This is an article I wrote published in The Isthmus in 2010 about a future vision for the Mifflin Neighborhood. The issue is still alive with the Downtown Plan still up for debate.
The greatest and greenest opportunity for the healthy growth of Madison is an area ignored for decades: West Mifflin Street.
In the center of the downtown are over four full blocks and seven partial adjacent blocks of deteriorating, poorly maintained housing that could become the most vibrant, green and exciting area of the city.
Built in the early 1900s as blue-collar housing, this area in the 400-500 blocks of West Mifflin slowly transitioned to student housing over the last half of the 20th century. The neighborhood’s cultural die was cast with the student movements of the Vietnam War, but today it has more in common with tailgating than counterculture.
As a neighborhood Mifflin is reasonably successful, but the opportunity cost of its land and location is staggering. We could prevent an amount of suburban sprawl equal in size and population to Middleton if Mifflin were allowed to redevelop carefully. The character and culture of Mifflin must be preserved, and we can do it while still creating housing and office space for 22,000 new downtown residents.
As a development precedent for a new Mifflin Street we need look no further than its cultural precedent: Greenwich Village. Bleecker Street or a West Village block party exhibits the same character as Mifflin, only more so. We can improve on this urban design and apply it to the Mifflin neighborhood.
Dense, green mixed-use redevelopment could allow tens of thousands more to walk to work in the new Mifflin neighborhood employment center, the downtown or university. Dense, affordable multi-unit housing uses less material, less energy and far less land than single-family homes. Having more people downtown exponentially improves local businesses and increases the efficiency of infrastructure.
With 22,000 more residents within easy walking distance, the Mifflin Co-op wouldn’t have closed.
The Vietnam War of today’s generation of college student is the environmental movement, and once again the Mifflin neighborhood is on the front lines. It isn’t as sexy as bioreactors or electric cars, but dense green development has unequaled environmental benefits. The values and ideals from the ‘60s and ‘70s shouldn’t be sealed in an urban display case; they should be lived.