Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

04 April, 2020

The Other Side of the Tracks

You are coming from The Other Side of Starkweather Park.

The north side of Starkweather Park is bounded by Highway 30. Underneath the overpass the Marsh View path, Starkweather Creek, and rail tracks owned by Wisconsin & Southern all converge, more or less. There was the obligatory graffiti everywhere. "Kode" was painted everywhere. Sagacious advice like "Eat pussy not animals" was interspersed among words and shapes I could not discern.

Graffiti aside, the overpass was rather neat. Sun and shade made for some striking contrasts while the overpass and the rails created a neat tableau of harsh lines.

The scene reminded me of The Conformist. Any Vittorio Storaro fans out there?

I took the rail tracks southwest and encountered a rail switch which looked to be manual. Not being an expert in rail infrastructure, I wasn't sure. But a friend of mine who drives trains for a living has told me stories about rail infrastructure in use today that engineers who voted for Grover Cleveland would have used. This switch directs trains to a siding that runs most of the way to Fair Oaks Avenue.

Along the siding were two platforms with a ramp on one side.

Presumably freight was taken off of rail cars here at some point in the past. As you can see from the top photograph, the area beyond the ramps is a grass field along with a retention pond that's out of view. Google Maps show this spot as being wooded so the clearing was done fairly recently. There's also a gravel road that runs to Jacobson Avenue parallel with the tracks. Besides the trees, Google Maps also shows a Stock Avenue here running one short block north-south to the end of Commercial Avenue which has a stretch that runs south of Highway 30 as well as north of it. I wonder if this area was more industrial/commercial in the past. There is very little commercial to Commercial Avenue here and a lot of the houses look like they date from the 1950s. I'd bet that this area pre-war looked a lot different. Surely Highway 30 got a big facelift when the interstates were constructed too.

Once you go west you enter a little section of the Town of Blooming Grove. I believe the City of Madison will annex this and other bits of the town in 2027. If you go through this area, you'll notice how the street signs are blue instead of green. There are some nice older homes here in amongst the ones from the 1950s and 60s. This one caught my eye.

Unbeknownst to me there was an artist residency at Thurber Park.

I suspected this was a repurposed Trachte shed but didn't spy a nameplate. However, there was a verified Trachte shed just down Fair Oaks Avenue.

I presume it's storage for one of the businesses there.

I took the long route home, going through O.B. Sherry Park. On the way there I found a utility pole that got a lot of love from the neighbors.

I had intended to wander the park a bit but the ground was much too wet. And so I wandered along Starkweather Creek which was looking pretty good, lacking the PFAS foam that we'll no doubt see in a couple of months. Instead there were mallards everywhere.

A couple blocks from home I spied a feline taking in the sun.

My hope is to walk this route again when there is more foliage and I have my binoculars with me so I can peer deeper into the marsh and see more birds. The plan is also to learn how to use this camera, specifically manual focus. I've got a whole pandemic to figure it out.

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|| Palmer, 11:15 AM || link || (0) comments |

The Other Side of Starkweather Park

It seems likes it has been a couple weeks since we've had a day here in Madison with more than a few minutes of unadulterated sunlight. It's bad enough being cooped up inside in a bid to flatten the curve and avoid Covid-19 but the constant cloudiness has seemed as oppressive at the stay-at-home order, at times. Still, this spring seems like the most normal one we've had in years. My local weatherperson can probably prove me wrong, but it feels to me like spring here in southern Wisconsin the past few years has been a period of highs just above freezing abruptly ceding to 60°+ temperatures overnight. Instead we've had some lovely days in the 40s this spring, with lows dipping just below freezing. No wonder I've seen people collecting maple sap around town.

The last day we had extended sunlight I took a neighborhood stroll. It wasn't long before I noticed that my neighbors have more log cairns in their yard for growing mushrooms. I presume there will soon be shiitake shrooms bursting from the spore holes on them.

My destination was Starkweather Park. I had previous done some wandering around the west side of the park but now I would do the east and north bits. So I headed east on Milwaukee Strasse. The little strip of the park that abuts the street looked so forlorn with the leafless trees and bushes. Plus there was garbage – empty drink containers, mostly – scattered about. The old Swiss Colony warehouse was waiting impatiently to have tenants once again. Plans for it to become an Amazon distribution center are moving forward to the dismay of many who were hoping for that area to become housing and commercial. But the land is still zoned industrial or whatever classification you need for a warehouse.

However, the land owner was quoted as saying that "a low-cost housing development" was going to be built adjacent to the warehouse. This got the Urban League of Greater Madison to bite. Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We will just have to wait and see if those 145 jobs materialize. I'd bet a lot of those are given to robots. But housing there isn't a bad idea as it's very close to the East Transfer Point meaning public transit is a hop, skip, and a jump away for people of more limited means.

Speaking of which, it was rather odd in a Twilight Zone kind of way to see the transfer point completely deserted.

The retention pond by Corporate Drive was full of melted snow. There was a smoking area tucked into a shady area next to the pond.

Once I was on the Marsh View path, the marsh that is Starkweather Park was to my left.

To my right I saw my first robin of the season. Unfortunately, it was hanging out in a sea of parking.

What a waste. On the bright side, there was a brace of sandhill cranes wandering the grass between the expanses of concrete.

Starkweather Park is mostly marshland and the main attraction is birdwatching. There are benches dotted along the path to accommodate practitioners of what is surely one of the more sedentary hobbies around. I did not have my binoculars with me but I still caught site of some of our flying friends, including my first sighting of a red-winged black bird.

As you get to the north side of the park, the path veers away from the marsh and continues underneath Highway 30. After crossing Starkweather Creek and some railroad tracks, it's but a short stretch until you hit Commercial Avenue.

I, however, took a different route.

Continue to The Other Side of the Tracks...

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|| Palmer, 9:35 AM || link || (0) comments |

07 December, 2019

I Am Tired of Your Creative Class Civics Act

After finishing the latest piece by Madison's former mayor, Dave Cieslewicz, in Isthmus - "Civic Envy" - I sat there wondering what the point of it was.

His argument is that Madison is green with envy because Milwaukee has a public market and a streetcar. Further, these aren't just nice amenities, they are development tools. Add these things and you get real estate investors building new buildings and gussying up old ones to be repurposed. And, when you do that, Millennials will come flocking to your city like a junkie to the needle.

Where to start?

Let's begin with a quote from the article:

One of the things that is little understood about fixed rail systems, like streetcars, is that they aren’t just about transportation. They are a very visible and permanent public amenity that sparks other development.

Permanent? Ask the folks in the Santa Clara Valley just how permanent rail is. One of their light rail route will cease to operate a few days after Christmas and be replaced by bus.

The Almaden Spur Light Rail, Route 900, will no longer operate, beginning 12/28 when VTA's new transit service starts.

Almaden Spur Light Rail is being replaced by Bus Route 64A.

Also note that Cieslewicz affirmatively states that streetcars "spark other development". Is this true? Cieslewicz himself doesn't seem to know as he states in the very next paragraph:

…since the streetcar was approved, new development along the line includes 435 new apartments, 660 new hotel rooms and a 28 percent growth in property values, not to mention numerous restaurants and bars that cannot be directly attributed to the streetcar but might well not have happened without it.

So...maybe. And maybe is the conclusion of the research done into whether streetcars spur development.

The literature regarding empirical measurement of actual changes in economic activity, such as changes in retail sales, visitors, or job growth, is almost nonexistent for streetcars.

So Cieslewicz categorically states that streetcars spark development and then proceeds to admit that development along Milwaukee's streetcar route may not be the result of the streetcar. In an op-ed weighing in against the streetcar up at Urban Milwaukee, Samuel Jensen, director of the Milwaukee Transit Riders Union, addressed this issue. He wrote:

What the data does point to, however, is that streetcars tend to concentrate development that would have occurred anyway along specific corridors. If Milwaukee’s streetcar was planned to run through blighted, underdeveloped, or impoverished areas of the city (for example, a route to spread development from the east side to the west side of downtown) then that might be good enough. When the route is planned to go through some of the wealthiest and most rapidly developing areas of the city, though, it just amounts to an investment that further centralizes wealth in a city already grappling with appalling levels of segregation and inequality.

In my opinion, it boils down to how our former mayor view public transportation more generally. It really seems like he views it primarily as a development tool whereas I would offer that it is an urban mobility tool. I would have loved it if, during his 8 years as mayor, he would have given a fraction of the political capital, blood, sweat, and tears to improving Metro Transit as he did to getting a 15-storey addition to a luxury hotel built that ran afoul of the building guidelines of the historic district that it now stands in. I recall his major contribution to bus service in Madison being a fare increase.

This is nothing new. Cieslewicz drank long and deep of the Richard Florida kool aid many years ago and this article seems to be a justification for his rejected policies/mindset. When your lens is that of your city being "in the race for coolness", it's no wonder that your teleological premise is that public transit is primarily a development tool, something that should be "hip" as opposed to a tool that gives people the freedom to go where they need to go when they need to go. As urban planner Christof Spieler noted in his book Trains, Buses, People – An Opinionated Atlas of U.S. Transit about the Milwaukee streetcar, "…it will do nothing to speed up the trips of current transit riders or link Milwaukee residents to suburban jobs."

Cieslewicz quotes one Bob Monnat, the COO of a company that is a large real estate developer in Milwaukee as saying, "We're trying to attract the millennial population." As mayor, this was one of Cieslewicz's prime fixations with his logic being that millennials will move to your city if you have cool stuff like public markets and streetcars. (And bike lanes too.) So how is that working out for Milwaukee?

From the Milwaukee Biz Times:

Let's contrast that to Madison. From the Milwaukee Business Journal based on a Brookings Institution study:

A study by the National Association of Realtors, as detailed in this Bloomberg article, shows that Madison is the 2nd most popular destination for Millennials who are relocating. And that is the case despite not having a public market nor a streetcar.

“In comparison to other areas, Madison offers one of the highest wages for millennials,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement. “This income level combined with the robust employment opportunities and the affordability, make Madison among one of the most appealing locations for millennials who are looking to stay longer and raise families.”

Jobs and affordability. Jobs and affordability. Jobs and affordability. Jobs and affordability. NOT public markets, and streetcars, and other amenities. Cieslewicz writes that "Milwaukee offers much more diversity across a much broader spectrum" of cultural offerings. True enough. But they aren't attracting the vaunted Millennial cohort nor enough of any other group. Here's is Milwaukee's historic population:

Now here's Madison's:

Things may be even worse for Milwaukee than the above graphic betrays. The city's population went up during the first half of this decade so that the estimate in 2014 was above 600,000. But it has lost about 2,000 people a year since 2015. (See here.) Do keep in mind these are population estimates and that we'll have to wait for next year's census to get the real story. Still, these numbers don't bode well for our state's largest city.

Earlier this month the Wisconsin Policy Forum released a report which showed that Madison's tech sector was "booming". Milwaukee's? Not so much.

The latest Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Dane County (wherein lies Madison) is generating more private sector jobs than the rest of the state, including Milwaukee, combined. And we're doing it without streetcars and public markets.

And there is no shortage of real estate development in Madison. Just take a gander at this article chronicling the transformation of the Capitol East District. All done without streetcars and public markets. Instead one of the primary impetuses was land banking done by the city and Cieslewicz admits this in a comment on his article.

The sad part is that, when he was "Mayor Dave", Cieslewicz oversaw great growth in Madison – done without his streetcar plan coming to fruition and the public market still a dream. He knows a city can prosper without having all of the "hip" amenities. And so it is farcical to suggest that we in Madison should be envious of Milwaukee's "development tools" when we are growing in population while the Cream City is not; while we are attracting more Millennials, and creating more jobs.

A couple final thoughts.

First, I want to say I am in agreement with Haven McClure who left a comment on the article. Do read it. In it they argue that Cieslewicz's preoccupation with streetcars, public markets, and the race to be cool did not help in the push for sustainability. Further that his desire to make downtown/isthmus living ever more luxurious was to ignore Madison's southwest side with its increasing struggles with poverty, violence, etc. You can read the author's reply in the screenshot above. It is striking to me that his reply stuck to urban development at the core and completely ignored the argument that such an approach does little to help the most disadvantaged. Cieslewicz certainly does seem be a trickle-down economics adherent. Is the economic success of the Third Ward, Bayview, or Walker's Point helping alleviate the poverty on the largely black north side in Milwaukee, one of America's most segregated cities? You can see the same in Chicago where things are going very well in The Loop and North Shore but that success hasn't trickled down to poorer communities. (See here.)

Lastly, Cieslewicz admonishes his readers against dismissing Milwaukee. ("And yet to dismiss Milwaukee is to cheat ourselves.") This is a straw man, it seems to me. He wrote this after having posited that "Madison and Milwaukee might despise each other, if they bothered to think about the other place at all." He begins his article this way which helps explain why it seems to be so silly to me.

Perhaps the situation has changed but it wasn't long ago that Milwaukee County was the biggest provider of in-migration to the Madison area. People from Milwaukee come here to Madison to see UW Badger games while Madisonians travel to Milwaukee to catch the Brewers and Bucks in action. Amtrak even ran football specials between Milwaukee and Madison until 1976. Speaking of Amtrak, I would not hesitate to say that a lot of people in both cities thought quite a bit about each other when plans to extend Amtrak's Hiawatha line to our fair burg were announced. Cieslewicz just wrote about this a few days ago in a piece about the fine Wisconsin Public Radio podcast Derailed which chronicled the demise of the planned extension. Badger Bus, which provides rides between Madison and Milwaukee, now has 8 trips from either city every day of the week. Madison and Milwaukee are solidly Democratic and are routinely demonized by many rural residents in Wisconsin and their Republican representatives.

We think about each other a lot and I see signs that the old rivalry between these two cities is slowly going away. Check out this podcast from Tone Madisonwhere Milwaukeeans and Madisonians discuss the views we have of one another through and arts & culture lens.

But we need to act. Since Milwaukee wants to be the freshwater research capital of the world, we here in Madison should help. We need more things like the Freshwater Collaborative and less like Cieslewicz's article.

I did find at least one point of agreement with his article, though. He ended his piece by writing "We can learn from each other" and I am complete agreement with that.
|| Palmer, 12:31 PM || link || (0) comments |

11 October, 2019

The Unbearable Whiteness of Medieval Europe

Last month the UW-Madison Center for Humanities held a panel discussion entitled "Race, Religion, and Revisionism: Why the Middle Ages Matter Now". The discussion would address how the Middle Ages were being misused "to justify attacks against vulnerable groups in the 21st century". The event's webpage features a photo of white nationalist types bearing shields so one knew going in where the focus would lay.

Although I enjoy learning about the Middle Ages, I am not an academic. Ergo I have no first-hand knowledge of how the academy at-large is responding to the issue of medieval history being misappropriated by white nationalists/white supremacists in this country. From my layman's perspective, it seems to be at least a moderately big deal. It's not uncommon to find articles about race in the Middle Ages at Medievalists.net or The Public Medievalist. Indeed, the latter has a whole series on the subject called "Race, Racism and the Middle Ages". If you look at the program for this year's International Congress on Medieval Studies you find amongst the panel discussions on medieval textiles and exegeses on various tales from that era that there are sessions like "Race and Racism in Hagiography" and "Tolkien and Medieval Constructions of Race" plus lots of talks about Saracens.

The issue of race is in the air and it's not unexpected that it should be addressed by any and all university departments.

Tangentially, one of the photos on the Congress' landing page is of William Chester Jordan, a historian who happens to be black. He was here in Madison about a week ago and gave an interesting talk about the Jewish response to the First Crusade.

So why do the Middle Ages matter now?

The discussion featured six academics and was moderated by Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman. Each panelist took a little time to give their thoughts on the issue before questions were taken from the audience. Professor Brenda Plummer (History) led things off and noted the ambiguity of race in the Middle Ages. For instance, blackness symbolized death and chaos, ye there are also realistic portrayals of Africans from that time. Her main point was that race, at least for much of the Middle Ages, wasn't as important as religion. Africans who were baptized became "white".

Martin Foys, a professor of English, spoke next. As his specialty was Anglo-Saxon studies, a term he thought needed to go the way of the dodo, it was unsurprising that he spoke about J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien's work forms the basis of popular medieval fantasy – stories, books, movies – and so, according to Foys, the genre was problematic because of its whiteness. He pointed to the novels of Marlon James as one antidote to the paleness of the genre.

Ph.D. student Ahmed Abdelazim's are of expertise is in Islamic and Middle Eastern visual & material cultures. He began by showing us a photograph of the 1529 painting "The Battle of Alexander at Issus" by Albrecht Altdorfer. He noted how Alexander's army looked like contemporary Europeans while the Darius and his fellow Persians were portrayed as Ottomans. A 500 year-old example of the past being manipulated to suit contemporary concerns/views. Abdelazim then put a photograph of the assault rifle belonging to Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch mosque shooter, on display. It had the dates of various medieval battles between Christians and Muslims painted on it. He then noted that ISIS uses medieval imagery – their clothes, names, methods of execution, etc. – to portray themselves as embodying pure Islamic culture.

Abdelazim's academic advisor, Jennifer Pruitt followed her advisee. She spoke about the Middle Ages as being the golden age of Islam, highlighting scientific innovation and multicultural tolerance. Moving forward to the present day, Ms. Pruitt brought up the "Ground Zero" mosque, a proposed Islamic community center and mosque to be built a couple blocks away from where the World Trade Center once stood. When the proposal emerged in 2009, it was to be called the Cordoba House. Pruitt contrasted the connotations engendered by the Andalusian city. For Muslims Cordoba was a symbol of tolerance white for right-wingers it was a symbol of Muslim dominance of Christian lands.

The penultimate panelist to speak was Samuel England, an associate professor of Arabic and African Cultural studies. With all due apologies to Mr. England, my notes on his commentary are pretty sparse. He showed us this patch:

England asked us to consider how to interpret it. How seriously should we take it? Is it a joke? He then referred to the famous "I'm gonna get medieval on your ass" line from Pulp Fiction. Perhaps I tuned out a bit here because I am not a Quentin Tarantino fan but England went on to discuss how the director plays with history.

The final panelist to speak was Elizabeth Lapina, a medieval historian who focuses on the Crusades. She began by noting that the mascot of Edgewood High School here in Madison (a Catholic institution) is the Crusader. She opined that the medieval past has been weaponized. Continuing, she noted that the stereotype of the stout, brave man as glorious Crusader belies the fact that the Crusades and medieval warfare generally were pure hell. Countless innocents were slaughtered, Crusaders suffered from disease and famine, etc. Furthermore, women had a lot more power during the Middle Ages than is popularly imagined. About a fifth of all Crusaders were women. Finally, she noted that the medieval world was global and diverse. Simplistic narratives just don't work.

We then moved onto the Q&A portion of the evening. The first question seemed odd to me at first but, the more I thought about it, the more reasonable it seemed. The audience member said that we here in 21st century America live in a diverse society. Given this, to what extent do white supremacists harken back to medieval Europe because of a lack of diversity there? We had just sat through 45 or so minutes of six learned people trying to explain, albeit with brevity, why popular conceptions of Europe during the Middle Ages as all-white are wrong and there was diversity and this person does a 180 and says there was a lack of it.

The question highlighted, for me, a lack of specifics from the panelists. While they collectively made a good case for a Middle Ages in Europe that was not completely white, they didn't specify just how colored it was. And where, for that matter. Just how many people of color were white Europeans likely to encounter? I can see how a medieval Spaniard would have encountered more non-whites with al-Andalus to the south. But what if you lived in Norway or Lithuania? I suppose there was an unspoken assumption that the panel was about Western Europe as that seems to be the area that provides the most influence on popular culture and white supremacists.

And how about the Mongols who ran roughshod over Eastern Europe? How were they viewed in terms of their physical characteristics? Lastly, just when are talking about? If the Middle Ages lasted from 500-1500, did the racial views of whites/Western Europeans change over the course of a millennium?

Getting back to the question that was posed, Prof. Plummer answered first and began by referring to a Powerpoint slide of this:

It's an early 15th century illustration of The Queen of Sheba. The combination of dark skin and blond hair demonstrated that medieval ideas of race were not fixed and that there was a time when Christian = white did not apply. Mr. Foys followed up by saying that the notion of Northern Europe being all white dates from the 18th and 19th centuries. By way of example, he noted that a "racist" conflict in early medieval England was the Danes vs. the Britons.

The most important and perhaps most telling part of the Q&A section happened when a young woman who was an undergrad asked how to talk to conservative people outside of the liberal university bubble. There was an uncomfortable silence at this point with no panelist being particular eager to weigh in. Finally one did and I believe it was Ms. Lapina. She said that the more history you know, the more complex it gets so be sure to use specific examples. I think the example she gave was of a Crusader – can't recall who exactly – grew up in a diverse city and spoke Arabic. One could use this person to illustrate that there was more to the Crusades than simply anti-Muslim sentiment.

It was a bit disheartening to hear these six people tell us in the audience how important it was for medieval history not to be used to justify racial animosity yet have very little in the way of suggestions for overturning the entrenched and false notions about the Middle Ages that pervade popular culture. If you feel the subject of your discipline is being misused for nefarious purposes and that this is a pressing matter, then something is deeply wrong when a question about trying to turn the tide is greeted with silence.

I see that Ms. Lapina is writing a book called Depicting the Holy War: Crusader Imagery in Programs of Mural Paintings in France and England in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. With a title like that, I cannot doubt that the intended audience is other academics. Not a problem. But mix that up with works intended for a lay audience. If medieval historians want to push a counter-narrative, then they'll have to do better and find ways to reach us.
|| Palmer, 10:17 AM || link || (0) comments |

21 September, 2019

Moving Madison Metro Forward

Earlier this week Madison mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway held a press conference to announce the launch of MetroForward, a plan to improve public transit in the Madison area. As someone who rides the bus, I was quite happy to hear about it and eagerly watched it online shortly after it had transpired.

As with most plans, the devil will be in the details, i.e. – funding, but the fact that the initiative to improve bus service now has name and got a low-level dog and pony show to kick things off is a good first step. The mayor's campaign promises now have a formal commitment which is more than her predecessors ever did. I have no reason to believe that Paul Soglin was anti-transit, but during his (presumably) final reign he seemed to do little more than lament the paucity of state and federal funding. His attitude was "We're screwed until Democrats run the show" while pumping cash into a public market plan and overseeing the construction of new parking ramps. Before him Dave Cieslewicz held court on the fourth floor and never spared telling us how important it was to attract and retain the "creative class". Despite having drunk the Richard Florida kool aid long and deep, Cieslewicz's notable contribution to public transit was raising fares. More important for him were bike lanes/paths and ensuring a luxury hotel could ignore historic preservation rules and build a new tower.

While neither Soglin nor Cieslewicz were anti-transit, it didn't seem to be a big priority for them either. As transit consultant Jarrett Walker said when he spoke here in Madison in 2011, "Core cities have to do things for themselves." While improvements to Metro Transit may ultimately depend on federal largesse, I credit Rhodes-Conway for taking action, however dependent on others, instead of sitting around doing virtually nil. Her budget "advanced the construction of a $12.9 million new satellite bus facility to 2020 and 2021 from 2023" which is a huge step as that new facility is the lynchpin for any expansion of bus service as is rightly one of four basic goals of MetroForward.

Speaking of those goals, they are:

1) Expand Accessibility and Service – the city and Metro Transit have, to their credit, been forthcoming about the fact that low income people and racial minorities in Madison have longer bus rides and make more transfers than your typical white middle class Madisonian. To address this, MetroForward proposes to make available more subsidized and free bus passes; improve weekend and evening service; and add new routes so people can get to Madison College's new south side campus. (The south side being where many of Madison's low income and people of color live.)
2) Modernize Metro Facilities to Serve our Growing Region – modernize the current bus maintenance/storage facility which is both outdated and over capacity. And build a new one.

3) Focus on Sustainability – move to all-electric buses.

4) Implement Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – provide a more train-like experience with bigger buses, fancy stops, and, more importantly, more frequency and shorter ride times.

All of these are laudable things. Returning to Jarrett Walker's talk, I think there's something missing from this mish-mash of goals and ideology: appeals to selfishness. As I wrote at the time, "[Walker] said that he didn't know of any region where transit arguments were won by appealing to fairness and avoiding an appeal to selfish elements." Equity arguments are all well and good but MetroForward needs to explicitly appeal to those not affected by poorer service and simply drive everywhere. Lauding that it's cheaper and better for the environment, perhaps. But especially that it's cheaper.

Really, I am unsure how to wage a good marketing campaign on behalf of MetroForward. And that why I am going to suggest that Madison hire Jarrett Walker + Associates. They "foster clear conversations about transit" and would be able to help MetroForward create conversations involving as many people as possible while laying the cards on the table so we can make informed choices. Secondly, they redesign transit networks. I think it would behoove us to have a third party come in who is not bound by any bureaucratic inertia and assess our options. Since we are looking at spending $100+ million on BRT, I am especially concerned about the transfer points.

The current transfer point system was put into place in 1998 and not every transfer point was placed where good practice dictated they should be for optimal bus service. Available land was a factor. But also consider the East Transfer Point. It was originally to be located in the Madison East Shopping Center lot but that got nixed, with neighborhood pushback fueled by perceived fears of (presumably black) people loitering around certainly being one of the reasons. Before we spend 9 figures on BRT, I think we should ask if the transfer points are located in the best spots for transit use. If not, we should consider moving them.

While core cities have to do things for themselves, it doesn't mean they have to do them alone.

At the press conference announcing MetroForward, there were a variety of people there to express their support. Vanessa McDowell of YWCA Madison praised the project's ability to address equity issues; Cassie Steiner of the local chapter of the Sierra Club spoke of the necessity of transit to address environmental concerns; and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi talked about upcoming expansion at the Dane County Airport and how he would like it to integrate the proposed BRT system.

But Sun Prairie mayor Paul Esser was also there to demonstrate his city's desire to be a partner in MetroForward. During the Q&A Rhodes-Conway said that Madison was in discussion with Monona as well. It'd be nice to have Metro service to Monona, which ended several years ago, again. In addition to getting neighboring municipalities to join in on the fun, it is also important to create partnerships with the private sector. Zach Brandon, President of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, spoke at the press conference. The GMCC included a renewed call for legalizing Regional Transit Authorities in its latest legislative agenda. While there is reason to be skeptical about RTA's (Jarrett Walker noted that communities that care the least tend to dominate them), it is nice to see additional private sector support for public transit**.

The challenge ahead is to bring things promises to fruition and this will be no mean feat. But we seem to have a good, diverse (and hopefully growing) coalition of parties who want MetroForward to be a success and are willing to work to make it so.

**My understanding is that the Metro routes that service Verona, well Epic Systems really, are paid for, at least partly, by Epic. And I was told that American Family Insurance wants more BRT service to their main campus on the northern edge of the city so that employees don't have to drive to the company's fancy new Spark building near downtown.


Madison Area Bus Advocates

"Transfer point: Madison accelerates plans to upgrade its transit system", The Capital Times, 5 June 2019

Human Transit (Jarrett Walker's blog)

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|| Palmer, 11:10 AM || link || (0) comments |

11 August, 2019

A Traditional Triptych: Jethro Tull's "Folk Trilogy"

It was announced not too long ago that Jethro Tull's 1979 album, Stormwatch, was getting the 40th anniversary box set treatment. All of their earlier albums have been re-released over the past several years in one format or another. Some have been given the super deluxe treatment that features the original album remixed by one Steve Wilson, unreleased material, live tracks, and, in some cases, a DVD with a concert. Others are of a more modest nature, featuring the obligatory remixes with relevant non-album singles & b-sides. Stormwatch will be getting the former which means a wealth of new songs to look forward to.

The album is the last in what fans call the "folk trilogy" which began in 1977 with Songs From the Wood and continued with Heavy Horses the following year. It's not a bad way to think of this trio but it's not the full story. To be sure, there are many more bits and pieces of what I suppose you'd call the folk music tradition of the British Isles – I'm no Cecil Sharp, mind you – but anyone expecting a bunch of tunes in the vein of Pentangle or Steeleye Span will be gravely disappointed. The folk elements don't come close to traditional song but rather are additional colors in the band's progressive rock palette.

But, for me, what really makes these albums a triptych, is the lyrics which develop themes through common motifs and imagery. At the core they're about a brace of oppositions, namely tradition vs. modernity and rural vs. urban. Ian Anderson takes a Tolkien-esque stance on these albums championing the rural and lamenting the loss of tradition.

Songs From the Wood is by far the most chipper of these records. It's upbeat and celebratory and filled with natural imagery along with a hefty dose of British folklore and myth. There are only a couple references to modernity/cities here and they're littered amongst many more references to birds, trees, celebrating Beltane and the winter solstice, rings of standing stones, etc. Plus there are a couple naughty tunes as well. (With such rustic, earthy, and lusty lyrics, it's little wonder many neo-pagans adore this album.)

In "Jack-in-the-Green" the narrator asks, "Or will these changing times, motorways, power lines keep us apart?" A few songs later the lovers in "Velvet Green" lay under the stars dreaming "of civilisations raging afar".

But it's here that the super deluxe edition helps us see or hear, rather, some foreshadowing of the next couple albums. "Old Aces Die Hard", an outtake from the sessions that gave us Songs From the Wood is lengthy, clocking in at 8'40". It is also much darker than the stuff on the album, excepting "Pibroch" but that song dealt with the personal while "Old Aces Die Hard" is more social critique.

Apparently it was initially called "Dark Ages" as it uses that refrain. This was resurrected for the song that got that name on Stormwatch. It's sung in a more heraldic manner on that version but the link has been established. One line goes "Dark ages, history's karma is rattling its chains" which not only takes a poke at modernity but also prefaces the rather eschatological ideas on Stormwatch. Elsewhere about a verse and a half of the song ended up being used on the Heavy Horses outtake "Living in These Hard Times". ("The bone's in the china, the fat's in the fire…")

Heavy Horses is much less upbeat than its predecessor. Although it retained heaps of rural imagery, it lacks the references to British myth and folklore. Plus the modern and the city intrude.

The opener, "…And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps" begins with a brief purr before reminding us that nature is red in tooth and claw. "Acres Wild" follows with a sprightly jig-like (or is that reel?) quality that contrasts the open spaces of the countryside to the narrow side streets of the city. While on Songs From the Wood the urban was raging, loud, and busy, here it is symbolized by decay as the buildings have shuttered windows and the discos are silent. Also of note is how the rural areas are in touch with tradition as they are described as places "Where the dance of ages is playing still".

The title track concerns draft horses, one of the most unlikely lyrical topics for a rock song ever.

Modernity has dislodged these majestic creatures from their place in rural life – "the tractor is on its way". And in a nod to Stormwatch, the song refers to the day "when the oil barons have all dripped dry".

"Weathercock" ends the album on a somewhat ambivalent note. The singer please for it to "make this day bright/Put us in touch with your fair winds" yet there are portents of Stormwatch where weather generally and winter specifically become a motif: "Did the cold wind bite you?" and "Do you fight the rush of winter?"

One of the outtakes from the Heavy Horses sessions is "Beltane" which is more upbeat and shows that Anderson hadn't really the discarded myth and folklore. Other songs from the super deluxe box set version see the city and its modern trappings continuing to threaten the rural idyll. "Everything in Our Lives" gives us "the sweet sound of oil wells drilling/as the new roads come in". And "Botanic Man" describes mankind "in a spinning world of cars, aeroplanes and high-rise towers". The singers as the titular character if his kids will "sit in the green fields watching the city spreading" as "traffic jams the motorway".

Stormwatch is by far the darkest of the trilogy and perhaps the least folky, although there is still a fair amount of music that can classified as folk rock. It takes the weather metaphor from "Weathercock" and runs with it using winter both figuratively and literally. With a couple of brief exceptions, British folklore and myth is absent along with the verdant countryside.

"North Sea Oil" kicks things off with a look at the greedy oil barons from "Heavy Horses". This was the 1970s, a time of energy crises, after all. "Dark Ages" picks up and builds on its Songs From the Wood-era ancestor and out of the gate asks "Darlings are you ready for the long winter's fall?" The line "The big jet rumbles over runway miles/That scar the patchwork green" shows the rural in retreat. Society is in upheaval as crazed consumers suffer from "ad-man overkill"; bureaucracy is crumbling as "families screaming line the streets". Disorder rules the day. The song doesn't really specify what it is exactly that ushers in this winter but it seems to be modern society, a nebulous concept to be sure, collapsing in on itself. Perhaps a combination of greedy tycoons, incompetent/impotent bureaucrats, and an apathetic populace.

Things get no better on side 2 which begins with "Something's On the Move". I take this song to embrace a more literal winter, namely global climate change which was popularly, though quite mistakenly, thought to mean global cooling in the 1970s. (Anderson tread this ground on 1972's "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day".) There is talk of "the new wastes of winter". Of this icy storm Anderson sings "Driving all before her/Unstoppable, unstraining/Her cold creaking mass/Follows reindeer down". The penultimate song is "Flying Dutchman", a ghost ship of legend that says any sighting of it portents doom.

While folklore was kept to a minimum on the album with stones and a stone circle being mentioned, the Stormwatch outtakes we have now include "Kelpie" which are mythological water spirits. "Broadford Bazaar" is a beautiful song that fits in with the somber tone of Stormwatch (Out of the north, no oil rigs are drifting/And jobs for the many are down to the few") but also brings back some of the rural imagery with mention of crofters and cottiers (farmers who rent land) as well as the lines "And up on the hill, there's an old sheep that's dying/But it had two new lambs born just a fortnight before." That whole circle of life thing.

The super deluxe box set brings a wealth of unreleased material including "Urban Apocalypse" which has been known to exist for some time so I am glad that it is finally seeing the light of day. I don't know any of the lyrics although the music is said to be heavy. Still, with a title like that, it would have fitted on Stormwatch well but I guess four eschatological songs was just a step too far.

Ian Anderson would go on both within and without Jethro Tull to write more songs that contemplate the urban and the rural, tradition and modernity. (E.g. – "Farm on the Freeway", "The Whaler's Dues", and "Roots to Branches") But the folk trilogy is a concentrated dose of these ideas. And because of this (and the fact that the music is great) I really adore it, despite Stormwatch perhaps going a bit overboard with the Cassandra routine.

Having spent most of my childhood living in Chicago before moving to rural Wisconsin where civilization really did rage afar, the whole rural vs. urban thing is near and dear to my heart. I have lived it. To an extent, the United States was born of it in the form of Thomas Jefferson's agrarian traditions vs. Alexander Hamilton's promotion of manufacturing and commerce. Today in Wisconsin the state's two largest cities, Milwaukee and Madison, are, at best, treated with suspicion and, at worst, loathed and despised, by rural areas. I suppose that this conflict will be with us forever or until everyone lives in massive underground cities as in Isaac Asimov novels.

Another reason I love the folk trilogy is that it helped me gain an appreciation for tradition. Embracing and engaging it has been extremely fulfilling for me. It is quite meaningful for me to view myself as a link in a chain that goes back through the ages and across oceans. Science fiction author Donald Kingsbury wrote "Tradition is a set of solutions for which we have forgotten the problems. Throw away the solution and you get the problem back." I don't think it virtuous to become hidebound by tradition; you have to sift and winnow. But neither is it prudent to discard or ignore the wit and wisdom of our forebears.

The super deluxe Stormwatch box set is out on 18 October.
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07 August, 2019

Matutinal Meanderings: Am Ende

Read the previous installment of Matutinal Meanderings, Amble On.

I've been meaning to take some photographs of the totems that someone on Baldwin Street makes for some time. Methinks this person (or people) uses a chainsaw but I am not certain about that. And so I headed over there from E. Johnson.



I was hoping that there'd be some of the totems out and that my walk over there would not be for naught. There usually are some to be seen but who knows? Maybe they'd been sold or put into storage or the carver moved. Luckily there were plenty of totems to be seen.


I trekked about some more just idly strolling down the streets. Here's Mifflin Manor which is a wonderfully ironic name considering it's a dreadfully ugly concrete bunker.


On my final walk down E. Johnson I saw some beautiful homes including the one that is perpetually decorated for Halloween.






Lastly, I saw this manhole cover. Sure, it's a banal, utilitarian object but it was nice to see such a thing given a little artistic treatment.


There are surely more around town but I don't recall seeing them.

The Capital Times recently ran a story about gentrification in Madison. It said:

Areas that are beginning to see gentrification or are exhibiting conditions leading toward displacement include the central areas of Tenney-Lapham, Emerson East, Sherman and South Madison. These areas have not seen demographic change but have experienced more rapid rent and property value increases.

Note how it is the central area of Tenney-Lapham that is at the early stage of gentrification. Presumably the homes with lakefront property are and have been gentrified for some time. And the eastern edge of the neighborhood is home to lots of shiny new apartments – The Constellation, Galaxie, the Factory District Apartments, and Lyric Apartments – which cannot be cheap. Plus the Madison Youth Arts Center is coming soon and that plot on the 1200 block of E. Washington which is currently owned by the city for maintenance of fire vehicles will soon be available. Tenney-Lapham is gentrifying; it's a matter of how far it goes and who gets displaced.

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06 August, 2019

Matutinal Meanderings: Amble On

Read Part I, "Matutinal Meanderings: A Return to Tenney-Lapham"

Heading out of Giddings Park it was down East Gorham I ambled. My plan was to check out all of the new development on East Johnson but I took a wee detour first. I moseyed up Russell Walk – carefully because the sidewalk probably hasn't seen any work since long before I lived in the area almost 25 years ago. Prospect Place took me to Washburn Place and the other house I resided in when I lived in Tenney-Lapham.


My then-girlfriend and I lived on the top floor and as I walked by I recalled sitting by our living room window listening to The Rolling Stones play "Tumbling Dice" across the lake at Camp Randall.

Washburn Place is a cozy street being only a block long, and a short one at that. It's right by the lake and has one way traffic. To top things off there were a couple mock Tudors across the street with an old pine tree between them. They just gave the street a nice vibe.



After my brief trip down memory lane, I started once again making my way to E. Johnson. I passed by this house which has a bulkhead door, something of a rarity in Madison.


The only other one that comes to mind is the house at Charter and West Johnson.

Soon enough I was at the corner of Blount and Johnson, immortalized in song by Madison's Velveteen Snackcake.


And there was The Caribou, a place I have spent many an hour.


When I lived on Dayton Street we had no air conditioning so my roommate and I would head down there to play cribbage and stay well hydrated with Capital Amber. By the time we got home, we were too tired to notice the heat. A few years later, friends and I would take up a residence there and get to know one of Madison's best bartenders ever, Ruthie.

One time I went there with a friend's father who used to work for the state patrol up in Tomah. Circa 1970 he got assigned to Madison as part of a force that was meant to keep Madison's finest from beating the student protesters too much. When he walked in he flashed back 30 years. He pointed out where a Nesco full of beef used to sit before commenting that it hadn't changed all that much.

Next to The Bou are all the shiny new apartments.



What a shame the developer couldn’t come up with something that was more like the old homes in the area. Not only do these buildings clash with the rest of the neighborhood but they are ugly. At best. Oh well - alia iacta est.

Just up the street the 800 block of E. Johnson is Tenney-Lapham's commercial center. Good Style Shop has a mural which was surely painted by the same person that did those for Next Door Brewing and Banzo Shük.


I can personally attest that Little Tibet is quite tasty.


Next to a luthier is the Cork 'n Bottle liquor store which I of course frequented on many an occasion. I fondly recall Jimbo holding court on his banjo as I perused the beer selection.


The store gave its name to Madison's beloved bluegrass group, the Cork 'n Bottle String Band.

Across Paterson Street is a place for all of your lapidary needs, Burnie's Rock Shop.


There's also a coffeehouse, an outpost of Salvatore's Tomato Pies, and a smattering of other businesses. Last year the Frau and I were at Salvatore's and I looked out the window only to see 14 storeys of the Galaxie (or was that the Constellation?) off in the distance. Things have certainly changed over the years. I don't have the numbers but there is surely more money in Tenney-Lapham these days.

I just looked up prices for those new apartments on the 700 block of E. Johnson. A 500 square foot studio goes for $1,225. This is not working class housing. Whether people of lesser means are forced out of the neighborhood remains to be seen. Gentrification need not mean displacement for the poorer residents of Tenney-Lapham.

The car wash still had not called me by this time so I kept going up E. Johnson to hopefully get some snaps of something I've been meaning to photograph for a while but had never gotten around to.

Continue to the finale of Matutinal Meanderings, "Am Ende"

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