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Getting real for Madison

By Paul Snyder

A couple weeks ago I was on the phone with one of my oldest friends who lives outside of Dallas.

He’s contemplating a move, and having visited him not too long ago, I can understand why. In fact, having lived in Texas myself for a couple years, I can really understand why (no offense, Austin, but your neighboring cities …).

Anyway, years ago when I made the move to Madison, he came to visit and commented on how much he liked the city. He said he liked how compact it is, but that it still had everything you’d want in a bigger city.

He had also visited me years before when I lived in Milwaukee and, aside from being really impressed by the overgrown weeds on Jeffrey Dahmer’s former property, had pretty much categorically dismissed the city.

So I was surprised during the course of our phone chat when mentioned he now preferred Milwaukee to Madison.

“I don’t know, it seems a bit more realistic to me,” he said.

This is the kind of comment you can expect from him and when prompted to clarify, he’ll wave it off with a gruff, “I can’t explain it.”

Having known him the better part of his life, however, I think I can surmise that he was talking about a lot of the idealism here in Madison that often plays into the stereotype of this city as a far-left commune where no idea is too far out to at least try.

I have a whole rolodex of developers that would argue the point, but I digress.

There is a lot of excitement over opportunities here, and the buzz that’s amused me lately is over the public market square, which should be prompted by the high-speed rail stop somewhere in the vicinity of Monona Terrace (exact location to follow soon, I’m told).

Developments that are expected near this stop? A massive underground parking garage to replace the aging Government East parking ramp, a new hotel (presumably by Milwaukee-based Marcus Corp.) that will incorporate the Madison Municipal Building, and a long-discussed and studied public market with surrounding developments.

Madison officials like the prospects, and on paper it seems like a good idea.

But here’s the thing. Or things.

Marcus has been quiet on the hotel proposal since it first proposed it a couple years ago. Common Council members are getting punchy about the public market idea and whether the city should continue financing studies. Both those developments and presumably a few others are slated to be built atop this new underground ramp.

Of course, the underground ramp can’t really be built until city engineers know what to expect on top of it.

City staff is looking into all of it, of course. But early on, this looks like a case of expectations failing to coincide with timing.

Does it mean Madison is less realistic than Milwaukee? I don’t know if I’d go that far.

But I’ll say to you what I said to him — at least Madison doesn’t have that brewery-tannery-whatever-the-heck-that-third-component-is odor hanging over it.

Paul Snyder is a staff writer at The Daily Reporter. In truth, he prefers Chicago over both Madison and Milwaukee.


  1. I have been to both Milwaukee and Madison and I’m afraid I would choose Milwaukee too. Hands down. Both places are clean, and the people in them very nice. But Madison to me was just a college town plus sleepy capital, while Milwaukee was a real city. It has better architecture, bette restaurants, better cultural facilities (like the art museum), better shops, and most of all, good train service to Chicago and beyond. Madison seemed like a place where you have to go most places by car. The lakes, though pretty, did not compare to Lake Michigan, and I rather liked the river in Milwaukee too. I did not notice any peculiar smells there. I don’t know what the outside of downtown Madison is like, but then, I don’t care. I don’t want to live in a suburb, I want to live in a city.

  2. Most places in Madison by car? Are you kidding, Madison is WAY more bicylcle and pedestrian friendly than Milwaukee. Having visited both cities, Milwaukee, wonderful as it is, seems like an old and dying city. Milwaukee’s skyline looks like a city from the 50’s. Madison, albeit it has a height restriction, always has new construction cranes up. While Milwaukee’s population has declined and barely held steady, Madison has boomed. Madison is quite a bit smaller than Milwaukee, but it is extremely dense and walkable for its size. Downtown Milwaukee is empty and cold, come to downtown Madison once. Hopefully Milwaukee experiences reverse white flight like Madison has and begins to get nicer.

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