Downtown Madison, WI

Madison’s Downtown comprises the State Capitol and the oldest residential neighborhoods of Madison. Collectively Downtown is also referred to as the Capitol Neighborhoods as it is in reality more of a quilt of several smaller districts that independently grew into a larger Downtown neighborhood. I expand the Capitol Neighborhoods District a bit for this evaluation to include almost everything between Blair and Park Avenue.  In the SE quadrant is the First Settlement, the oldest part of Madison first settled in 1837. The western half is call Miffland & Bassett, an area famous for its counter-cultural revolution in the 60s & 70s now an interesting mixed-use district. Abutting the University and along Lake Mendota is the State-Langdon District, home to many great historic mansions and many early 20th revival bldgs now owned by many fraternities & sororities. In the Northeast quadrant is the Mansion Hill District, which contains some wonderfully preserved mid-late 19th century housing but also feeds right to the Capitol Building.

Downtown Madison is perhaps the best mid-sized Downtown in American. This is mostly thanks to its great density, and mixed-use character that feeds seamlessly into the historic part of the University of Wisconsin via State Street, a vibrant pedestrian mall converted in 1974. The Dwtn is also designed with an elevated State House forming its heart with diagonal streets coming off its corners and cutting through Dwtn. Dwtn’s fabric is also unhindered by any freeways helping it to preserve most of its urban fabric and contains great retail, cultural, and recreational amenities. Dwtn  boasts a great array of housing diversity (esp. rental) while still being a major employment center. Some small areas that Downtown could improve upon include housing more walkable schools, which could attract more families. There are also some autocentric stretches/surface lots along Washington Blvd and the First Settlement subdistrict that could use better infill. These areas are also a bit sparse with retail amenities.

Click to view my Downtown album, my State-Langdon album and my Mansion Hill album on Flickr


* This is one of the most dense and populated Downtown’s in America( only New York and Chicago have more dense Downtowns). Very impressive especially for a City of Madison’s size. It is twice as dense as the second most dense mid-sized metro (Lancaster).
* Thanks to several leafy residential pockets Downtown Madison has solid tree canopy for a Downtown.
* Madison has good public transit throughout Dwtn and the inner city neighborhood and decent access to the new parts of the City. Ok to poor service in the suburbs.
* Madison has no interstate highways that penetrated Dwtn and the inner City. Instead one must exist I-90 and I-94 and drive in for 15 minutes on the east side or take route 14-18 that loop south  of the Downtown. This is certainly the ideal in my opinion as it provides decent auto access to Dwtn but keeps it in tact.
* Well gridded Dwtn with the addition of 4 diagonals radiating from the capitol bldgs. Dwtn does well at avoiding wide streets but its maze of one-way streets can be rather confusing.
* Excellent bike infrastructure including great bike lane connectivity throughout most of the City and into the suburbs and dedicated bike stations within almost all of the pre WWII neighborhoods.
* Excellent racial and economic diversity from residents living here.
* Lots of rental supply and diversity. Tons of studios and 1-beds that lease btwn $800-2K, 2-beds lease btwn the low 1Ks-low 2Ks, lots of 3-beds leasing btwn the low 1Ks to mid 2Ks and even some 4 beds btwn the mid 1Ks to 4K. There also appears to be a fair amount of dedicated affordable hsg dwtn.
* Decent amount and diversity of for-sale housing too with 1-bed condos selling btwn 200K-500K, 2-beds sell btwn 300K-1M, and a good number of 3 & 4 beds for a dwtn selling btwn 400K- the low 1Ms.
* Solid park amenities including lots of lake front parks, several attractive plazas throughout dwtn, Alumni Park and Library mall near Dwtn, the UW recreational center, and the well activated Capitol Square, a strong civic heart.
* Excellent cultural amenities including tons of food beverage bizs, good # of art galleries, several live music venues, theaters, and night clubs, a indie theater, several quality museums, and all the University of Wisc. Cultural amenities.. For regional amenities the City has a decent convention center, a couple sports arenas (UW).
* Tons of government jobs dwtn with both city and state offices concentrated here. About 50K jobs in Dwtn Madison.
* Great retail amenities including a target, a couple supermarkets, a DGX, a couple drug stores, plenty of banks, plenty of clothing stores gift shops, and home good stores, a bookstore, a hardware store, tons of dessert joint & Gyms, Dwtn Library & post office.


* Generational diversity is rather poor due to the overwhelming college age/young adults living in the Capitol Neighborhoods District.
* Only one walkable elementary school within the Dwtn area. A couple good schools in neighboring districts but not really walkable to Dwtn.
* Retail amenities are a bit light in the First Settlement and Mansion Hill Districts.
* As nothing is taller than the State Capital building not a striking skyline in Madison, although I respect the City’s decision to do this. I actually don’t mind the mid-rise skyline this has created allowing the capital building to shine.
* Generally excellent form throughout Madison but a good amount of autocentric uses along Washington Avenue and some surface parking lots in the First Settlement area. Not surprisingly this is also where the dead spots are Dwtn.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s