Posts Tagged ‘Madison Wisconsin’

Never Leave Home Without Your Geographer: Krugman, Gruber

Friday, January 27th, 2012

In my daily dose of Krugman I really enjoyed this:

China also derives big advantages from the fact that so much of the supply chain is already there. A former Apple executive explained: “You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away.”

This is familiar territory to students of economic geography: the advantages of industrial clusters — in which producers, specialized suppliers, and workers huddle together to their mutual benefit — have been a running theme since the 19th century.

And Chinese manufacturing isn’t the only conspicuous example of these advantages in the modern world.”

Growth Pole Theory! Aggregation Economies! & Bears! Oh My!

Space & Place actually matter! To an economist no less! Halleluja!

And never EVER leave home without your geographer. Obviously Krugman remembered his!

But seriously, all of these concepts can be applied, really to any economy, not just industrial. Clustering of mutually supportive enterprises is also a concept I’ve been hammering on in my comment on the Madison Downtown Plan as well as on the 100 Block of State Street debâcle. It just isn’t something the current planner-mindset can grasp.

Happily, former Madison Alder Tim Gruber, just wrote an interesting post that kind of gets at the notion of clustering of activities, not necessarily even similar activities, to make urban spaces real places. At least 10 different activities in the same place. They call it ‘Placemaking’ in the biz.

Or as I like to say, Places for People.

Pleasant’s Wrecking Ball

Thursday, January 12th, 2012
As predicted by many of us, the Overture Center would not be the end of the suburbanization of State Street. Take a look at this rendering of  the Overture Foundation’s plans for the State-Fairchild-W. Mifflin block:

A suburban office park developer's dreamscape

Exhibit A in how to kill a downtown.
Luckily, we have a newly re-invigorated preservation community, and the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation is leading the way. For a brief look at what the Trust proposes, go here. The highlight is this rendering, from about the same perspective, of the same block:

Character, not sleekiness....

Note the re-imagining of a tired block. The block does indeed need work, but it doesn’t need to be torn down. It is a classic urban block, and needs to be rehabbed as such. The ugly fire escapes can, and should go away. With appropriate internal revisions it can be done, and according to code. Roofs can be re-inforced for rooftop festivities. Spaces can be aggregated/divided as needed. It just takes a little imagination. (And many thanks to Elizabeth Cwik–civic architect extraordinaire–for having exactly that imagination in formulating the Trust’s tasteful alternative.)
Embracing the quirkiness of old buildings is truly an art.
The Overture wants office park. In their view, the quirkiness of history-in-the-landscape must be obliterated! Their design is one of sleeky exteriors suitable for viewing at 35 mph, and giant floor plates offering interior expanses that only an insurance company could love. Cubeland.
The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation and other downtown civic leaders, on the other hand, want the old buildings retro-fitted with edgy interiors, maintaining the pedestrian-scaled historic exteriors–the kind of places that bleeding edge tech companies, architects, creative agencies and design firms would gravitate to.
Madison economic development know-it-alls are always going on & on about how we should be attracting just these sorts of leading-edge firms. Well, if we don’t hold on to the very places that nourish creativity (and it ain’t happening out in suburban office parks), we won’t be attracting them. And believe me, the actuaries inhabiting insurance co.-cubeland won’t be adding much life to downtown. They’ll brownbag it for lunch, and at 5 PM they’ll be hightailing it to their Blu-Rays in Fitchburg. The employees of creative firms on the other hand, dependent as much on networking as on their brainpower for success, will most certainly see & be seen at State Street’s lunch places. After hours they are more likely than your standard insurance co. drone to hang out at downtown’s restaurants and to take in some nightlife with colleagues & friends. It’s what we call economic development in the biz.
If you want to Keep State Street Real, see  the Capitol Neighborhoods’s presentation on this very topic (info below).
Capitol Neighborhoods Inc. to Present Free Public ProgramMADISON, Jan. 3, 2012 – As redevelopment plans for the 100 block of State Street continue to make news, Madison residents can learn about an alternate vision for the historic block across from the Overture Center.Capitol Neighborhoods will present a special program at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26 at the Downtown Campus of Madison College at 211 N. Carroll Street. The event is free and open to everyone.– Local historian Gary Tipler will show vintage images and describe the history of the block bounded by State, Fairchild and Mifflin Streets. People with old photos of the area are encouraged to bring them to share.
— Jason Tish, executive director of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, will describe how an imaginative approach to re-using the existing buildings can add vibrancy to the area.
— Architect Elizabeth Cwik will show illustrations to suggest how historic buildings on the block can be re-used and enhanced.The Block 100 Foundation, created by Overture Center benefactors Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland, has advanced a proposal that would demolish all or parts of six buildings on the block including two local landmarks. Their proposal calls for reconstructing facades on State Street and creating a small  private plaza at Mifflin and Fairchild Streets across from the Overture Center.Capitol Neighborhoods Inc. is dedicated to improving the experience of residing in Madison’s vibrant downtown and represents people who live in the five districts that surround the state capitol building. The website is at

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We’re # 24!

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

24th sootiest air in the country that is (<-story filed under “Going Green”!). That, after two terms of the green mayor and three (& a half) of the green county executive, add in a population which prides itself on it’s green cred….Who needs Republicans when legions of dutifully voting Plug-in Prius drivers can do the dirty work for you? The Koch Bros. are laughing all the way to the bank.

Update 1: Jim Powell gives ’em hell about our crappy air quality, and why self-satisfied enviros sit on their hands about it.

Americans Ditching Deathmobiles in Droves

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Highest & Best Use

For the first time in history, Americans scrapped more cars than they bought.


Meanwhile, liberals anguish. And Detroit is more worried than ever.

Of course, they tried to put a brave face on it: “It foreshadows what may be pentup demand.” Yeah, that’s it, pentup demand! They’ll be back in the showrooms in no time! Willy Loman would be proud.

While the article may be partially right in that any rebound in employment will result in more cars bought, I seriously doubt it will ever go back to the levels of the years just before the bust. There has been a growing awareness across the generations that the car-oriented lifestyle just isn’t sustainable on any level. People of all ages have discovered biking, transit & walking. Mature families are happily letting their 2nd car die, scrapping it, and not replacing it. Younger people are going without a car altogether and loving the economic freedom. Car sharing is booming (both formal & informal). And a growing number of people across the generations & socio-economic divides are determined to simply not own a car at all. No way. No how.

It’s over Detroit. Retool to build buses, streetcars & trains. Embrace the hipster entrepreneurs struggling to gain a toehold in your city. Establish urban farmsteading on those empty lots. Cherish your ruins and foster industrial ruins tourism. Let go of the dreams of the glory days of Motown. The days of mega-industry anchoring the economy of your city are over. Deal with it.

And if places like Madison, Wisconsin don’t get a handle on their car-mandatory development patterns (to the detriment of our schools and economic future, I might add), it too will suffer the fate of every other rust belt city of its size.

Ho-Chunk to buy Union Corners?

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

It is just a rumor, but my source is in the know with regard to all things real estate, commercial & residential.

This has the potential to be a Very Good Thing. Note that I said potential.

And no, it doesn’t necessarily mean casino, so calm down. Another aspect of the rumor is that there would be an attempt to keep to the original vision of McGrath. But we’ll see….

If this turns out to be true, I’ve just got to (giddily) point out that I’ve scooped the local dying mainstream media, as well as their nemesis, Brenda Konkel. Heh.

Mayor Pave on the March: Massive Paving Budget Passes

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

They passed it. On a voice vote (for all intents & purposes, unanimously).

Mayor Pave is on the march.

And the zombies on the council are following.

Meanwhile, Dean Mosiman, ‘dean’ of the local Dying Mainstream Media completely missed the record borrowing for paving in the budget he ‘covered.’ He could only focus on Ald. Jed Sanborn’s tantrums against projects that actually improve our quality of life. (What is it about fiscal conservatives and their hatred of fun?)

The fact that not one “progressive” member of the council stood up to the massive paving spree is continuing proof that there are no friends of the enivronment, our health, or fiscal prudence at the political level in Madison, Wisconsin. Indeed, I’d agree with Mikhail Gorbachev’s recent assessment that

There is the wall between those who cause climate change and those who suffer the consequences. There is the wall between those who heed the scientific evidence and those who pander to vested interests. And there is the wall between the citizens who are changing their own behavior and want strong global action, and the leaders who are so far letting them down.

By passing this pro-car budget, our local leaders ignored the scientific evidence regarding car emissions and global climate catastrophe; instead they pandered to the shrinking-but-still-powerful motoring interests. They ignored the fact that their own constituents are indeed “changing their own behavior” and consciously driving less than they have in a generation. (Yes, driving has been down year-over-year for three years in a row in Madison, Wisconsin. The only mode of transportation to increase? Bicycling.) They are ignoring the local calls to action (and here, and here, and here, etc., et cetera, Et Cetera).

Our local leaders have, as Gorby said, let us down. Gorby was a brave leader who had the guts to open up his Stalinist system to the light of day and let it wither and die a relatively peaceful death. Our leaders, unfortunately, cling to a failed ideology; an ideology of car-worship that rivals Stalinism in its brutal results. The evidence is all around us: the carnage on our streets; the destruction of our climate; the cascading fiscal catastrophes emanating from the automobile industry out to the cul-de-sacs; and then the obvious — our recent oil-wars in Iraq & Afghanistan (and those are just appetizers for more oil wars to come).

Mayor Pave, Tear Down That Wall of Paving!

The Haggis. Entered. Madison.

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Enter the Haggis, done entered Madison and rocked the Brink tonight. This was a fantastic show. Celt-inflected rock, folk rock, even a tinge of metal, it was all there, and it was all fun. This was the best touring band I’ve seen in years. The energy: palpable. The creativity: likewise.

My favorite song was something of an epic poem about the lead guitarist’s grampa whose farm got overrun by a pipeline co. Gramps took ’em to court….30 years later made it to the Supreme Court of Canada, and…WON! The song was almost Knopflerian in its guitar rock grandiosity and portentousness of story. There were plenty of lighter songs as well, but they kept it all well mixed so that nobody got bored. Yes, Jeff (of The Motor Primitives), there were plenty of key changes throughout the show.

The Pints opened, and they too rocked, but in a much folkier trad-Celt way.

Ed Feeney (bassist extraordinaire, formerly of that 80s thrash/punk band, The Appliances SFB; currently of The Motor Primitives, Reptile Palace Orchestra, & more) had been bugging me for years to go see these guys. He was dead on about how great their sound is. Oh, and he’s in love with their bassist: he thinks the dude is the best thing since sliced bread!

I got a kick out of the bagpipes, of course. Thankfully, the guy knew how to keep it dialed back so we didn’t get our eardrums screeched out!


The guitarist was virtuosic on that Gibson; he knew how to coax a tuneful growl out of it. But his real talent was in weaving that individual talent into the band’s sound (i.e., no prima donna here!).


Sound guy had them dialed in perfectly.


The room was full….


Everyone was there, including famous personages…

The kids….


The old hippies…


A bassist of fame, air bassing to his favorite bassist….


And the eastside party impresario, there to sample the Haggis…..


I saw Bob Queen smile during the encore. Really. I did. He smiled. Thus, expect to see ETH at any one of the following: Waterfront Fest, Orton Park Fest, Willy St. Fest, or (possibly, but unlikely) Fete de Marquette (wrong ethnicity, doncha know!).

And they rocked….



Piazza, Piazze, Piazzissimo!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Here’s a mid-life crisis that went good.

Wow. A developer who actually understands how to embrace history in the urban landscape, create a cool place and make money. Too bad we can’t get the yokel developers around here to understand how badly people want interactive, community-oriented spaces integrated with their abodes.

Then, even when the rare developer does try to do the right thing, they get stymied by bureaucrats who enforce militant landscapes upon all of us. Back when I was on Madison’s Urban Design Commission, we embraced piazza concepts proposed at several new developments.  In each case, we were stymied. What we got was either Design by Cop, or Architecture by Fireman, or Urban Planning by Engineer.

Exhibit A: The developer of a mixed-use apartment building at the corner of Charter & W. Dayton wanted to have a cozy outdoor seating area alongside the building. UW’s Sicherheitsdienst vetoed it. Why? Because it was alleged to that such a space would harbor criminals. Or fun. Or both. (For the cops, the most offensive aspect was probably the terrifying potential for fun.)

Exhibit B: University Square redevelopment. Let’s be clear, this was a monstrous, bloated project, but a major, major improvement over the bunker-like thing that preceded it. It intensified and enlivened the space right at the intersection of Town & Gown. The net result: A pretty good thing.

But all good things can be made better, great even. And in the hometown of a world-class university, you’d think we’d be aiming for great. Unfortunately, great design is being held hostage by retrograde planners, fascistic cops, blockheaded engineers or a fire marshal living in a box.

Here’s the scenario: The huge courtyard area of the University Square developement, set two stories (+/-) above ground level, and encircled by very tall towers, called out for connectivity to the pedestrian mall below. We suggested a “Spanish Steps” treatment connecting piazza above with piazza below (see photo here, look at the area immediately to the left of at the protruding cube: that’s where the steps were envisioned). The idea was to animate & integrate the upstairs/downstairs spaces with human-scaled connectivity, replete with more hanging out space, a see & be seen space. A Fun Place.

When I suggested this, not only did I get agreeing nods amongst the architects and landscape architects around the UDC table, the design team and developer positively beamed. It was one of those great-minds-think-alike moments (ok, that even a mediocre mind such as mine can partake of once in a while!).

Alas, their beaming turned to crestfallen-ness when they went on to explain that, indeed, they had proposed just such a Spanish Steps-style treatment, only to have the UW’s Sicherheitsdienst nix the idea. Once again, they conjured up criminals hiding behind potted plants. Worse, from their perspective, was the prospect of fun.

The result was an less-animated, Blade Runner-esque, sealed-up coldness to the building, and a much less socially permeable feel between the structure and its surrounding space.

Until we get better thinking — and leadership — at the political level (and it ain’t happening here), we will continue to have good, people-oriented design vetoed by the narrow & narrow-minded interests of small town cops, fire people, unimaginative planners, speed obsessed engineers and pliant/unprincipled &/or bought & paid for politicians.

MSN Mayor Paves His Way to a Higher State of Enlightenment*

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

We are so benighted, yet so lucky to have such an enlightened leader:

While I don’t have a problem with our Capitol view preservation height limit, I generally view height limits and rigid growth boundaries as anti-urban polices that are, in the end, also not in the best interests of our natural environment.

Mansion Hill Neighborhood, he’s talking to you! Just accept that ugly bloatitecture in your midst!

Critics of his bloated paving budgets, just deal with it: more concrete is better; it is a sign of having reached the highest state of enlightenment.

*Alt title: “Mayor Pave’s Ghost in the Growth Machine”

Repercussions of the Bus Fare Jacking: Mayor Pave’s Continued Ass-covering

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Mayor Pave’s excuse-mongering continues wrt to decimating transit ridership in Madison. In a blog post that would have made Big Brother proud, he boasts:

…Metro [Magazine] reported that 65% of the top 100 transit operators reported that they were having difficulty providing service due to steady ridership demands and decreased funding. Not us.

Yeah, not us. Not us because The Pavemeister jacked up fares so much that it drove away ridership. After year-over-year gains in ridership of 5-6% over the last 10 or so years, the mayor’s draconian 33% fare increase has been driving ridership down. The latest figures show losses of up to 2%. This, in an economy that makes car ownership prohibitive for more & more people.

Yet the Greenwasher-in-Chief crows,

Thanks to the tough but necessary budget decisions the Council and I have made [what a hero], I can now say for a certainty that my 2010 budget will contain no fare increases or service cuts for the bus system.

…while ignoring the fact that no mayor in the last 20 years has cut bus service as much as he has over the last six.

And no one in the DMSM has the guts enough–much less the analytical abilities–to call him on it.