March 2016

Roach: Madison's best trait is '15 Minute Brag'

The one single thing that makes every other...

While we celebrate the Best of Madison in this magazine’s issue, let us celebrate the greatest trait of our town. A benefit that is not often cited when speaking of Madison, the greatest city in which to reside in all the known solar system, according to myriad magazines, polls and surveys.

The one single thing that makes every other Best thing in Madison even better is this: We are small. As in, 245,691 people. Of course, Dane County has 516,284 people living in it. But for the sake of this discussion, we’re going to talk city populations because every city is in a county.

According to 2014 data, Madison ranks 83rd among American cities by population. For per-spective, that makes us smaller than Plano, Texas; Henderson, Nevada; and Laredo, Texas. If it’s of any consolation, we are larger than Hialeah, Florida. But not by much.

But being 83rd is great. And it’s great for this reason.

Whenever we have clients or visitors from larger cities visiting us, there is always this conversation.

“How long will it take me to get back to my hotel?”

“About fifteen minutes.”

“How long will it take us to get to the restaurant?”

“About fifteen minutes.”

“OK. Then how long will it take me to get to the airport?”

“About fifteen minutes.”

“Wow. It only takes fifteen minutes to get anywhere in this town.”
“Yes,” I say, smiling with a trace of smug. “You are right.”

Of course, there are exceptions. We have our own quaint little rush hour on the Beltline. But trust anyone who’s lived in a big city, it’s nothing like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. As bad as traffic gets (for about fifteen minutes) on the Beltline, you won’t see anyone giving birth or using the median as a restroom.
We should take more time to celebrate our smallness. Madison is a town where you can be standing in a barn and fifteen minutes later be standing in the rotunda of the Capitol.

Madison is a town where you don’t have to leave for the airport four hours before your flight.

Heck, if you are a townie and know the back streets, you can still make your way to Camp Randall at football rush hour in fifteen minutes.

But there is one qualifier to Madison’s Fifteen Minute Brag. And that is parking. We are on an isthmus, so we have a parking issue created by glaciers of tens of thousands of years ago. We also have a large university campus where the most valuable commodity other than tenure is a parking pass.

But now even the parking issue is being solved. As much as Mayor Paul Soglin may dislike it, Uber is making Madison more livable and even more free to boast the Fifteen Minute Brag.

You can summon an Uber from the far east or west side, hop into a clean car and fifteen minutes later hop out of it at the Edgewater, Overture or Graze. No parking ramp or parallel parking. No trudging through the ice, snow, rain or humidity. In fact, Uber could well be the best thing to happen to downtown Madison since Lady Forward.

The elimination of the parking dilemma will remove the one great reservation about downtown that folks have had about making a reservation downtown. If I were Henry Doane, Monty Schiro or Tory Miller, I would lay up more steak, salmon and kale, pronto.

There is one other benefit to small, especially if you are a townie. We are a city of two, or at the very most, three degrees of separation. Now this may not be too great if you require anonymity, but it is wonderful if you want to feel connected, safe and even loved.

And small is even greater if you are raising children.

So, yeah, in the grand scheme of cities, we are small.

We are only fifteen minutes and three degrees apart.

And that could be the Bestest thing of all.


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