It should have escaped no one's attention that Madison mounts the official celebration of its sesquicentennial (the fancy way of saying 150) this weekend. (For details of the celebratory activities, see the ad on page 14 or, as always, "The Guide.") Yes, that original collection of politicos, fledgling bureaucrats, machers and the ordinary folks attracted by all the activity had their settlement recognized as a true city in 1856.
To us relatively short-lived humans, 150 years seems like a long time. But in the scale of cities, we're still in our formative years. Detroit, for instance, celebrated its tercentennial five years ago. Philadelphia, for the record, dates from 1646. New York started out as New Amsterdam in 1613. And that's just in what is referred to as the New World. We've got some growing up to do. Which is why Isthmus, in its continuing series of stories related to our 150th, features our steward of municipal activity, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, talking about the future in this week's cover story, "Madison 2131."
It's three articles really. In "2131," Cieslewicz speculates about what he terms hopes rather than predictions. He is witty, self-deprecating and plausible in his suppositions, mixing streetcars, socialism and high-rises in describing a prosperous, exciting and vibrant (to use an overused term) Madison of the future. Not that we aren't those things today, but it's encouraging that he does not see that changing.
In his companion piece, "What Madison Can Be," the mayor offers eight ways we of today can achieve his vision for 2131. His guideposts, you will find, are grounded in the civic issues of the day, relevant to debates that are currently being waged or that will be presently. He does us a service, to my mind, in giving context to the question of where we should go from here.
His final contribution is in the guise of Cieslewicz as urban philosopher. "Why Cities Matter" is his rumination on the value of the urban experience. You can tell he did not grow up on the farm. Few of us have anymore, and fewer of us will in the future. That may be dismaying to some, but it is the reality, and reality for the most part is what we make it.
Mayor Cieslewicz's contribution to Isthmus is not our only genuflection to Madison 150 in our pages this week. Our arts feature, by Madison native son Jay Rath, takes us on a tour of extant architecture that dates to 1856, and even earlier. It's not a comprehensive list, but it is a mighty fine representation, all the way back to the omnipresent Indian effigy mounds, some of which are better than 2,800 years old. I don't think they have anything that old in New York, Philadelphia or Detroit.