2016 Madison Mayor’s Neighborhood
Urban Experience Equity
Mayor Paul Soglin
Right: New York City
investment in infrastructure leads to private investment,” Soglin said. “There has been a lot of infill going on in the East Washington area
where there has been a lot of public investment and the public market is going in on E. Washington Avenue. There is nothing wrong with that.
They are all good projects, all worthwhile. And it improves the tax base of the city, which gives us the opportunity to do other projects.”
Public Investment does not always lead to the desired impact on private investment. While The Villager project on S. Park Street has received
millions of dollars in private investment, the impact of that investment, in terms of private investment, hasn’t really gone beyond the mall’s
While public investment leads to private investment and the overall development and health of a neighborhood, that public development is
often dependent on the strength of the neighborhood association and the political activism of its residents. This can lead to uneven public
investment and the neglect of parts of the city with relatively weak associations and low levels of political involvement. In the long run, this
can lead to urban decay and the development of areas experiencing intense social and economic problems. And it leads to inequity.
Mitchell Silver, the New York City Parks Commissioner who will present the keynote speech at this year’s Mayor’s Neighborhood Conference
being held October 8th at Monona Terrace has seen the impact of unequal investment in the park infrastructure in New York and through the
direction of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, is doing something about it.
“Sometimes inequities happen with resource allocation,” Silver said in a phone interview. “It depends on how big your park system is. We
here in New York since I came on board with the mayor, we now have what we call park equity. And we now look at a data-driven approach in
how we divide our resources. In the past, we had a process that typically elected officials made a recommendation. Those resources would go
to the parks. But now we are focused on equity and we use a data-driven approach. We analyze and we find out how many parks have
received the least amount of capital over 20 years. And that is where we invest first. We want to make sure that those neighborhoods, those
parks, those communities that have not seen quality open space actually get their fair share. We prioritize those parks first. Number two, we
have a metric that every New Yorker should be within a 10-minute walk to a park. We wanted to make sure as we look at our map and we
know where some of the gaps are that we invest and make sure we have quality open space. Right now, we are at 76 percent. Our goal is to
be at 85 percent by 2030. We are starting to create those open space opportunities so all of those New Yorkers can be within a 10-minute walk
to a park. We are addressing it in those two ways as well as investing in some of our older parks to make sure we make all of our parks new
again. And we are making sure that our parks are not neglected as we focus on those neighborhoods that have seen the least investment or
capital improvement in their parks over decades.”
Equity in investment in a city’s parks is as important as the level of investment in a neighborhood’s streets and curbs because they have a
huge impact on the quality of the urban experience.
“There is study after study that is showing what parks and green spaces and natural areas do to the brain,” Silver said. “You need a place for
your brain to relax. Just to enjoy the out-of-doors is therapeutic. And for some reason this past year, there were multiple studies that were
showing the importance of early childhood development of the brain, but also the level of stress that is relieved in your average citizen just by
engaging in green space and enjoying it. So to have a livable city, you need those places where you can relax, not just for physical health, but
also for mental health. You look at the aging population, they age gracefully. They enjoy sitting in these incredible spaces. You watch someone
on a busy street and how their eyes are watching bicycles, pedestrians and cars. But then they walk into a green space and they are relaxed.
You don’t have all of those disturbances or distractions. You can just walk and enjoy the green space and not be on guard about what is
coming around the corner. It is vital to livable cities to have open spaces and green spaces. And as I stated, study after study this year was
just showing that those cities, the trees, parks is what makes the city livable and make someone both physically and mentally healthier.”
While cities originally grew at the dawn of the 20th century as industrial centers, they are now in a state of renaissance as millennials as well
as empty-nester baby boomers seek a high quality of life that a city center can offer.
“We’re at a point where, particularly millennials or I would say X Y and Z generations, it’s not about consuming goods,” Mitchell emphasized.
“It’s about consuming experiences. And that’s why you see cities becoming major destinations once again because people will trade having a
nicer home for a city that offers better experiences: public space, parks, cultural centers and even some of the other services. That’s what
compels people now. It’s about the experience of place. It is something even in parks that we focus on as well. Each park offers a different
experience for users: some for recreation, some for mental health, and some for gardens. Now I still focus on that experience of place. It is
something that is only increasing with the rise of cities being popular again.”
In Soglin’s view, the quality of that experience is dependent on the strength of the city’s neighborhood associations. The Mayor’s Neighborhood
Conference is the first stop on getting involved.
For more information on the 2016 Mayor’s Neighborhood Conference, visit www.cityofmadison.com/neighborhoodconference or call 266-4635.
By Jonathan Gramling
The relative health of an urban area is directly tied to the health of its neighborhoods.
A city can have a sparkling new downtown, but if its neighborhoods are suffering and
its tax base is eroding, then the city is in long-term trouble.
Recognizing the importance of the health of the neighborhoods, Mayor Paul Soglin
established the Mayor’s Neighborhood Conference 20 years ago.
“We wanted the different neighborhood groups and associations to come together,”
Neighborhood associations, which represent the interests of and promote the well-
being of a neighborhood, are grassroots organizations open to anyone who resides in
the geographical area of the neighborhood. There are no membership fees or
“I met a woman who basically asked for permission to get involved in a neighborhood
association,” Soglin said. “We were obviously very troubled by that, just the fact that
she thought she needed some sort of authorization says that there is something wrong
out there. We want to get people involved in the neighborhood associations.”
The activism of a neighborhood association and its citizens can have a huge impact on public investment in
the neighborhood and the direction of the private development that occurs within its borders.
“We have a lot of very strong neighborhood associations that have become very effective over the years,”
Soglin said. “They’ve gone on to ‘college’ level or ‘graduate’ level and ‘post-graduate’ level courses in terms
of looking out for the interests of the neighborhood. And then there are a number of neighborhood associations
that are lagging behind in terms of advocating for public resources.”
Soglin pointed to the E. Washington Avenue corridor as an example of the impact of public investment.
“We know historically around the world, in the United States and in Madison, Wisconsin that public