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Madison Considers Deck Park to Reconnect City Center and Waterfront

An ambitious plan for new green space. 

Madison as seen from Lake Monona (Photo by Dori)

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Madison, Wisconsin, is considering a deck park to reconnect the city center with a stretch of waterfront, The Capital Times reports. The plan, dubbed the “Nolen Waterfront Vision,” would add 7 acres to Law Park and stretch from Lake Monona to the Capitol Square.

Currently, the strip of land along the waterfront of Lake Monona is cut off from the city by U.S. Highway 151. In 2014, the city considered moving the highway underground and allowing the park to be at ground level, but that plan proved too expensive. The new plan is named after John Nolen, a landscape architect who designed much of Madison and first floated the idea of opening the waterfront up to the city more than 100 years ago.

The proposed 9-acre park would build a raised deck with both an upper and a lower park over a portion of the urban highway. The upper park, elevated 10 feet over the lower park, would connect with the Monona Terrace Convention Center and have a large gathering space for festivals or other events. The lower park would host gardens, sculpture areas and two mixed-use buildings that could be used for retail, entertainment, restaurants or a rail station.

The plan also includes waterfront improvements, including a boathouse for kayaks, canoes and sailboats, and shallows between the shore and the boardwalk that would treat runoff before it enters the lake.

A rendering of the deck park (Credit: Madison Design Professionals)

The park was designed by the Madison Design Professionals workgroup. Tim Andersen, one of the urban planners who worked on the plan, says the workgroup thinks of the park as a common “living room for Madison.” “We think here all people can come together and feel comfortable,” Anderson says. “It’s important as we plan and program this space that we make sure that it is diverse and it is family-centered and it is open to everyone.”

Next steps for the project include building support for the park among neighborhoods, organizations and the city, studying other decked parks around the country, assessing feasibility and securing funding.

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Kelsey E. Thomas is a writer and editor based in the most upper-left corner of the country. She writes about urban policy, equitable development and the outdoors (but also about nearly everything else) with a focus on solutions-oriented journalism. She is a former associate editor and current contributing editor at Next City.

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Tags: urban designparkswaterfrontsmadison

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