Madison is a Midwest gem that has created a balance between being a capital city and a major college town. Its blend of demographics and vibrant history creates an appeal that cannot be found elsewhere.
However, Madison’s soaring housing crisis, defined by rapid population growth and luxury redevelopments throughout the city, risks killing its special status. An influx of modernity threatens the historical and cultural values the city prides itself on.
Starting with the city itself, many of the downtown areas will be subject to massive changes in the coming years to accommodate the city’s growing population. Recent projections estimate a 115,000 increase in residents by 2050, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison has just this year exceeded an enrollment of 50,000 students.
A surge in modern, high-rise apartment buildings is set to reshape Madison’s skyline, outshining the current mixture of historic houses, apartments and local businesses, all in response to the pressing housing demand.
The housing developments are happening quickly. The Oliv and Verve apartment complexes are currently under construction and are already open for the 2024-25 leasing year. Oliv, located on West Gorham Street, and Verve, just a block away on West Johnson Street, feature expensive units and glamorous amenities.
These are not the only two buildings in the works. There are two more proposals for new apartment complexes in the area, the first being on the corner of West Johnson and Bassett Streets next to The Lux apartments, and another on the corner of West Johnson and North Broom Streets that would surround The Equinox apartments.
These new apartments, if built, would add four new high-rise buildings to a two-block radius downtown and demolish many affordable student rentals, including the La Ville apartments and surrounding houses.
These projects are part of a larger influx of high rises that will modernize Madison into a much more commercialized version of itself. The influx of high rises and the demolition of classic rental houses will dramatically impact Madison’s iconic college town charm.
What is now a cohesive blend between a city and a college town will soon feel much more like a cookie-cutter city with the new surplus of modern high rises. Some argue that this change may begin to strip away the city’s identity as a vibrant college town and turn it into a generic metropolitan area.
Over the past three years, the businesses in Madison have also been in the midst of a revival. New chain restaurants and stores have been emerging on State Street and empty storefronts are quickly filling up, spurring a sense of rejuvenation. However, this comes at the cost of local, family-owned establishments.
This trend is not slowing down, and in the near future it is likely that the commercialization will continue. Between restaurants, bars and local shops, many favorite historic spots may begin to disappear.
One of the first big shifts began with Red Shed, an iconic local dive bar that has existed since 1969. Wando’s bar purchased the building in April, forcing Red Shed to move to a new location on State Street. For a place with extensive history and tradition, it is a shame to see the loss of the iconic Red Shed facade. It will soon reopen at 508 State Street, but it will never be the same as the original.
Following this move, there have been several other proposals to remove or relocate other beloved venues. Madison property developer The Carey Group made a proposal this year to demolish Vintage Spirits & Grill, a classic bar and restaurant downtown in the heart of student life. Their intent is to redevelop the site into more housing units for students.
Another iconic bar and restaurant, Essen Haus, may also fall victim to this trend. There was a recent proposal to tear down the authentic German restaurant in order to build a hotel and residential building on the site. Essen Haus and its neighboring bar, Come Back In, are favorites among students and residents of the local community.
It would be a great loss to see these beloved Madison businesses come to an end or even be relocated because of redevelopment. Such redevelopment will cause the city to lose its history and local charm. Losing these cherished businesses means saying goodbye to places steeped in history and filled with generational memories.
These impending changes throughout the city raise concerns about the erosion of Madison’s cultural and community identity. While expansion and improvement are generally seen as signs of progress, there is overall apprehension about the direction this progress is taking. The rapid population surges and development projects, fueled by an increased admission of university students, pose significant problems that threaten Madison’s spirit.
In the ongoing discussion about Madison’s future, it’s essential to balance growth and redevelopment with the preservation of what makes the city so attractive. The changes are inevitable, but finding a way to retain Madison’s unique character and charm is a challenge all residents are deeply invested in.
Claire Zimmerman is a junior studying journalism. Do you agree that modernization of Madison will affect the city's vibrant identity within the next ten years? Send all comments to email@example.com