Two Thumbs Up For Madison’s First-Ever Historic Preservation Plan

Longtime readers are much aware of my desire to see historical sites maintained in Madison.  Being connected to our past allows for a smarter and more reasoned approach moving forward with development and land use.  As the Wisconsin State Journal so correctly stated in their lead sentence of the story above the fold in this morning’s newspaper, “So much of Madison’s culturally diverse history is uncelebrated, unrecognized, unnoticed.”

It is from that point which I much applaud the efforts now taking place to create a first-ever Historic Preservation Plan.

As the news story noted there are now 182 landmarks and five historic districts, but those sites have not necessarily taken into account historically underrepresented communities — African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, LGBT people and women.  The effort now under way will help preserve their stories and places as part of the city’s collective history.

“We’re trying to discover history,” city historic preservation planner Amy Scanlon said. “We want this to be a community-driven plan.”

At the end of the two-year effort, the plan will recommend strategies to better weave historic preservation into public policy, apply land-use and zoning tools, use economic-development and financial incentives, and encourage heritage tourism.

In some cases, it could mean more landmarks or adding historic districts, but it could also simply mean better identification, education opportunities, signage, financial incentives, or letting property owners know the significance of the site.

“As the city grows and changes, what will be the places that will be important to our kids and grandkids so they will feel connected to it?” city principal planner Bill Fruhling said. “I think people will care about this because it’s personal for them. People want to be connected to a place.”

Living in one of the city’s designated historic districts has cemented my passions about history since childhood to my now day-to-day life.  Continually I speak with folks who walk through this neighborhood about the need for old homes to have strong advocates.  I share insights about square nails which made our 1892 Victorian home, or the first cemetery in Madison just down the street where soldiers from both sides of the Civil War were once buried.   (The cemetery and the remains were removed in 1877.)  Over and over I speak with grad students, who live in the area as they write their dissertations, about where the Lutheran Seminary once stood, or the bottling company,  or the orphanage where children from the Civil War were placed.   I speak fondly of the carriage stones–which I had a hand in making sure were preserved on my street–and on it goes.

As with the neighborhood where I live, and have learned from, so there are numerous other such places in the city where the buildings tell a story, the streets hold historical meaning, and the fabric of who we are all combine to add to the narrative of this place we proudly call home.

I am so pleased with the mission of the Historic Preservation Plan and will be following its success.

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