What’s unique about Madison, Wisconsin? Those who’ve been here know what a fun little Midwestern city it is, but newbies will soon discover its unconventional charm. With a city population of about 258,000, and a metropolitan area population of about 660,000, Madison is the second-largest city in Wisconsin, following Milwaukee. You’ll have to visit Madison to experience it firsthand, but here are 10 distinguishing things to get you started:
“77 square miles surrounded by reality”: While the phrase reflects residents’ liberal leanings, this nickname is embraced by people of all political persuasions. It’s also come to signify the lovable quirkiness of the city, itself.
College town charm: Students dominate the population near campus—total enrollment at UW-Madison in Fall 2018 was 44,411. While there are fewer students living in Madison during the summer, they’re a vital presence year-round. Because Madison is a college town, downtown restaurants, shops, and community events cater to students, faculty, and staff (and tourists).
State Street: To truly experience the personality of Madison, take a walk down State Street. Only pedestrians, buses, emergency vehicles, delivery vehicles, and bikes are allowed here. State Street connects the Capitol Square with the UW-Madison campus, and it’s lined with unique shops, restaurants, and other businesses.
The isthmus: Downtown Madison is literally flanked on two sides by two large lakes—Mendota and Monona. At its narrowest, the land width is just over half a mile. The central business district, the Capitol, and almost all the downtown area are located within the isthmus.
Five lakes: In addition to Lakes Mendota and Monona, which border the isthmus, two other lakes—Waubesa and Kegonsa—combine in a chain to surround the city and suburbs with fresh water. The Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) people called this place “land of the four lakes.” A fifth lake, Wingra, connects with the others through a creek.
More parks per capita: Madison has 6,431 acres of park space—13.5% of the total city area. The city has more parks per capita than any other city, at 12.7 parks per 10,000 residents. In 2017, the city’s parks were ranked ninth out of the 100 largest cities, by the Trust for Public Land.
Bike paths everywhere: Truly, they are everywhere, and expanding. You can rent bikes at B-cycle stations. There are bike paths that connect downtown Madison to the surrounding communities, and bike paths that connect with city and state parks. To find out more, visit madisonbikes.org.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence: The famous architect was born near Madison, spent much of his childhood here, and attended the university as part of his schooling. Wright designed 32 buildings for the Madison area, and 12 were constructed. Nine still stand today, including the iconic Monona Terrace, which links the shore of Lake Monona to the State Capitol.
The food scene: You can find just about any cuisine in Madison—from amazing food carts to James Beard Award winners, and from diverse ethnic fare to Wisconsin supper clubs. Because Wisconsin is “America’s Dairyland,” expect to find excellent cheeses and cheese-based dishes in many restaurants.
A growing tech center: As of late 2018, the two largest employers in the Madison Metropolitan area were UW-Madison and Epic Systems Corp. The latter is one of the healthcare industry’s leading information technology companies, serving many of the world’s largest hospitals and healthcare systems. Madison, itself, was ranked the top city in the U.S. for tech growth in 2017 and is the only Midwestern city listed in the top 20 for venture capital per capita.
This is just a snapshot of what makes Madison special. Attend the 2020 Fling and you’ll discover it for yourself!