding historic homes." That sounds pretty good.

A cool map in the Wisconsin State Journal piece by Dean Mosiman illustrates the real and potential changes for the Cap East District without any brochure-language flourishes. The 2-D map, however, does not bring to life the changes to the skyline, nor the shadow lines that will fall over the old homes and streets.

Have you seen the black-and-white photos of the city then and now on the lower level of the Madison Municipal Building? Some images from Madison past are charming; some of the more modern images show what seem now like obvious improvements. The struggle in the moment of change isn't documented. (Some cool art then and now photos are here)

I think we should document our own neighborhood streets. It could be a time-lapse film: BEAB (before Emerald Ash Borer) and ATID (after Tax Increment District development).

Taken from Downtown Trolley

Mapping the Future

Alder Ledell Zellers, on her own website, explains [T]he Tenney-Lapham neighborhood began as a "streetcar suburb" when Madison extended light rail service from downtown out Johnson Street to Baldwin Street."

My neighbor, who still lives in the house she grew up in, and raised her kids in, tells stories of catching the streetcar to go downtown. When I first moved onto East Dayton Street, her stories made me see my neighborhood differently.

The Willy Street Blog this week offers a really helpful round-up of the ways an upcoming reconstruction project will alter Jenifer Street. Not so long ago, Jenifer Street was a streetcar line. The 2015 plan is to narrow the street with traffic calming devices. However, loosing width means losing even more of the street's history, and character.

I think if Kurt Vonnegut lived here, he'd remind us: "So it goes."

All the new development is built around the city founders' vision of East Washington as a boulevard. It all depends on comfort and efficiency of movement: people have to be able to get around within the boundaries of geography.

Which brings up the disappointing news that the current plan for Bus Rapid Transit seems to be stuck in a feedback-loop. They are starting another study instead of starting construction.

Photo by Mike Cechvala
This was meant to be a short, and Happy, post. It's getting long as I try to connect the dots.

Point is, we want to save some stuff while building some really cool new stuff. It's a fine balance, an art even. And art is in the eye of the beholder. We are not all going to love every new thing built, and we'll almost certainly loose some great old stuff in the process.

One proposal currently under scrutiny explicitly aims to save and re-purpose a Quonset hut. The grocery store to open later this year will have local Madison ash trees used as support beams. There are other interesting things happening...

And up next, Tenney Park is slated for some major improvements at the same time as hundreds of Ash trees are lost. As we strive to deserve our status as one of the Top 10 Happiest Cities, I hope we can keep some of the old and make sure the new is worthy of this incredible, and historic, urban park.

And maybe when we ring in 2020, we can ride a BRT home from the party. Meanwhile, if you have a photo of the streetcar on Baldwin Street, I'd love to see it. 

Circa 1904 from the UW-Madison Archives Images, The UW-Madison Collection, The University of Wisconsin Collection, found through Recollection Wisconsin

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