Monday, January 14, 2008

The conundrum of Allied Drive

For many years now, Madison has struggled to both recognize and deal with the problems facing the Allied Drive neighborhood. The area of housing between Verona Rd. on the west and Seminole Hwy on the east has been described as everything from "troubled" to "the ghetto of Madison," though I think the latter phrase is a gross overstatement. Still, the neighborhood has been somewhat plagued by violent crime, drug offenses, gang activity and tends to be populated by mostly lower income and Section 8 renters.

Part of the problem seems to be downtown Madison's unwillingness to acknowledge the problems that face Allied Dr., at least until fairly recently. Fitchburg, the "city"* against which the neighborhood borders closely, especially seems to want nothing to do with it. It's gone so far as to refuse to support connecting a road between the neighborhood and Fitchburg, as was originally asked for in the multi-million dollar city of Madison redevelopment plan. Some folks have even gone so far as to accuse Fitchburg of "elitism and racism" because of it, and as inclined as I am to agree, that really does remain to be seen.

It has been interesting to watch the redevelopment plan unfold, both from the rosy-hued perspective of the city government and from the more reasoned point of view of the residents.

While the redevelopment plan's focus appears to lie primarily on creating Section 8 housing, residents are calling for more focus on a wide-variety of housing and, perhaps even more importantly, programs in the area that offer economic and cultural opportunities and things like job training (Paul Soglin has made some good arguments to this effect). Plus, there remains the hard fact that many families don't even qualify for Section 8. Where would these people go once they're forced out of the neighborhood by that filter?

In the end, shouldn't we be working to diversify our neighborhoods? Instead of packing nothing but low-income residents into one area, might it be more helpful to offer affordable housing in various places all over the city? Cloistering these folks into one or two specific zones smacks of isolationism and fear that their very presence in your neighborhood might lower property values or bring in the criminal element. Which is a little bit reactionary and bigoted, don't you think?

I don't think anyone would argue that Allied Dr. doesn't need help. The problem lies in figuring out just what kinds of projects and strategies would be most effective in achieving that goal. Listening more closely to the people who actually live in the neighborhood would help, and considering adding more than just housing, and one kind of housing at that, is crucial, too. But you have to make sure everyone has a place to live, instead of just undercutting what's there now and not providing alternatives.

*Downtown Fitchburg - it's a state of mind!


Pilot said...

Hear Hear! As a resident of neighboring Dunn's Marsh, it would be fantastic to see a diversification of the Allied Drive neighborhood. I'm all for increasing the amount of owner occupied units, and creating more housing options in the area... although considering the current crisis in the mortgage biz, it could be trickier for lower income folks to acquire the required financing. Frankly, I'd also like to see the whole region between Verona Road, Seminole, Fitchburg, and the beltline develop more neighborhood friendly business and services... there's a lot of nice walkable spaces... and it ties in with the cap city loop trail.

I guess gentrification is always a threat, but with creative thought and design I think Madison could really make an effort to blend this city more than it is.

I'd love to see the plans regarding the Fitchburg access road. I'm a bit confused, since currently there is already a route between Allied Drive and Seminole, which cuts directly through a Fitchburg neighborhood. So, technically, Fitchburg is already hosting traffic from Allied. Perhaps what the new plan is referring to is cut across the old railroad line to the south of Allied all the way to PD.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing on this topic - great post and great prospective!

Thurman said...


The Lost Albatross