City Life

West or east side: A Madison rivalry

The distinct personalities of west and east side

Who doesn’t love a friendly rivalry? Cats and dogs. Pepsi and Coke. The Packers and Bears. In the spirit of healthy competition, Madison has its own historic rivalry: The east side of town versus the west side. Author David V. Mollenhoff even named the storied rivalry in a book he wrote about Madison, referring to it as “The Madison Compromise.”
We are not saying one side of town is better than the other. Nevertheless, they are distinctly different places to live. 
Do you prefer character(s) and culture? East Madison has the character, as seen in its many older Victorian homes in the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood, as well as an eclectic community of characters: the working class, students, artists, musicians, young professionals and free-spirited souls who populate the Marquette area. The east side is more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly and has more festivals, fewer sprawling malls and strip centers, more tattoo parlors and mom-and-pop shops, and a great collection of unique eateries, such as the Caribou Tavern. Take a stroll down Willy Street, Atwood Avenue or East Johnson Street and get a feel for the funky east side yourself. 
The west side? More like suburbia, with its higher-priced homes, chain restaurants and three big malls—West Towne, Hilldale and Greenway Station. Historic University Heights and Shorewood Hills are the most affluent areas of Madison, where you will gape at stunning Queen Anne homes and Frank Lloyd Wright-designed residences. Many also live comfortably in the outlying suburbs of Verona, Fitchburg and Middleton. 
While the east side has free-thinkers, the west side has the paid thinkers. Many university professors live west of the Capitol, as they can easily walk to campus. In fact, according to, 83 percent of Shorewood Hills residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. 
However, on UW football game days, east and west (and north and south!) unite as one community at Camp Randall, and all hell usually breaks loose—in a cheerful, loud and spirited way. Because no matter what side of town you live on, we all bleed Badger red. 

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