This article evaluates what makes certain communities like Madison, Wisconsin more likely than others to become socially innovation and ecologically sustainable. People who live in such places also tend to be happier, hipper, and healthier than the average.  Bottom line is that Madison has developed in sustainable and socially innovative ways.  This articles also highlights the important roles played by the liberal politics and progressive culture that has made Madison famous.
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I had the chance to revisit Madison, Wisconsin recently.  This was very important for me because I spent five wonderful years there in graduate school between 1978 and 1983.  I had been back a couple times in the early 1990s but noted a lot of change during this recent visit.  In many ways, Madison is like a much larger version of Chapel Hill, North Carolina where I now live.  There are some key differences -particularly in the natural environment.  Given the influence of its four main lakes Madison remains one of the most unique and beautiful cities I have seen.

Madison Scores Near the Top of Most Lists
Abstracted from WIKIPEDIA

In a Forbes magazine city ranking from 2003, Madison had the highest number of Ph.D.s per capita, and third highest college graduates per capita, among ranked cities in the United States.  In 1996 Money magazine identified Madison as the best place to live in the United States.  It has consistently ranked near the top of the best-places list in subsequent years, with the city’s low unemployment rate a major contributor.

In 2004 Madison was named the healthiest city in America by Men’s Journal magazine. Many major streets in Madison have designated bike lanes and the city has one of the most extensive bike trail systems in the nation. Madison has a very active cyclist culture and it is commonplace to see groups of bicyclists in the city on nice days. Bicycle tourism is an $800 million industry in Wisconsin, which has 20 percent of the nation’s bicycling industry manufacturing capacity.   There are a number of cooperative organizations in the Madison area, ranging from grocery stores (such as the Willy Street Cooperative) to housing co-ops (such as Madison Community Cooperative and Nottingham Housing Cooperative) to worker cooperatives (including an engineering firm and a cab company).

Among the city’s various neighborhood fairs and celebrations are two large student-driven gatherings, the Mifflin Street Block Party and the State Street Halloween Party. Rioting and vandalism at the State Street gathering in 2004 and 2005 led the city to institute a cover charge for the 2006 celebration.  In an attempt to give the event more structure (and to eliminate opportunity for vandalism), the city and student organizations worked together to schedule performances by bands, and to organize activities. The event has been named “Freakfest On State Street.” Events such as these have helped contribute to the city’s nickname of “Madtown.”  In 2009, the Madison Common Council voted to name the plastic pink flamingo as the official city bird.

Madison’s vibrant music scene covers a wide spectrum of living musical culture.  Several venues offer live music every night of the week, spreading from the historic Barrymore Theatre on the eastside to the Annex on the west side. Several small coffee houses and wine bars offer live music every night in all formats. Closer to downtown, the High Noon Saloon is developing a national reputation for developing and breaking indie rock and local acts. The biggest headliners generally perform at the Orpheum Theatre, the Overture Center or at the UW Theatre on campus. …

In the summer months Madison hosts many music festivals, most notably the Waterfront Festival, the Willy St. Fair, Atwood Summerfest, Isthmus Jazz Festival, The Orton Park Festival, Forward Music Festival, 94.1 WJJO’s Band Camp, Greekfest, Madison Pop Festival, the WORT Block Party and the Sugar Maple Traditional Music Festival, with more being added. …

Several films have been at least partially made in Madison. One of the most noted was the documentary The War at Home, which chronicled the anti-Vietnam War movement in Madison. Another film that made extensive use of the city as a backdrop was the 1986 comedy Back to School, starring Rodney Dangerfield. The University’s Bascom Hill was used extensively, as was the University Bookstore. The film also showed many campus dormitories, and various outdoor locales, including the Union terrace and Library Mall. More recently, the 2006 film The Last Kiss used Madison and the university as a back-drop. …

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright spent much of his childhood in Madison and studied briefly at the University, and is responsible for several Madison buildings. Monona Terrace, a meeting and convention center overlooking Lake Monona, designed by Taliesin Architect Anthony Puttnam, was based on a 1938 Wright design.

National groups and magazines rank Madison highly for being a very bike-friendly city, a great place to raise a family, having a healthy and fit population, and an overall quality of life. Madison is a melting pot of the Midwest. You’ll find professionals, students, families, hippies, musicians and everything in between. It has a vibrant nightlife scene with lots of live music and pubs. It shares many qualities of other well-known college towns like Berkeley and Austin – a creative and educated population – but retains a small-town feel.

Madison, Wisconsin – Where pedestrians truly come first
Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Madison, Wisconsin regularly tops the Best Places to Live list, and even Forbes’s Best Places For Business.  However, the one thing that’s most apparent when experiencing Madison is that fact that pedestrians, or people rather, take priority over anything else.  For instance:

– The main street, State Street, is only 24 feet wide, and closed to only buses, delivery trucks and taxis.  What you see at night however, is people jogging, walking and bicycling, since the buses are few and far between, the delivery trucks are no longer running, and believe it or not, it’s very rare to find a cab (speaking from experience) since everyone’s walking or biking…

– It’s been named one of the ‘Best Bike Towns in the County’ and it’s evident why – there are more bicycles on the streets than cars, more parked bikes than parked cars, more bike stores than car part shops.

Madison Has Always Been Progressive Leader
Abstracted from WIKIPEDIA

Madison is associated with “Fighting Bob” La Follette and the Progressive movement. La Follette’s Magazine, The Progressive, founded in 1909, is still published in Madison. City voting patterns have supported the Democratic Party in national elections in the last half-century, and a liberal and progressive majority is generally elected to the city council. Detractors refer to Madison as The People’s Republic of Madison, the “Left Coast of Wisconsin” or as “78 square miles surrounded by reality.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Madison counterculture was centered in the neighborhood of Mifflin and Bassett streets, referred to as Miffland. The area contained many three-story apartments where students and counterculture youth lived, painted murals, and operated the co-operative grocery store, the Mifflin Street Co-op. The neighborhood often came into conflict with authorities, particularly during the administration of Republican mayor Bill Dyke, a one-time personality on WISC-TV who was later to run for U.S. vice president with segregationist Lester Maddox.  …

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, thousands of students and other citizens took part in anti-Vietnam War marches and demonstrations, with more violent incidents drawing national attention to the city and UW campus. These include:

  • the 1967 student protest of Dow Chemical Company, with 74 injured;
  • the 1969 strike to secure greater representation and rights for African American students and faculty, which necessitated the involvement of the Wisconsin Army National Guard;
  • the 1970 fire that caused damage to the Army ROTC headquarters housed in the Old Red Gym, also known as the Armory; and
  • the 1970 late summer predawn ANFO bombing of Sterling Hall which housed the Army Mathematics Research Center, killing a postdoctoral student, Robert Fassnacht. Four bombers in the “New Year’s Gang” were linked to the bombing, one of whom remains at large. (see Sterling Hall bombing)

These protests were the subject of the documentary “The War at Home.” Tom Bates also wrote the book Rads on the subject.

Madison city politics remain dominated by activists of liberal and progressive ideologies. In 1992, a local third party Progressive Dane was founded. Recently enacted city policies supported in the Progressive Dane platform have included an inclusionary zoning ordinance and a city minimum wage. The party holds multiple seats on the Madison City Council and Dane County Board of Supervisors, and is aligned variously with the Democratic and Green parties.  The city’s voters are also, as a whole, much more politically liberal than voters in the rest of Wisconsin. For example, 76% of Madison voters voted against a 2006 state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, even though the ban passed statewide with 59% of the vote.

All the Rage: Forty years ago this month, Madison was burning
By Stuart Levitan – Madison Magazine – May, 2010

For five consecutive nights, a campus revolution flared.  Madison Mayor Bill Dyke had banned parades, hoping to stop protests after President Nixon invaded Cambodia. After four students were shot to death on May 4, 1970 at Kent State in Ohio, Dyke asked the governor to call out the National Guard.

It starts peacefully that Monday evening May 4 after word spread about Kent State. Several thousand people jam the Memorial Union Terrace for a United Front rally calling for a student strike and immediate end to the Vietnam War. Speakers include James Rowen, Daily Cardinal contributing editor and future mayoral aide to then – Ald. Paul Soglin.

Then someone from the Mother Jones Revolutionary League calls for a march on the Army Math Research Center. But when the crowd gets to Sterling Hall, University Police hold them off-so the crowd surges to the ROTC training building, breaking most windows and setting fires. Dispersed by heavy tear gas, the militants split into smaller “affinity groups” to set fires, smash windows and throw rocks at cops. Five hundred law enforcement officers respond with more tear gas, blanketing the first two floors in the Union. …

After Tuesday afternoon’s rally, there are intense battles at the Monroe Street draft office, Bascom Hill and Library Mall; winds whip the tear gas around, as crowds of several thousand pelt police with rocks. Chancellor Edwin “War-Maker, Strike-Breaker” Young declares a state of emergency; it lasts sixteen days, restricting outsider access to campus.

After that evening’s rally, thousands again march on the ROTC building and again are met with tear gas. Militants and militia resume their mutual hit-and-run. Radicals torch eight buildings and start twenty street fires; police again pump heavy tear gas into the Union and make forty arrests. Thirty-three demonstrators and twenty-three lawmen are hurt (nineteen hospitalized after being hit by rocks).

Governor Knowles calls out the National Guard, the third time in fourteen months. Tuesday night, a thousand guardsmen march in and take up position on Park Street. About 1:30 Wednesday morning, firebombs fly at 10 Babcock Dr., the campus home of elderly former UW president Edwin B. Fred; one hits and does minor damage.

Wednesday afternoon, another eight hundred National Guardsmen arrive. Fire chief Ralph McGraw bans the sale of gasoline in containers. About 125 high school students at Madison Memorial boycott classes, and 242 UW professors stop teaching. The wife of police sergeant Robert Uselman suffers facial cuts when rocks crash the glass of the New York Life Insurance Co., 148 E. Johnson St., where she is a secretary.

That night, the Battle of the South East Dorms ensues, as police surround and gas several thousand students. Police also gas Mifflin grocery co-op, University YMCA and several fraternities. A National Guard helicopter swoops overhead, its high-intensity spotlight searching for students.

Thursday night, cops saturate the entire area from the Capitol to Bascom Hill with tear gas. For days, walking on the Hill kicks up clouds of choking residue.  Militants set flaming barricades and attack State Street (whatever wasn’t trashed during the April 17 rampage that did $100,000 worth of damage). One business never attacked? Gargano’s Pizzeria, because it hires longhairs.

Friday, a stunning announcement-UW System president Fred Harvey Harrington resigns after eight years, effective in October. The regents, increasingly conservative, would have fired him if he hadn’t quit.  After a tense, tumultuous meeting in Stock Pavilion, the UW faculty vote for an immediate end to U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia and suspension of classes. Neither President Nixon nor Chancellor Young complies.

Late Friday, police deliver the coup de grace, ripping protective plywood off the Mifflin grocery co-op windows and pouring in several high-intensity tear gas cartridges. Then they hit a couple of houses in the 500 block of West Mifflin, just for good measure.  There is some disruptive picketing during classes the next week but the attempted strike peters out. A chaotic meeting in Great Hall dissolves into indecision. Police spies inside the movement continue their work.

Madison Has A Great Story To Tell,

Madison, Wisconsin consistently ranks as one of the top places in the country to live, work, go to school, play and raise a family. Wisconsin’s beautiful capital city, with a vibrant population of approximately 200,000, offers both small town charm and a range of leisure and cultural opportunities usually found in only much larger communities.

Madison, one of the few communities in the country to have a “Triple A” bond rating, is recognized for its excellent public management and services. The community boasts nearly 200 parks and, in partnership with Dane County, maintains one of the only free zoos, including a children’s petting zoo, in the nation. The nationally recognized bus system provides excellent public access and helps many families live without the need for multiple cars and accompanying gasoline and insurance costs. The city is well known for its excellent health care services with four hospitals, over 100 clinics and top-notch physicians and specialists.

The natural beauty and recreational opportunities of Madison’s landscape are truly unique. Built on an isthmus in the midst of four glacial lakes, Madison offers an abundance of activities including sailing, fishing, swimming at thirteen area beaches, boating, with eleven launch sites, tennis on dozens of public courts, hiking, biking, ice skating, jogging on nationally-honored trails and golfing at 4 public courses. Hunting, snowmobiling, skiing, sledding and canoeing are also popular.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the world’s premier universities, offers Madison residents unique benefits such as access to a beautiful, shoreline campus, a 1200 acre Arboretum, a Geology Museum, the Elvehjem Museum of Art, the new Kohl Center with a 460,000 square foot arena for basketball and hockey, many other major sporting events and performances of national and international renown at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Overview from Madison Relocation Guide

Today, Madison is unfolding into one of the leading biotechnology areas in the country. Those in the tech industry have begun calling Madison and the state of Wisconsin the “Third Coast.” Forbes magazine named Madison as the best place in the nation for business and careers, thanks to the city’s booming biotechnology industry. Much of Madison’s high-tech economy is connected to UW-Madison, which is among the top five college recipients of research dollars in the country.

These new high-tech businesses, whose services range from biomedical research to designing computer software and serve not only South-Central Wisconsin, but also a global marketplace, now employ at least 6 percent of the labor force in Greater Madison. Madison is also a leading center for the world dairy industry. Dane County is ranked among the top 10 counties in the nation in value of farm products including corn, alfalfa, hogs, cattle and, of course, dairy products. The median household income in Madison is $41,941 per year.

No other city has a landscape quite as unique as Madison’s. The downtown is built on the half-mile-wide isthmus between the two glacial lakes, Monona and Mendota. A walk around the Capitol Square offers glimpses of both lakes. It is a city with four distinct seasons.   In downtown Madison alone you can indulge in cuisines from around the world, not to mention excellent continental cuisine and world-famous burgers! In addition, a host of pubs and other fun-loving establishments keep the good times rolling long into the evening. It is thought that Madison has more restaurants per capita than any other American city, including a rich variety of ethnic restaurants.

Wisconsin state government and the University of Wisconsin-Madison remain the top two Madison employers. However, Madison’s economy today is evolving from a government-based economy to a consumer services and high-tech base, particularly in the health, biotech and advertising sectors. Beginning in the early 1990s, the city experienced a steady economic boom and has been comparatively unaffected by recession. Much of the expansion has occurred on the city’s south and west sides, but it has also affected the east side near the Interstate 39-90-94 interchange and along the northern shore of Lake Mendota. Underpinning the boom is the development of high-tech companies, many actively fostered by the UW-Madison working with local businesses and entrepreneurs to transfer the results of academic research into real-world applications, most notably bio-tech applications.

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