An Ode to John Nolen Drive

The iconic thoroughfare curving past Lake...
An Ode to John Nolen Drive

What is it about that iconic thoroughfare that curves past Lake Monona on one side, the bay on the other, beneath the watchful ivory stone of Monona Terrace and always with the Capitol building in full view?

While they might appreciate its beauty, people who don’t live here don’t have the same sentimental connection to John Nolen Drive. They don’t remember it, lit orange over the water by summer’s setting sun, or iridescent and blue, ice glinting on a frosty winter morning. Something about John Nolen feels consistent, feels complete, like a ribbon weaving loosely around our world, tying us back together. The Drive not only affords some of the best views of the city, it floods us with memories, ideas and dreams, through long, weary commutes and lazy Sundays.

Visitors likely don’t know the drive’s rich history, either. The original two-lane causeway opened in late 1967 and widened to four lanes eight years later. Its namesake, John Nolen, was a landscape architect and urban planner who started life an orphan and ended up one of the most influential voices behind what’s now known as New Urbanism. He promoted our state park system, and his idea that “simple recreation in the open air amid beautiful surroundings contributes to physical and moral health, [and] to a saner and happier life” is now a hallmark of our city.

As you drive down his eponymous street, it’s easy to see why Nolen said Madison was like no other city in the world, matchless in its striking beauty. When we look out across the lake, past the bikers and walkers and trees lining the Drive, JND reminds us where we are and where we’re going.