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Tuesday, September 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 64.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Daily
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Jon Becker discusses his run for District 18 in the Madison Common Council
Jon Becker
Jon Becker

Cultural planning and environmentally sensitive neighborhood development are a major priority for Jon Becker, one of the four candidates running to replace outgoing Ald. Paul Van Rooy in Dist. 18 on Madison's north side.

Becker, 53, works as an arts and education consultant. He also serves as the board director and secretary for the Lake View Hills Neighborhood Association, is a task force member with the Dane County Comprehensive Plan, and is a co-organizer for Friends of Cherokee Marsh & Upper Yahara Rivershed. He's lived in the 18th for nearly two years, following another five years on the near east side.

A brief interview follows below.

The Daily Page: What can the city do to support and enhance transit options for District 18 residents?
Becker: A multi-modal transit system that is sustainable and environmentally friendly will best serve the city and the 18th District.

Non-motorized transit
The northside hosts many parks, regional special events, and, soon we hope, the city's second pool. Bicycle commuting to downtown would be possible with a safe off-road bike/hike trail, such as the proposed Sherman Flyer. It earned top funding priority and should be built, connecting to existing commuter trails (and, later, the proposed North Mendota e-way). When Sherman Avenue is rebuilt, it should have bike lanes.

Motorized transit
A UW-Extension Center for Community Economic Development report reveals that some Northside areas have relatively higher proportions of car-less residents. A bus transportation study may reveal the need to increase service frequency or consistency, add routes, or extend service hours.

More seniors are being encouraged to live at home with community-support services, so there may be a need to augment the county-supported North/Eastside Senior Coalition (NESCO) small-vehicle program.

Northside events that draw regional audiences, such as the Mallards games, may benefit from more frequent runs, shuttles, and so on (as subsidized by event organizers). Transit service enhancements may also allow the proposed Warner Park pool to be built with reduced parking infrastructure.

You have considerable experience in arts organizing and education, particularly when it comes to music. What would you do on the council to help the city foster a diverse and vibrant arts and music scene?
I'd continue to advocate for a high-quality cultural plan, likely leading to assembly of start-up funding for a non-governmental arts/cultural council, while retaining the city's current arts staff position and budget.

This is a rare period of opportunity in the region's cultural history. There is a major new downtown facility, its new director, a new-ish Union Theater and opera directors, ongoing UW cultural facility renovations/additions, city/county cultural staff openings, and, a chance to hire an arts-savvy Madison schools superintendent.

Cultural matters will soon be very important, because major ecological challenges such as global warming will require a vast transformation in values. Cultural initiatives can help build quality of life and foster a sustainable community, while preserving democratic ideals and diversifying the economy.

Early in his first term, I encouraged Mayor Cieslewicz to fund a cultural plan. To his credit, some municipal funds have been budgeted. As alder, I'll work for a world-class cultural plan. I've also been working this issue at the county. Recently, language calling for a cultural plan was added to the county's draft comprehensive plan. Because there's little local experience with cultural planning, efforts will initially need to be guided by outside experts.

City/county cultural programs should be maintained (perhaps integrated into one office), but one cultural plan outcome may be a governmental decision to incentivize start-up funding of a Capital Counties Arts Council (CCAC), a regional non-governmental cultural organization that would represent and serve individual artists and small/medium arts organizations, and offer other programs absent here. With creative leadership, the CACC could transform the region's cultural scene.

Do you support a second city pool at Warner Park? If so, what will you do to make it happen?
Yes, if it is a 'green' pool, respecting the park's ecological functions and built to LEED standards for 'net zero' groundwater and energy usage, preferably employing renewable energy. An environmentally-friendly pool may cost a bit more upfront, but reduce operating costs will offset that.

A pool should not add to energy demand, because it will be most in demand on days when energy usage peaks.

The pool, any related buildings or parking facilities should also be considered within a new park master plan that reduces the overall footprint of all the park's built-facilities. Because Warner Park was sited in an area that was once marshland and regularly floods, the goal should as much net impervious surface reduction as possible.

Additional necessary parking facilities should either use the most effective version of porous pavement technology or ground level structures overbuilt with green roofs for storm water runoff management. They could also have other community uses, such as playing fields like those on the Westside Princeton Club's roof, or an Overture-type sculpture garden.

The pool could be operated in way that makes it a positive force toward restoring the quality of our lakes. A small watershed improvement fee could be included in the pool admission price and in a parking facility vehicle entry charge (which would also encourage walking/biking to the pool).

Watershed education could be designed into the facility. The Percent for Art component of this public structure could be used to commission visual art celebratory of the watershed, perhaps incorporating watershed-related interactive learning features that reflect our watershed's history (such as Leopold's writings or Native American mound-builder culture). Pool personnel could be cross-trained as watershed naturalists, providing tours of rain gardens, the park, etc.

Some would like a year-round pool facility, perhaps in a building meeting other community needs. For instance, the northside has one of the highest percentages of seniors in the city, and no team swimming facility. There should be a serious effort to secure the necessary additional funding, or perhaps to design the pool so that enclosure remains a future option, as funding is found.

I've offered my grant-writing expertise to the pool's fundraising Circle of Friends, especially for pursuit of funds that support environment-friendly features. I also have the experience to help plan larger-scale benefit events that use the park or its stadium.

Do you support adding sidewalks to streets, like Troy and Woodward Drive, that currently lack them? Should some areas be left without sidewalks?
If sidewalks aren't necessary, there's no reason to waste energy and other resources building them, while also adding impervious surfaces.

On more heavily traveled roads, if pedestrian safety becomes an issue, sidewalks may be necessary. Porous pavement technology should be employed whenever possible. The city now encourages narrower roads, so it may be possible to construct sidewalks within a road's existing footprint, for a net impervious surface reduction (while also lowering construction/maintenance costs). Or, with respect to existing trees/landscaping, sidewalks could be meandered within the right-of-way.

You emphasize parks and the environment in your campaign, and serve with the Friends of Cherokee Marsh & Upper Yahara Watershed. What is the appropriate level of development around the marsh?
The appropriate level is that which does no harm to the ecological function of the marsh. There's no excuse for damaging the marsh even more than it has been since settlement, threatening the region's lakes and our quality of life.

Generally, the value of the city's remaining undeveloped shorelines and open spaces for the region's ecology and for shared community enjoyment will exceed their development value. Development-generated property tax revenue usually will fall short of the costs of additional municipal services that'll need to be provided, including schools, roads, and sewers.

Cherokee Marsh is part of a designated natural resources area jointly managed by the city, county, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The area's conservation function includes consideration of wildlife that requires both marsh and upland habitat. The current ratio of uplands to marsh in Cherokee is much lower that what is recommended by research.

The Friends have proposed a land use enhancement to the Cherokee Special Area Plan that could conserve 100-140 acres of uplands, while providing natural storm water management, while preserving all the developer's rights; that's an approach that could be considered all around the marsh.

What can be done to encourage more retail, particularly restaurants, in Dist. 18?
While there aren't that many locations where retail can be located in the 18th itself, the district could benefit from additional retail nearby.

Market forces will be the main factor in northside retail investment. Reputable, visionary developers could be invited to tour 'opportunity sites.' I recently invited one of the best in Madison to visit northside sites that strike me as having potential.

Government can help attract investment by improving infrastructure. For instance, when Sherman Avenue next is rebuilt, it could be re-designed for destination vehicular travel, and with bike paths on both shoulders. There are planning exercises (e.g. sub-district overlay planning or, in lay terms, and extreme makeover) that can create a community vision for design-integrated streetscapes (perhaps enhanced with urban forestry enhancements and under-grounded utilities). The re-design can be incentivized with low interest loans, TIF, or other financial packages.

Through traffic between the downtown and the northside (as well as Westport/Waunakee and DeForest/Sun Prairie) could be 'encouraged' away from Sherman Avenue and toward Packers/CV. A dedicated bike/hike trail connecting the northside to other area trails is essential.

The resources of community development could be tapped to encourage start-up companies. Connections could possibly be made with the culinary program at MATC. Low-interest loans for restaurant entrepreneurs could perhaps be part of the mix.

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