Who's going to Madison?

So your standard collection of straight white male* honchos from across Orange County (Foy, Chilton, Jacobs, Moeser) and their friends are inviting community leaders to come on a trip with them to Madison, Wisconsin. The Inter-City Visit and Leadership Conference costs over $1,000 per person, but there are scholarships available.

The Madison Trip offers the opportunity to learn about how their community leaders are balancing environmental protection, social objectives and economic development opportunities. Specifically, we hope to learn more about:

  • The development and operation of their current research park and how they are planning their new park that is currently concept planning stages;
  • How Madison is maintaining and enhancing its downtown and how they have integrated a new performing arts facility;
  • How they are addressing workforce housing and their process for adopting their inclusionary zoning ordinance and how its working; and
  • Their town/university relationships and their creative approaches to increasing cooperation.

- http://madison2006.com

What do y'all think? Are you going? Would you like to?

* Some of my best friends are straight white males.



I am eagerly participating in this trip, at my own expense (as are many of the participants). The kind of experiential learning that occurs with an intercity visit simply cannot be replicated through any other type of learning process--it reminds me a bit of cultural anthropology field work-----the "participant observer" model. Just think back to a semester abroad or how going away to college transformed your thinking and multiply that kind of new insight by 70 or even more----the number of our community members who will probably go to Madison.

It's not just what we learn from our partner city--it's also what we learn by spending extended periods of time with our fellow travelers, many of whom may not be people we talk to a lot when we're back home.

Check out the www.madison2006 website and you will see what past visits to other communities have contributed to our own. The UNC Arts Common, including the redevelopment of Memorial Hall, the Community Design Commission, the DownTown Partnership, and seeds of the Orange Community Housing and Land Trust all came from previous inter-city visits.

Madison is a community with many parallels to Chapel Hill. We will no doubt walk away with a number of new ideas about dealing with some of our community's concerns, as well as how to best capitalize on some of our community's assets. I am sure we will also have some 'attaboy" moments when we re-affirm choices we have already made for our communities.

I participated in--from the other side--a similar trip when President Clinton sent a team of government officials and business leaders to South Africa in 1998 to learn more about potential trade and economic investment opportunities. I was living there at the time and was asked by the US Embassy to help host a luncheon for Jessie Jackson, Bob Johnson (of BET), Carla Hills , US Trade Representative, Maceo Sloan, a Durham businessman, and several other US businesspeople who had an interest in doing business in and with South Africa. In a week, those people learned and saw more about what was "possible" than in a year of meetings held in Washington.

Many of the participants said that they could not have understood those possibilities through any other type of learning process---they needed to BE THERE to really get it.

I think if you go to Madison, you'll get it. I invite all of you to join me!

Anita wrote:

"It's not just what we learn from our partner city–it's also what we learn by spending extended periods of time with our fellow travelers"

"Fellow travelers?!" I knew this was a lefty town, but honestly...


Going on a junket to establish a baseline measurement (or comparative analysis) might be a decent motive - it's a typical business activity.

And it might be valuable, as Anita says, because "it's also what we learn by spending extended periods of time with our fellow travelers, many of whom may not be people we talk to a lot when we're back home."

My concern is transparency. If those "fellow travelers" (Anita, was that a tongue-in-cheek reference) are folks with business before Council, say a RAM representative, it's incumbent on our incumbents to report on their contacts and maybe even their conversations. For instance, using a hypothetical, if the Mayor makes a proposal whose genesis was a conversation with a business representative on this taxpayer funded junket, I'd expect him to highlight that fact. Sure, there's backroom smoozing going on in town already (and a troubling rise in the amount of "friends of Town" dealings), but the out-of-town experience seems to exacerbate the problem (ask clients of Abramoff ;-) ).

Back to the substance of the trip, let's hope Council learns a bit from Madison's efforts to deploy Wifi. Madison's motives are fairly good:

The city of Madison wants the Wi-Fi network for economic reasons, "including reduced costs, new revenue opportunities, economic development, and enhanced service capabilities," according to the RFP, part of a "Healthy City" initiative from Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. "This is an important new service for Madison residents and businesses," Cieslewicz says.

Wifi Planet

but they aren't complete - with the "digital divide" issue on the rear-burner.

The business model, heavily weighted private ownership and control with little provisions for driving costs down and service up, is also a non-starter.

Still, there's lessons to be learned from their experience which I hope our elected folk will take a moment to learn.

I've applied for a scholarship to attend the Madison trip as a nonprofit human services representative and hope that some of my nonprofit colleagues have also applied. I'd relish learning about Madison and also having time with the SWM business community. The Chamber of Commerce has made efforts to involve nonprofit agencies in Chamber activities in acknowledgement that nonprofits are a big part of what makes the community what it is.

The Center for Digital Government holds an annual Digital Cities competition based on "how city governments are utilizing information technology to operate and deliver quality service to their customers and citizens." For 2004 Madison was the 4th place finisher among towns with a population of 125,000-249,999. The 2005 awards have not yet been published.

Like Will, I hope that at least some of the individuals who go on this trip will focus on what it is Madison is doing, how they do it, how they fund it, and their plans for the future.

And let's hope Council doesn't learn to follow Madison's lead on TIFs (tax incremental funding) for mega-millions ($190+) downtown redevelopment projects!

I agree, Will. And kudos to Mark Kleinschmidt for recognizing that TIFs don't use "free money."


I actually predicted RAM would turn to TIFs last year. Unfortunately, it appears some on Council (maybe hellbent on the development getting done - even on the public's dime) seem predisposed to approving a TIF.

The justifications for the RAM development, the public utility of it, are already heavily compromised. The parking lot issue, to anyone familiar with construction downtown, was completely predictable. RAM's timing in proposing a mega-condo proposal for Hillsborough St. , coming during this critical phase of the downtown development negotiations, is troubling - the Mayor's blaise response even moreso.

I've bit my tongue hoping some good will come of this project but TIF is a bridge too far.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the final straw.

The downtown redevelopment projects have been considered for TIFF financing since 2004 and Mark K has always been opposed:

Terri, TIFs for Lots #2/5 were taken off the table 09/27/04.

I predicted TIFs would reappear as "reality" set in on this project.

Interesting comment from that night:

Former Council member and UNC Planning Professor Emeritus David Godschalk stated that he was "constructively skeptical" of the proposed project. He questioned whether citizens truly understand the scale of it and if those who had been working with it fully grasp the potential contingencies of the financing plan and its associated assumptions. Mr. Godschalk noted that he had supported "Rosemary Square" several years ago. He wondered where those who had thought that project was too big had gone. Rosemary Square would have been much smaller than the project under discussion tonight, he pointed out.

Mr. Godschalk advised Council members to address the traffic impacts. He asked if market studies had taken other "relatively optimistic" market studies into account, such as that for Carrboro. Mr. Godschalk pointed out that stormwater management issues would arise. He expressed concern about the appearance of the buildings, describing them as bulky, institutional, and "non-Chapel Hillian." There had not been an overall plan for the entire downtown, Mr. Godschalk said, adding that a good planner would look at the whole small area.

I won't be on the trip, but I hope those who are going can learn the details of how conservatives on the City Council, in alliance with homebuilders and real estate interets were able to kill Madison's Inclusionary Zoning ordinance. My brief review of some articles on-line seem to indicate their failure to incorporate developer interests into the process of crafting the ordinance in the first place. Moreover, it seems that Chapel Hill, because of our long-standing concern about affordable housing, spent significantly more time working with the development community and demonstrating how everyone can benefit from affordable housing being integrated into every development. Maybe we have something to teach them about this issue.

Interesting, Mark!

I'm going to apply to go to Madison. I think I can do it if I get a partial scholarship and use frequent flyer miles to keep the cost down. It's funny that I get paid to go to conferences for work all the time, but this one is not related to my job and I will actually have to take days off at my own expense to attend.

Scholarship applications are due tomorrow. Last I heard, they still had space so get those applications in, folks! http://www.madison2006.com/madison/scholarship.html

Y'all ought to visit this fabled land of Madison during the depths of it's Winter. I can deal with almost any amount of bs in pleasant weather. And civic bs is the reason for the 'Voyage' right?

Glad you could decipher my last post through all the typos.

Sorry about that folks.

When my wife and I were deciding to relocate from Mountain View, CA, we did just that.

It is one of the reasons we struck Madison from the list. Same thing with Ithaca, although that was based on testimony from a nephew who lived there.


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