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Thursday, October 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Daily
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Citizen Dave: New Urbanism conference explores cities and vegetables
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The Congress for New Urbanism is in town. The CNU is an organization of architects, planners, developers, public officials and others dedicated to the idea that we can build better, greener and more pleasant places to live than what has passed for the standard American subdivision of the last half century or so.

New urbanist developments are walkable, bikable, mixed-use places where you can walk to the corner store, greet your neighbor in her garden or on her porch. Places where the kids might safely walk or bike to school.

The CNU has an annual conference and this year it's right here at Monona Terrace. It was a coup for us to get it as the organizers usually pick much bigger cities.

Every CNU conference has a theme and this one is "Growing Local," playing off Madison's strong local foods movement. The focus is on the relationship of the natural world to the built environment.

You may have enjoyed a bike ride today on our miles of paved county and town roads. Unlike most rural states, virtually every road in Wisconsin is paved and that's a product of a very conscious decision made right here at the University of Wisconsin. In the late 19th century, UW scientists concluded that it would be wise to convert Wisconsin to a dairy state from a wheat state.

It was UW scientists who saw that the rolling hills of Wisconsin were better suited to dairying than wheat. And the roads needed to be paved to make sure that milk trucks could get to every farm every day even in the mud of March. In a very real sense, the daily needs of cows drove the development of Wisconsin's early transportation infrastructure.

This is a very direct example of how topography and climate influences land use. It's no accident that on Saturday you'll experience the largest producer-only farmers market in the nation right here around our Capitol Square. It's in large part because our rich farmland is linked easily to south central Wisconsin's major population center by all those good, paved roads.

And those truck farmers flourish -- as much as any farmers flourish these days -- thanks to their proximity to a population of 225,000 Madisonians, a high percentage of which are willing to pay $3 for a single tomato. We practice conspicuous vegetable consumption here in Madison. But it is a symbiotic relationship between rich farmland, skilled farmers and a relatively affluent market connected easily by a network of good country roads.

So a healthy relationship between city and farm is one in which city folk appreciate their three dollar tomato and farmers appreciate the chance to sample the diversity of city life. I'd say we've got that relationship down better then just about any place in America right now.

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