A Museum for All


In the world of words in which I dwell, I remain rather partial to the word “sustainability.” It is one of those words that have come of age in the last five years or so but for which the definition is still being determined.

“Green” is a fine word and has itself moved beyond evocative to iconic status, and heaven knows you’ll find it all over this magazine. But “sustainable” has a depth and breadth of meaning that “green” can only hope for. What I like about sustainability, when used in reference to green practices and philosophies, is that it encompasses so much more than the conservation and preservation of the natural environment. It promises a needed, healthy and lasting resource —natural or otherwise.

Let me offer a concrete example. Downtown Madison Incorporated’s Susan Schmitz, Mayor Cieslewicz, State Street business leaders and others have been crafting a vision for the Isthmus that takes a longer view than next year’s budget. All recognize the need to create an urban core that provides a foundation for living, working and playing that will support itself as well as serve as the heart of a multi-county region. While neighborhood, civic, business and non-profit leaders have joined in that effort over the years, recent developments are supplying excitement and energy. The list includes the Capitol Gateway Corridor BUILD Plan, the “Central Park” proposal, the vision for a public market and the new Madison Children’s Museum. All are complementary components of a healthy and prosperous central city.

The BUILD plan, as well as the discussions underway on the future of the East Washington Avenue/East Madison Rail Corridor, appropriately identifies jobs as the foundation for the area. The urban park being envisioned (and please don’t let that vision be limited by a desire by some to move the railroad tracks on the site) and the public market, which this city has needed and deserved for decades now, are the kinds of amenities that make cities great places. These three projects—and let’s throw in the new Central Library for the sake of discussion—can stimulate the imagination in so many ways.

And now, after a recent tour of the site of the new children’s museum, I’m prepared to make the case for this exciting project’s role in making this emerging comprehensive plan one that is truly sustainable. Like the other components, it plays on the best assets of our city. Right across the street from the State Capitol and a few blocks from Overture Center, the museum will soon become an integral and valuable part of a visit to Downtown Madison for thousands of young people. But the incredible work being done by executive director Ruth Shelly and her terrific staff, board and volunteers will also result in an education and entertainment gem that will be a destination attraction statewide. From a commitment to local in its choice of architect and food service to the green design and operation standards to its emphasis on science and preparation for kindergarten, the new Madison Children’s Museum, set to open in 2010, is creating a “strong sense of place” that is both sustaining and sustainable. Thus, it’s the perfect model.

Think about what makes a city livable … families, safe and healthy places for kids, the ability to take advantage of the natural environment, and access to regional assets like organic and local foods. In relation to the other, each plays a nurturing role, providing synergy and support that is systemic. Soon there’s momentum for easier and healthier transit, for business relocation and growth downtown, for retail and arts venues, and an increase in the tax base. With sustainability like that, the Madison Children’s Museum should feel right at home in the new, improved Downtown Madison, and in this issue of Madison Magazine.

Neil P. Heinen, Editorial Director
Comments and letters can be sent to P.O. Box 44965, Madison, WI 53744-4965 or e-mail nheinen@madisonmagazine.com. Letters we publish may be edited for space and clarity.

Madison Magazine - April 2008
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