Green Downtown is a research initiative funded by Madison Gas & Electric that aims to describe and analyze urban sustainability. It goes beyond the actions of individual actors to capture the sustainability benefits that accrue thanks to the density of people and ideas that make downtown areas unique.
The first phase of Green Downtown was a resounding success. After our 2012 efforts, in which we teamed up with Downtown Madison, Inc., and Capitol Neighborhoods, Inc. to take a survey of downtown residents and produce the Green Downtown Report, we used 2013 to refine our research and work on communicating this expanded vision of urban sustainability to the general public. This research has included gathering data on everything from attitudes toward sustainability to watershed health with the help of many partners and sources, including Sustain Dane, the City of Madison, our survey respondents, downtown businesses, and other organizations and groups. Above, you can see the results of one such initiative, which maps downtown businesses and organizations that participate in sustainability programs. We also have produced a new series of analyses on walkability and the urban streetscape, with which we are exploring how urban areas can encourage more walking and biking.
Through the walkability research done for the Green Downtown Report, we have identified a number of problem areas in public spaces around the downtown area that hinder its livability and walkability. In order to make downtown more sustainable as a business district and a neighborhood, we propose a three-pronged approach to improving walkability: on-the-ground walking audits whose results are publicly available and become part of the city’s decision-making process, improved wayfinding and navigation for pedestrians, and a data-driven approach to infrastructure and programming that allow communities to appropriately prioritize improvements to the public realm.
We are working on a thorough walkability analysis of Downtown Madison. Survey respondents indicated “vibrant and walkable streets and sidewalks” as the number one visual indicator of a sustainable neighborhood, and our study of walk appeal in downtown revealed gaps in the walking environment that may hinder connectivity and act as barriers to more walkable streets. We have expanded our walk appeal analysis, including physical infrastructure, pedestrian traffic, crime, intersection density, and more.
Matt Covert, the Green Downtown program manager, has been leading Walk Appeal tours in the Capital Square area. You can download his Walk Appeal Worksheet and take a self-guided tour.
Green Downtown highlights from the past year include:
1. 1000 Friends of Wisconsin partnered with Sustain Dane to offer a workshop for downtown businesses entitled, “Mythbusting Sustainability on State Street.” This event, held at Madison’s beautiful new Central Library on February 25, drew a crowd of 20 businesspeople, community members, and sustainability experts to talk about pragmatic solutions to the unique sustainability issues facing businesses in a dense urban area.
Specific topics of discussion included:
a. Green marketing and sustainable business districts;
b. How to reward alternative transportation use by customers; and
c. The possibility of establishing a State Street purchasing club to get better price points on more environmentally friendly supplies and materials.
We hope that this conversation will continue and look forward to moving collaborative sustainability initiatives forward in Downtown Madison and elsewhere.
2. DMI’s State of the Downtown Report 2013 was released in late 2013 and included ongoing tracking of sustainability indicators identified through the Green Downtown program.
3. Green Downtown has yielded additional avenues of research and community engagement that we have begun to explore at greater depth, including:
a. Detailed streetscape and walkability analysis, conducted with the help of UW-Madison students through the Badger Volunteers program;
b. Impacts of downtown development and runoff on the Yahara River watershed, as well as possible tools and techniques for improving water system performance in dense urban areas; and
c. Sustainable food and clean transportation access in the downtown area and the city at large and how we can help people make responsible transportation and food choices.
4. The research and communication breakthroughs realized through the Green Downtown initiative have given 1000 Friends of Wisconsin a seat at the table in shaping Downtown Madison. Program manager Matt Covert is one of nine members of the Downtown Coordinating Committee, which is charged with addressing complicated, multifaceted issues of use and the built environment on State Street, the Capitol Square, and beyond.
5. The full Green Downtown Report has been released and is available on our website.
1000 Friends of Wisconsin will seek to partner with DMI, the Business Improvement District, Capitol Neighborhoods, Inc., the Madison Children’s Museum, Monona Terrace, and the Greater State Street Business Association, among others, to improve walkability, activate and improve public spaces in the downtown area, and strategically raise the profile of sustainability and renewable energy activity in the area.
Next, we propose visiting other communities around Wisconsin with great public spaces and quality walking environments to learn what others have done to improve walkability in their urban cores. This will both help us understand the gaps in Downtown Madison and also help create a “Great Streets in Wisconsin” compendium so that communities can better learn from each other.
Third, we propose beginning a study of how other emerging urban centers in Madison can use Downtown’s successes and challenges to help improve walkability in other areas of the city. This includes performing studies and forecasts of street redesign in commercial corridors that could improve the walkability, and thus vibrancy, of Madison’s existing and emerging urban areas. With several important corridors slated for reconstruction and revisioning, including East Johnson Street and the Atwood corridor, now is the time to consider how mistakes and issues that have cropped up downtown can be avoided and how its successes can be replicated, imitated, or modified to fit existing conditions.
Fourth, we aim to refine our research methods and make use of increasingly sophisticated technology and web integration to produce a “User’s Guide to Sustainability in Wisconsin’s Cities.” This service will allow visitors and residents alike in the state’s urban areas to make better choices across a broad range of issues that affect both quality of life and the environment.
According to the Project for Public Spaces, placemaking is “looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover their needs and aspirations.” The task of placemaking is therefore to create a common vision of that place that is unique to its circumstances and people and then implement that vision using people-scale, cost-effective, doable improvements that can make an immediate impact. Ultimately, Placemaking is a concept that is at the heart of what we do at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and informs the research and communication of the Green Downtown program.