The Year Gone By
December 30, 2009 9:12 AM
It was a year dominated everywhere by the economy and Madison was no exception. But while we need to consider the economy first, a lot more happened and much of it was positive.
It's starting to look as if we have weathered the depths of the recession and a slow recovery is setting in. At the community level, unemployment is still too high, but a recent business survey found increased optimism about profits and hiring in 2010. At the city government level, we got through this tough budget without cutting any basic services. In fact, we'll add a new paramedic unit and increase our crime and gang prevention team next year.
We made the decision to move ahead on a badly needed new Central Library, putting people to work and getting it built at a time of historically low construction costs. It's a building that should serve our community for generations.
The biggest setback to labor and to our business climate was the apparent defeat of the Edgewater Hotel project. Hundreds of jobs, a million more dollars in annual tax revenue, rehab of the historic tower, and much better public access to Lake Mendota weren't enough to generate a super-majority of the Common Council. However, the last chapter of this story has yet to be written, since the Common Council is set to reconsider its vote on January 5.
The state gave us authority to create a new Regional Transit Authority, a goal of our region for decades. Not only will the RTA finally make Madison Metro a truly regional service, but it will vastly improve workforce transportation as we recover from the recession. But none of that can happen until we get new funding through a referendum.
Even before the RTA gets going, this past year saw the biggest increase in service for Madison Metro bus riders in over a decade thanks to a hard fought fare increase. While 90% of bus services across the country increased fares and/or cut service, Madison increased fares and added service.
Crime is down 10% from last year. This continues a trend that began a decade ago. Crime is even lower today than it was in the mid-90s when Madison was singled out as the best city in America. That doesn't mean we don't have problems and I won't be satisfied until the entire city is and feels safe, but let's not be afraid to tell the good news about the citywide statistics.
Once a national embarrassment, Halloween in Madison is now cause for celebration again. Since we made the decision to turn the annual disturbance into Freakfest, net taxpayer costs and arrests are both down 90% and there's reason to think that we can break even soon.
Speaking of breaking even, in its third year of operation the Goodman Pool did exactly that. This is an important accomplishment since few municipal pools operate without a subsidy. Credit Parks Superintendent Kevin Briski and his administration for making tough decisions that led to this outcome.
Once the toughest neighborhood in Madison, Allied Drive continues its resurgence. The first phase of the City's Community Development Authority rebuilding of the neighborhood is in its final stages. The street is repopulating without losing its affordability and without a return to the high crime rates of the past.
Also in the spirit of renaissance and turning our liabilities into assets, take a look at the revitalized Villager Mall on Park Street. A new library, four times the size of the old one, will open next year, the Urban League's new offices will be housed above it and the mall itself has had an exciting new facelift.
All of this took some patience, planning and perseverance. Most of all it took the belief that we could solve our problems. After all, there was a time when Halloween looked like an intractable mess, when a new Central Library looked like a pipe dream, when the RTA appeared dead in the water, when Allied Drive seemed like it would just continue to spiral downward, when it seemed we would resign ourselves to subsidizing our pool, and when our bus system seemed mired in a cycle of service cuts.
In every case, we did things that were controversial to break the logjams. Many of these things were unpopular at the time they were proposed and few of them looked like good politics to me, but we fought through them, got the policies in place and the results have been good.
Next time we'll look ahead to 2010.