Madison has lately been taken of a need to tear down and build up, slowly altering its picturesque skyline so that it's gone a little less sleek and low and a little more big and tall. I'm not of a mind that all change and development is bad. Sometimes, to really revitalize a neighborhood and/or a city, fresh ideas and modern amenities are needed. But I believe in balance, including when it comes to development. Progress, after all, shouldn't be measured only by our ability to tear down old things and replace them with something entirely new and different.
Yet our city's historic neighborhoods face this exact mentality. The most recent example can be found in the area surrounding James Madison Park, where Apex Enterprises is working to construct new apartment/condo buildings. At a meeting with the neighborhood last weekend, their architect unveiled several different proposals for what might be done. One has a giant glass behemoth seemingly enveloping the historic Lamp House. Another splits the building in two, on either side of the house. A third proposes that the home be moved all together to make room for a narrower tower.
As Brenda Konkel laid out in her blog, these proposals also call for the demolition of several (eight at last count) other historic homes in the neighborhood.
I recognize that not every old home in the city can be saved once it reaches a certain level of disrepair. It's a shame, but it happens. But I also recognize that, here in the US, we are often far too quick to decide that, simply because a structure is over 50 years old, it should be razed to make way for something new. New isn't always better, though, especially when it fails to take into account the very attributes that make a particular neighborhood unique.
The James Madison Park area is what it is because of the large grouping of older houses it contains, access to and views of the lake, and its residential feel. Plunking a giant apartment or condo building into the middle of that would be like wedging an oversize foot into a tiny glass slipper.
Plus, do we really need more condo towers right now when so many of the recently built ones are still somewhat, if not mostly, vacant? And can Apex truly afford another private development when they're already working on several other large projects? These are honest questions that deserve serious consideration, I think.
I have to believe there are developers and architects out there with a better idea of how to integrate new ideas/buildings into older neighborhoods and landscapes. The notion of infill is important if we want to keep outlying land available for farming and plain old greenspace and avoid sprawl. But infill at the cost of the destruction of our city's history, aesthetic, and soul? Count me out.