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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Joining an already green city, new alders and a new mayoral administration aim to combat climate change and increase sustainability starting in the city’s parks. 

Park conservation, green agendas take priority in new Madison politics

Newly-elected alder Grant Foster has big ideas for sustainability and conservation in Madison’s parks, embodied in the idea that “access is at the top of the list.”

Joining other new alders after the April 2 general election, Foster is excited to see how Madison and the new administration will take on sustainability issues and a new green agenda for the city, starting with how it manages its parks.

Madison’s 15th aldermanic district, which Foster now represents, encompasses parts of the north shore of Lake Monona — including the troubled Olbrich Park Beach.

Over the last couple years, Olbrich Beach has seen frequent closures and changes to its hours and services due to blue-green algae blooms caused by excess nutrients in the water. Foster hopes to change that in his term on the city council with the help of the new mayoral administration and leadership from the Parks Commission.

By focusing on conservation efforts in parks and especially in his district, Foster hopes the city can work toward changing Olbrich from an “unusable beach” to a “citywide park,” making it accessible to all.

Using the city’s Sustainability Plan from 2011 as a reference, Foster emphasized the importance of revamping parks and maintaining them in ways that foster greater health for residents, as well as the environment. 

In particular, Foster brought up how the proper care of parks and playgrounds can help facilitate increased physical activity in children, create safe walkways for pedestrians to use to commute and provide spaces for more Parks Division programming, like youth sports and daycare programs.

Foster, while ready to fight for conservation and for his constituents, encourages students and other citizens to get involved too.

“Speak up. Pay attention to city commission meetings,” Foster said. “Make comments, even when what you want to talk about isn’t on the agenda.” 

Foster also noted that every city commission and committee hearing is open to the public and further encouraged students to get involved in the municipal process. 

“Parks are our main asset,” he said. “Parks aren’t just for our enjoyment. They are part of our environment and our livelihood.”

Apart from the new alderman’s actions, the city has also taken major steps toward becoming greener, starting with the establishment of the City Sustainability Plan in 2011

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The document, which spans nearly a hundred pages, outlines Madison’s plan to combat climate change and promote sustainability through a variety of initiatives and policies — especially in its parks.

Some of the major policy points in the plan include initiatives for major increases in conservation efforts in the Parks Division.

The city’s Parks Division is responsible for more than 270 parks, including four golf parks, one cemetery and a public swimming pool. Following the adoption of the 2011 sustainability plan, the Parks Division took major steps toward incorporating sustainable practices into the care and maintenance of the many public spaces. 

The goals laid out in the plan include sweeping initiatives like developing an interlocking system of parks and public spaces “within a 10-minute walk” of any Madison resident, developing a “Conservation Plan” that the city can implement in publicly-owned spaces and aiming to “protect and increase” the amount of continuous woodland and forest. 

Mayor-elect Satya Rhodes-Conway was one of the first supporters of the plan to commission the study when she was an alder in 2010. In her campaign for mayor, she continued to pursue a green agenda and used the issue of sustainability to propel herself to Election Day. 

Rhodes-Conway, on her campaign website, wrote that addressing key issues would help Madison improve its green agenda. The mayor-elect specifically focused on expanding access to good biking and walking networks in the parks system and investing in green infrastructure in order to protect tree and soil development in conservation areas.

Following the push towards a comprehensive conservation plan in the 2011 commission, the city released the 2018-2023 Park and Open Space Plan. Adopted in late October 2018, the plan acts as a long-range guide for designing parks and other conservation projects.

Some of the major initiatives addressed by the plan are combating pollinator decline and invasive species in parks and increasing water quality, like that of Olbrich Beach and Park.

With the implementation of the Park and Open Space Plan and the new faces in the city council and mayor's office, Madison is likely to see an uptick in overall sustainability efforts citywide — especially in the city’s parks.

The adoption of the 2011 City Sustainability Plan, the 2018-2023 Park and Open Space Plan and the new direction in the city’s administration signal a shift towards a more green Madison. 

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