One thing you get to do when you visit different cities is eat. And these days, anybody who doesn't get the explosion of interest in food doesn't get cities.
That's why Madison College's idea to move their culinary school back downtown is such a great idea, and it's why we should think about that block as a location for a new city public market.
In New York and Toronto last week, I got to visit two places that made me feel even more strongly that Madison has to build a public market, and soon.
In Manhattan, Dianne and I made two visits to Eataly, a temple for all foods (and wines) Italian in the shadow of the Flatiron Building on 23rd and Broadway. Opened a couple of years ago by chef Mario Bataly and friends, Eataly is essentially like a privately operated public market that's focused solely on Italian cuisine. There are areas to sample cheese, pork, pasta, fish, baked goods, and more. And, of course, at every stop you can try just the right Italian wine to go along with your food. On the days we were there, it was packed, even in mid-afternoon.
In Toronto, we visited the St. Lawrence Market, which is closer to the model that would be right for Madison. Bread, fresh fish, produce of all kinds, beef and pork, pasta, coffee, pastriesâ€¦ it was all there in an atmosphere that was like the Dane County Farmers' Market on Capitol Square, but year-round and sheltered by a roof.
My point is that progressive cities do certain things to stay competitive in the game to attract the creative talent that builds jobs in the new economy. They ban smoking in bars and restaurants. (We have.) They have bike sharing systems and aggressive bike commuting programs. (We do.) And they have public markets. (We don't and so we're falling behind.)
Right now we don't even have a location for a public market picked out. We had one as part of my "public market square" concept at the site of the current Government East ramp, but Mayor Soglin rejected that one.
Well, OK, no site is perfect. It doesn't have to be there. But let's end our community hesitation on this. Maybe in partnership with MATC's culinary school and with a private sector entrepreneur like Tim Metcalfe, let's get a public market built in Madison within two years.