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Saturday, February 28, 2015  |   Madison, WI: -2.0° F  
MADLAND: A group blog about life in Madison, Wisconsin
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Madland: Why does improvement require clearcutting the State Street-Library Mall?
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Trees take years to grow to their full glory, and some of the ones they're chopping are beauties.
Credit:Catherine Capellaro

Warning: Do not bring lovers of The Lorax to the State Street-Library Mall right now.

I stopped by there last week and felt like I was being punched in the gut, watching construction workers slice away at stately maples and flowering crabs. In full bloom. Destroyed.

Those trees are not part of the plan.

I can't say I fully disagree with the UW news release about the "State Street-Library Mall construction project" that called the area a "tired-looking concrete and streetscape." The illustrations of the new design along the 7-800 blocks of State Street look good. But trees take years to grow to their full glory, and some of the ones they're chopping are beauties.

That stretch of land is specifically named the "State Street Mall." The name "Library Mall" refers officially only to the space between Memorial Library and the Wisconsin Historical Society, which also looks like hell, and has for years. As The Daily Cardinal pointed out in an excellent article on the history of the area around Library Mall, some UW students have never experienced it not under construction.

That's a bummer, because in my day, this open space where city and campus merge was a favorite meeting place and refuge from the fluorescent lights of classrooms.

Like many UW alums, State Street-Library Mall and Memorial Union were the center of my universe for five years. Now that I'm all grown up, I still feel a tingle remembering sun-baked naps and study sessions on the grass underneath those now-destroyed flowering trees. And plopping down on those concrete steps for some of the Buraka food cart's delicious dorowat.

Right now, it looks like a war zone.

I know construction is always ugly, people hate change, and sometimes the outcome is worth the difficult phase. I have grown fond of Monona Terrace, after detesting the idea and the process leading to its construction. Overture Center is not perfect, but I've seen (and performed) enough free or low-cost events there to get that its staff are trying to keep our arts palace accessible. And on the occasion when I can break the bank and buy a ticket to the symphony or a show in Overture Hall, the acoustics are better than lots of Broadway theaters. I've also heard the new Wisconsin Union Theater is wonderful.

But right now, seeing those poor trees getting chopped down and hauled away in the name of progress makes me sad. Maybe we should have invested more in services for homeless people and our struggling schools and left State Street-Library Mall alone -- or at least kept the trees.

It's too late, of course. It isn't until the fall semester that construction on the new State Street-Library Mall is scheduled to conclude, and the beloved food carts displaced across downtown won't be reinstated until November.

In the meantime, remember Joni Mitchell's lyrics: "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

[Editor's note: This item was updated to define the "State Street-Library Mall," the conjoined space consisting of the "State Street Mall" and "Library Mall," which are adjacent parcels of land owned by the city and University of Wisconsin-Madison, respectively.]

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