It WUD Have Been Nice
April 7, 2009 10:33 AM
Madison streets are host to dozens of events every year. The Winter Festival closes down the Square and fills it with snow for cross-country skiing. On the Sunday closest to St. Patrick's Day the Square is closed for a parade. The Homecoming Parade takes over Langdon and other streets in the downtown area. There's the Willy Street Festival, the Monroe Street Festival, the Art Fair on the Square and Maxwell Street Days. And there are countless Fourth of July neighborhood street parties including two within a few blocks of my own house. In each of those cases a responsible person or group steps forward, takes out a street permit, pays for insurance and police costs if they are necessary and meets with our Street Use Team to work out details.
What's different about the annual Mifflin Street Block Party is that unlike all of those other events, no one takes responsibility for it. It just happens. Moreover, Mifflin Street is no neighborhood Fourth of July party. It's a very big and very expensive event for the city. This makes it difficult for the City to manage and keep everyone safe and secure because we don't have a responsible party to work with.
Enter some UW Madison students who wanted to do the responsible thing. The students, led by Dan Cornelius, the Vice President of Project Management for the Wisconsin Union, and supported by downtown Ald. Mike Verveer, wanted WUD to become the official sponsor of the Mifflin Street Block Party. They would have pulled the necessary permits, worked with City staff, set up stages, booked bands and made it into an event not unlike dozens of others that grace our city streets every year. It wasn't the complete answer by any means. In the first years of the new sponsorship the block party would have continued to be expensive for the city, but we would have had a responsible group to work with year after to year. Our hope was that we could work with WUD to emphasize music and other positive activities and start to deemphasize the use of alcohol at the event.
Unfortunately, for this year anyway it looks like this will be a lost opportunity. Some at the UW are concerned that there isn't enough time to think through all the details and the possible pitfalls and to plan sufficiently. I get it. Allowing WUD to sponsor the event - even though all of the expenses for permits, insurance and bands could have come from student fees - might be seen by some as putting some kind of vague UW stamp of approval on the event.
But, of course, Mifflin Street would not happen if it weren't for the UW. The university is the biggest, most important entity in our community and it has a big impact. And I think the UW administration understands it's responsibility here. My hope is that next year we will still have a group of responsible students as we had this year who want to step up, be responsible and do the right thing. If they're there for 2010, the City will be there eager to work with them. And by then I hope that all involved will have done their due diligence and be ready to join the students and the City in making this a better event for everyone.