Madison, WI

For the last forty-some days I've been traveling the country by automobile. Madison was the first and one of my favorite stops along the way.

Being the Capital of Wisconsin and site of the largest state university, Madison is characterized by an interesting cultural and political mixture tending towards progressive & ecological consciousness, professionalized government and heavy involvment of grass roots action in political and social affairs. Madison's small scale certainly plays a significant factor in it's unique character.

Madison is similar in scale to Missoula, Montana and Eugene, Oregon, both of which are generally considered similar politically and culturally.

Beyond any immediate demographic and political similarities between these places, Madison stands out as distinctly mid-western in temperment, less corporate and generally less occupied by the forces of gentrification that these other two cities.

Madison is an 8 hour drive from Lakewood, 485 miles.

(click photo to enlarge)

  • I was suprised to find the Madison, WI library seemingly stuck in the 1970s. It seems that public library systems in smaller urban areas have trouble competing with unviersity systems. It seems wise that any strategy for connecting with yonger generations should include a timeless aethetic, somthing familiar.
  • I was relieved to see that Madison WI also has its caseload of homeless, psychotic and generally medicated patrons. The guy in the back, wearing a knit cap and headphones was prone to fits, disrupting the calm of library quite frequently.
  • Capital Hill, Madison
  • So far, I've found nothing like the Phoenix. This Williams Street cafe in Madison comes closest, though no cigar. The character of the Phoenix is rooted in the poeple who own, work and patronize the place. It's a meeting point of diverse personalities. Other similar places tend to be occupied by largely homogenous sub-cultures, too consciously "hip", to consciously "progressive".
  • Madison and St. Paul were the last places where vacancies approached that of Lakewood. However, both locations were still seemed lower than in Lakewood.
  • Everywhere I go, college commerce seems to thrive, the same types of shops and in some cases the same chains serving U of Anywhere USA. The college strips are rather uninteresting, after one sees that they replicate as perfect clones whether your on the campus of OU in Ohio, or Berkely, CA. It's a sad testiment to the role of modern Universities in the creation of culture.
  • Ah, that mid-western charm. The shabby turn'o century homes of working people here line Williams Street in Madison.
  • In an 80/20 world where working people produce nothing, gentrification is the only answer to urban blight, a lesser problem for Madison than other more heavily industrialized, larger urban centers in the midwest. Compared to other cities of similiar cultural ambiance, Madison is not so swamped with the overproduction of housing. Correspondingly, the cost of living is pretty reasonable.
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