An Ultimate Future


One of the changes I think we will see in our city over the next ten years or so is the definition of “downtown.”

Since the first icehouse was a gleam in the eyes of fur traders happening upon our stunning isthmus, that narrow strip of land between the two lakes has been unmistakably downtown Madison. And give or take a movie house, restaurant or shoe store here and there, that area has been, for the most part, State Street, Capitol Square and the half-dozen blocks that radiate in any direction. We celebrate it still.

As is made clear in our tenth annual supplement produced with Downtown Madison Inc., downtown Madison remains our most vibrant, diverse, economically important and culturally significant neighborhood. That simple straight shot that is State Street (so short, really, and yet so symbolically great), from Bascom Hall to the State Capitol, is an iconic piece of real estate that cannot be improved.

Zoom out a bit from the central city and exciting urban infill projects are creating new neighborhood centers-shopping, eating and arts districts-little downtowns if you will. We’re not talking about suburban or fringe developments here; those have an impact all their own. Rather, when you look at what’s been going on, and up, on Monroe Street, Atwood Avenue, and soon at Union Corners and Midvale Plaza, you see that housing and transportation are luring retail and food establishments, all within walking distance and all among neighbors and friends.

The obvious question is, what does this mean for the traditional heart of the city, State Street and the Capitol Square? The question is especially pertinent as we as a city consider issues like a limit on liquor licenses downtown, a topic well and provocatively covered by Stu Levitan this month. We very much need to think strategically about public health and safety issues, represented by the liquor license discussion, and what impact those concerns have on Madison’s economic and cultural well being. But we must also expand our vision to plan for a central business district and cultural arts center—that just happens to include a major university campus, the largest employers in the city and an increasing number of full-time residents—in the context of the growth and development of the rest of the city.

It’s not a stretch to envision Atwood Avenue and Winnebago Street, East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street, and a stretch of Monroe Street becoming destination nightspots, with vibrant businesses and street life of their own. Downtown will always have Concerts on the Square, Jazz at Five, the Farmers’ Market and more. But decisions we make today might greatly influence how we accommodate both the diversity, which makes downtown life so stimulating, and incentives for diffusing the sheer numbers of people that we are now finding can create problems.

As we have again discovered in our annual assessment of what makes Madison Madison—the Ultimate Guide as we’ve dubbed it this year—much of it is found downtown. The key is to keep it that way … the ultimate in quality not just quantity.

We’ve got some ultimates of our own to celebrate this month. Some you’ll find in the magazine. Like the young man on the cover, for example. The best player to ever play basketball for the University of Wisconsin? Perhaps. But surely a great example of the ultimate UW student-athlete, who tells WISC-TV3 sports reporter Alanna Rizzo just what that means to him. Others put together this magazine. Like Tim Burton, our art director, and Brenan Nardi, our editor. Both were recognized with first place honors in the Milwaukee Press Club’s 2006 Excellence in Journalism contest. Tim was honored for Best Overall Design, which we believe captures his outstanding talent for producing a gorgeous magazine month after month. And Brennan … well Brennan was simply named Editor of the Year. It doesn’t get more prestigious than that. As for being well deserved, you hold the proof in your hands.

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

Madison Magazine - May 2007
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