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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

City modernization must preserve historical character

I take great offense with the term “modernizing.” I keep hearing this term with every single proposed development plan for the city of Madison, especially in the 100 block of State Street. Though a development plan was just put on hold, I still agree that the city should modernize. However, I believe this should be done without destroying the overall character of the city.

My idea of modernizing Madison would not be to change the feel of it, but to upgrade what is already here. I may sound sappy, but there really is something special about the old leftovers from the “old days.” To me, the most beautiful and fun towns and cities are the ones that make an effort to preserve and enjoy their collective character.

I love all the pockets of Madison that have a historic feel. I also recognize the need to advance a city to allow and promote for more commerce. Keeping in mind the current budget issues, Madison could certainly use the added funds from a higher capacity of commerce in the city. And like many historical preservation issues, the underlying fact still remains that economic needs are far more important than the selfish desire, such as my own, to keep the city from possibly progressing economically.

My argument, however, is that the remnants of old Madison actually attract people to the city. The 100 block of State Street is one of these areas. I live right near State Street, so I often find myself walking the street, as well as around Capital Square. Walking to my internship, I myself have noticed the modernized, commercial aesthetics of Capitol Square specifically. I agree that the commercial approach is appropriate for that area, but the areas on the adjacent streets carry a distinct feel of a living city.

The 100 block may seem inconsequential to the larger scheme of the city, but it is the underlying issue of preserving the character of a living, breathing city. This is what, at least to me, makes Madison so attractive. For example, imagine if a developer, who may not understand the inherent value of preservation, were to take down the Orpheum’s sign in an effort to “modernize” the city. Taking down the sign would make the street less fun. The street would effectively lose its special character, something that is really hard to put a dollar sign on, especially for outside developers.

The new plan proposed by Stuart Levitan, chair of Madison’s Landmarks Commission, represents a vision that remedies both causes. The plan itself manages to preserve the landmarks in question, while creating a new plaza for people to relax and mingle. This new plaza would only add to the active, dynamic feel that Madison has in so much abundance. In the end, the situation would be win-win for all the involved parties, and more importantly for the public good.

I love walking, biking, and just generally enjoying the wonderful Madison aesthetic. If developers can preserve this sense of public ownership and also boost Madison’s economic progress then I agree that the renovation should be done. Specifically, I believe that Levitan’s plan is more comprehensive, represents public interests better, while also achieving the goal of commercial, developer-minded, progress.

Matthew Curry is a junior majoring in political science and environmental studies. Let us know what you think by sending an e-mail to

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