A McDonald’s and a Pierce’s frame the dull lot here on Northport Drive, barn like stores stand upon the slate of tarmac and concrete. “Welcome to Madison’s Northside” says one plaque, two ducks flapping off into a faded paint sky.
Trees form a brownish wall of distant foliage in the horizon facing west off down Sherman Avenue. A Rocky Rococo’s, a gas station, some warehouse-like stores and a Macdonald’s all line the business area. There’s a small library further inside the plaza, and down along the road, a large ballpark is home to a surprisingly modern community centre. Facing east are houses, as well as churches.
The Warner Park Community Centre offers a centre for town in this haphazard array. Northport at the opening of the Northside, with its stores and ample parking spaces, its apartments and its condo, seems less a neighbourhood than it does a collection of different types of house: a self-contained condo, brown apartments, and traditional suburban homes with their front yards and mailboxes.
That the Northside is ‘boring’, ‘backwards’ and that ‘nothing is happening’, are ideas that have been faced here by Alderwoman Satya Rhodes Conway, who believes that supporting local business will help correct. The alderwoman feels that an interest in small jobs will help raise the calibre of the community.
“Small and local businesses is where job creation happens” explains Conway, “we as a city need to support local business- buying local, not just by consumers but by other businesses”. As for a general neighbourhood ethos, the residents of East Bluff throw cold water on the ‘backwards’ neighbourhood suggestion. Take for example, East Bluff.
The East Bluff Condominium- with its terraced green gates and flat rooves is composed of singles living alone, young families, middle aged and elderly, and a number of different races. ‘We’re replacing the rooves on our condominiums’, explains Association President, Fernando Cano. A series of swing sets and rocking metal play seats are spotted throughout the grounds, as is a noticeboard which holds a recycling calendar and an advertisement for a local day-care.
Board meeting times can be found on the condo website. Terrie Anderson, member of the Northside Planning Council, mentioned the ‘Civic-mindedness’ which existed in her neighbourhood, and which was visible in the work of the Northside Planning Council. One event organised by that council during the last week of February, an Alderperson and Mayoral nomination night, attracted a large number of residents, who met to discuss the effect of infrastructure changes, crime reduction and environmental improvements in the Northside. All residents were engaged and excited, in spite of bigger State issue happening at this time, which might have distracted them.
However, neighbourhood life isn’t perfect. ‘We’re a little Oasis…we’re nothing like the apartments next door’ explained East Bluff resident, Fernando, in one telling moment. The Northport apartments next door are known for crime. “At night people walking in the park might have something happen to them”, Fernando said about the neighbourhood’s past and the ongoing reputation. He also mentioned car-break ins. It wasn’t the first evidence of crime in the area. At the Northport Drive gas station a policewoman walked in breathing hard, “A couple of kids!” the lady at the counter told her, who went on to explain what had happened. Another robbing and she was unhappy. A sense of community probably isn’t helped by such crime. ‘If kids feel like the community isn’t supporting them they might start acting up’ said Fernando.
The work of the East Bluff Condominium association, as well as that of community groups like the Northside Planning Council, Warner Park Community centre, and Sherman avenue United Methodist Church, offer a reality of community improvement about which greater Madison, myself included, are doubtful or just indifferent. The Community Centre is especially modern and attractive, and while bingo for the old aged mightn’t be the best way to engage the young, places like this are already in a good place to start.