Madison is in the solution business

Localism is about problem solving
Madison is in the solution business

Considering a city’s “best of” is an invitation to reckon (as Walt Whitman would put it; “reckon” is an old fashioned but evocative word) with a place. “Best of” lists are a staple of city-regional magazines, like the one you’re reading, and they are a celebration of what people who feel a part of a city value about living where they do. The best of the best are unique to the place and provide a bit of comfortable recognition if not civic pride. They’re fun.

For me these admittedly unscientific expressions of personal preference also attest to the benefits of cities in general, and I have once again been doing a lot of thinking about cities, and about Madison in particular.

When I interviewed Downtown Madison Inc. President Jason Ilstrup for our January cover story on Madison business, he gave me a copy of “The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age Of Populism” by Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak and made me promise I would read it. It reminded me of a similar promise I made to Bettsey Barhorst, then president of Madison Area Technical College, roughly seven years ago when she gave me a copy of “Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism” by Richard Longworth. I honored my promises and both books have had a profound impact on how I think about cities and their potential.

In fact, “The New Localism” was the inspiration for one of the items my colleagues and I included on the WISC-TV editorial agenda for 2019. Authors Katz and Nowak – after making the case that the most innovative and effective initiatives for improving civic life are found in local communities rather than in national policies – offer a common-sense, seven-step call to action. They include defining leadership broadly, recognizing and taking advantage of existing assets and moving beyond the limitations inherent in government. The authors place cities “squarely and fully in the solution business.”

Localism is about problem solving, and cities are increasingly best situated to address the concerns we share as citizens. So, “we’re in the solution business” joins three other issues of some immediacy and importance to the WISC-TV editorial board (of which Madison Magazine publisher and editor Karen Lincoln Michel is a member). The other items on this year’s agenda are corrections reform, creation of an independent and nonpartisan redistricting system, reduction of the impact of money in politics and ending voter suppression tactics – all of which falls under what we’re calling “our government.” The final agenda item is “listening,” which is really no more complicated than it sounds. We plan to do more of it.

But I am intrigued by the idea that the rise in populism at both extremes of the political spectrum can best be tempered if not countered by collaborative networks of public and private partners – innovative by design, inclusive by definition and “guided by pragmatism rather than by ideological fervor,” as Katz and Nowak put it. That’s what the authors mean by localism, which as a concept is much broader, diverse and inclusive – hence, more powerful than it sounds.

I see clear examples of new localism in Madison. But I also think I see some pretty good examples in Janesville, Sun Prairie and dozens of other area municipalities including, and especially, Mount Horeb. In a recent front page story, the Wisconsin State Journal described an increasingly robust economy in the latter community that complements Madison and contributes to a healthy region. A healthy Madison is surely viewed as attractive to companies investing in Mount Horeb.

I truly believe Madison can be one of the best cities in America at solving problems. We have the right mix of citizens, institutions, businesses and nonprofits, and we’re surrounded by other communities in the solution business. In other words, we have the power.

Side Notes:

‘All of Us’ can assist
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of 10 academic and health care institutions in the nation to be invited by the National Institutes of Health to create the largest health database in history. The idea behind the All of Us Research Program is to compile over a million health profiles for American citizens that could contribute to breakthroughs in prevention and treatment of diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease. But to do that, UW-Madison needs to enroll, oh, about 100,000 people. Your participation would help. For more information, go to

Birthday Wish for Chikasa Anana
UMOJA magazine founder and Madison icon Milele Chikasa Anana recently celebrated her 85th birthday. Ms. Milele, as she is affectionately known, is a tireless advocate of African-American Madisonians (or villagers, as she calls them), especially children. On the occasion of her birthday, Ms. Milele unsurprisingly asked for contributions to the Milele Chikasa Anana Scholarship Fund, a partnership between the Goodman Community Center and the Madison Community Foundation. Gifts can be sent to Happy birthday, Ms. Milele.