In his superb book about the early history of Chicago, City of the Century, Donald Miller powerfully described the essence of cities.
"A city's greatness," Miller wrote, "is the result of an uneasy balance between order and energy, planning and privatism, diversity and conformity, vice and reform, art and enterprise, high culture and low culture, the smart and the shabby, the permanent and the temporary. Interesting cities are places of stimulating disparity and moral conflict where crudity and commerce are often accompanied by memorable advances in the arts. And like Aristotle's Athens, a city of filthy streets, chaotic markets, and scandalous sanitary facilities, they specialize in the making and the remaking of interesting human beings."
A proper city is not proper. A city that is doing its job is filled with exciting conflict and contradictions. It is sometimes breathtakingly beautiful but not always pretty. Good cities vibrate with their contradictions, they pulse and flow. Some buildings get torn down while others are preserved. Good design lives next-door to bad. Good cities are not one thing, which is good because one thing, even a good thing, is boring. A successful city attracts, but more important, it makes and remakes interesting human beings.
In the last analysis, the test of a good city is not how perfect it is, but how well its imperfections make it interesting. In the end, I hope that in 25 years Madison will still be a place that has all the clutter and happy chaos of a real household, a place where you can kick off your shoes, wade in the lake, and think, "I'm home."