Posts Tagged ‘Rick Berg’

Mayor Dave update

July 31, 2009

Mayor Dave wrote a pretty amusing response to a Rick Berg column the other day, in which he basks in the glory of showing the conservative columnist “the light.”

In the last issue of the Isthmus (you can still grab ten copies for your friends on newsstands today!), Berg grovels and begs my forgiveness for a blasphemous piece he wrote about a year ago after I returned from Freiburg, Germany. Having returned from the Mountain Top after a sister city visit there last June, I expressed my admiration for the city in general and the almost auto free Vauban neighborhood in particular. At the time, Rick wrote that I should have had another beer and left the crazy lefty-green ideas back in the Fatherland.

Hmm…was ist a guy named Cieslewicz doing calling Deutschland “das Vaterland”? In fact, this is the man who once extended his hand to Sara Mikolajczak, the former head of the College Republicans, and said “from one Pole to another.” Perhaps he is referring to Berg, who apparently is German.

Either way, Dave won on this one, not necessarily because the plan he cites is realistic in Madison, but because he made a right winger acknowledge that Europe is sometimes different for the better, rather than worse. It’s too bad Berg didn’t try to find out during his time in Germany why people all across that continent live so long despite their failure of a health care system. In wine-drinking France, in lager-chugging Britain, in vodka-guzzling Sweden – it must be something they put in the cigarettes.

Also, Dave’s post today focused on the Business Improvement District (BID), which is up for renewal today.

The BID does a lot of things for the downtown. It helps promote the area by supporting events like Maxwell Street Days, Cars on State and the Downtown Madison Holiday Open House. It produces the Downtown Madison Gift Certificate Program and the Downtown Madison Map and Guide. It does a tremendous job of fostering a welcoming environment downtown through its Information Ambassador Program – which helped nearly 28,000 downtown customers in 2008 alone – and enhancements to the area’s physical environment, dressing the downtown with flowers during the warmer months and holiday lights during our colder months.

Sounds OK, but I only want this association to go on if it’s agreed upon that the lights they put on State St are officially “Christmas lights.” That being said, even if they continue with the offensive “Holiday Lights,” Madison can still reap benefits from the blasphemy by getting prime time coverage on the O’Reilly Factor. Win-Win situation.

Also, Jason Joyce, where the hell did you weekly exegesis on Mayor Dave’s schedule go? Is this being outsourced to the Sconz or am I just incapable or searching your site?

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Mayor Dave’s green neighborhood

July 27, 2009

Rick Berg writes a very good article about a trip to Freiburg, Germany in this week’s Isthmus. A self-described conservative, Berg attempts to describe “the Vauban,” a district of Freiburg that has come to symbolize everything that American environmentalists yearn for. This of course is made in light of Mayor Dave’s open admiration for Freiburg’s system, including his proposal to put in place “car-light neighborhoods” in Madison.

Berg, despite many-an-underhanded snipe at lefties, gets the analysis right when he describes the Vauban as unlikely in Madison’s near future. The problem is not simply the cultural attachment to cars in this country and state, it is the utter lack of viable alternatives for so many residents. Like most mid-sized cities, Madison has a system of public transportation, however, it is not even close to extensive enough to be a convenient option for thousands of working people. The buses don’t run frequently enough, and the routes don’t cover enough ground for commuters in the area.

Because public transportation is so limited in the area, a green neighborhood in Madison would have to target one of two major constituencies – students at UW or professionals who work in the city. Northeast Madison, which the mayor cited as the prime location for the development, is far away from campus, so we can assume that the latter group is the more likely target.

If the plan mimicked the Vauban, it would attempt to reduce car use by making it exorbitantly expensive to park cars in the neighborhood. All the development in the area would be green, from solar panels to “passive solar heating.” Residents can save money, however, by selling excess electricity back to the utility company, which I suppose makes up a little bit of the cost of paying $23,000 for a parking spot.

A Vauban on a small-scale might be possible in Madison. A neighborhood for mainly young professionals who don’t have cars is easy enough to envision. Several streets of apartment buildings or houses that don’t allow cars. I can see it. However, something a long the lines of the Vauban, which attracts middle-class families, is absolutely out of reach at this point in time. It will only come after serious investment in public transportation is made at the state and local level. Commuting, taking your kids to karate, shopping – these are things that unfortunately require cars for the vast majority of American families. 88% of Americans rate cars as a necessity.

Hence, it makes sense that the mayor would champion a trolley system. It’s the first step to sustainable living. I’m certainly not convinced the plan would have been the most cost-effective or the most sane approach to public transportation – I would be perfectly content expanding the bus system. However, it represented a meaningful vision for a day when mid-size cities can welcome people without cars in the same manner than New York City does.