Read the full, final Green Downtown Report.
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. In 2012, we teamed up with Downtown Madison, Inc., and Capitol Neighborhoods, Inc. to take a broad-based survey of downtown residents. We gathered large amounts of 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, and the Center for Neighborhood Technology. We also have produced the beginnings of a new series of analyses on walkability and the urban streetscape, which we are employing to explore 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.
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 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. A survey of downtown residents created and administered in partnership with DMI and Capitol Neighborhoods, Inc., yielded 329 responses for a 10% response rate. The survey was 44 questions long, so we are very pleased with the responses. This survey model has great potential for replication in other neighborhoods and communities.
2. DMI’s State of the Downtown Report 2012 was released in October and included indicators of sustainability, which came out of the research for Green Downtown.
3. Green Downtown has yielded additional avenues of research that we have begun to explore at greater depth, including detailed streetscape and walkability analysis, impacts of downtown on the Yahara River watershed, and sustainable food access in the downtown area.
4. The Green Downtown project is yielding both new sources of data, like the survey, and new ways of using existing data that include census figures, local nonprofit and government information, and crowd-sourced online data.
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.
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. In Downtown Madison, we propose focusing on several of the areas identified in the map above as prime targets for placemaking in under-utilized public spaces.