One of the first impressions many visitors to Madison receive is the view of the capital across Lake Monona from John Nolen Drive.
Now, a coalition of city and private organizations are considering how to transform and revitalize this iconic waterfront, with goals of better connecting downtown Madison with the Lake Monona waterfront and encouraging recreation.
Image Caption: A booth at last Thursday’s public event promoting the Lake Monona Waterfront development challenge
There are three designs to choose from, each from a different contractor. Last Thursday, those contractors unveiled their proposal to redevelop John Nolen Drive. I spoke with each of the teams about their vision.
Anna Cawrse, a spokesperson for the international company Sasaki, described the considerations which went into the design process for their proposal.
“One of the first things to note is that the lakefront is extremely hard to get to. So we need to figure out ways to improve intersections, to improve access, and then once you’re on the lake we want to ensure that it is really a waterfront for everyone, whether you’re six months old or ninety-nine years old, we want to make sure that there’s different opportunities for people to engage in the water,” Cawrse said.
A key focus of Sasaki’s design proposal is on environmental impact and restoration. Cawrse described what that would look like.
“This was an invited competition, we were shortlisted, one of three firms, and our proposal really takes a big look at what ecology means for Lake Monona. Really restoring a water’s edge first and foremost to ensure that as stormwater comes on, we’re cleaning the water before it goes into lake Monona, and then we’re layering in recreation, and programming, and different activities and amenities,” Cawrse said.
But that’s not all. Weaving through this restored ecosystem are a series of trails and elevated canopy walkways where Madison residents can walk, run, and bike surrounded by nature.
“Anything from beer gardens to adventure playgrounds to quiet moments that are really an opportunity to be respectful of where you are in nature,” Cawrse said.
The next proposal comes from Agency Landscape and Planning, a women-owned architectural firm. Here’s Gina Ford, one of the co-founders of the company.
“Our proposal basically has three fundamental principles. One is really thinking about restoration of a living shoreline, a green and blue shoreline for Lake Monona for these two miles. Secondly to really think about safe modes of travel for all, so separated bike paths and pedestrian ways, especially a boardwalk along the water. And then third these three ‘districts’ that really offer lots of different kinds of programs appropriate to their context. So a signature urban park at Monona Terrace, a nature-engaged journey along the causeway, and then a community park at Olin Park,” Ford said.
I asked Ford about why Agency decided to design three districts.
“This is a really big area, one-point-seven miles shouldn’t be all the same, and this site, this one-point-seven mile long stretch touches the downtown, it crosses the lakes with the causeway and the rail lines, and then it ends at Olin Park. And so each of those areas really has a different set of needs, community needs, different set of context, different kinds of opportunities and constraints. And so it’s a helpful planning tool for us to think about districts that say different areas need different kinds of responses,” Ford explained.
Last, but not least, is the proposal from James Corner Field Operations of New York. Architect Sarah Astheimer shared the inspiration behind their proposal.
“Well, our proposal is called ‘The Wild Lakeshore,’ and it really is about stewardship of the land. Building on legacies and centuries of stewardship of this incredible place. We’re envisioning the lakeshore to be transformed into a soft, thick, shoreline, a resilient shoreline, that really works to improve water quality in the lake,” Astheimer said.
This Wild Lakeshore would have a series of four piers, each with a different character. There would be a pier for recreational activities for families, like beaches and barbeque spots, a pier for fishing near Monona Terrace, a pier north of the capital to expand access to the shore beyond the John Nolen area, and a nature center pier near Olin Park.
“We’re proposing development at Olin Park to be one of the first phases. A place for families, for people to bring their children, a place that’s free, welcoming, and promotes nature education,” said Astheimer.
Image Caption: Members of the public review design proposals and talk with contractor spokespeople
The full proposals and last week’s recorded presentations are online at the City of Madison Parks Division website, and available in person at the central office for the Parks Division.
The next public Q and A meeting is in three weeks, on Thursday, February 23. That meeting will be virtual, and you can register online here. The committee will meet in March to decide on a final proposal, which will be presented to the city council in August.
You can share your thoughts in an online survey which can be found on both the City of Madison Parks Division website, and on the Friends of Monona Waterfront website. The survey closes on March 23.
Reporting for WORT news, I’m Erin Ashley.
Image Courtesy: Erin Ashley / WORT