MNA Pres Suggests Supporting South Side Public Market

The near Eastside of Madison has it pretty good when it comes to food and resources: the Willy Street Co-op, copious amounts of restaurants, multi-faceted transportation options. The choices are so good that it has spurred Marquette Neighborhood Association President Michael Jacob to float the idea of MNA officially supporting a south side location for the proposed Public Market.

Recently, the City of Madison Local Food Committee recommended a site at the corner of East Washington Avenue and First Street, saying the location had the best combination of population density, high traffic volume and proximity to the now rapidly developing Capitol East Corridor.

But some in Madison feel that the location doesn’t address the relative food deserts that exist on the north and south sides, two locations that were also considered by the committee. This sentiment led Jacob to propose, in an email to the neighborhood listserv, throwing MNA support behind the Park Street location.

“We’re a neighborhood already blessed with so many great things, not the least of which is very easy access to the Dane County Farmer’s Market and our own humble weekly market,” Jacob wrote. “City investments in Eash Wash are paying big dividends. Would we love an open market? Sure thing. Do we need it? Not nearly as much as the south side could.”

Reaction to Jacob’s suggestion so far has been pretty even with some enthusiastically supporting the initiative, while others argued that the Committee decision was rooted in sound economic analysis.

Those who would like to see the MNA support the South side location at Park Street and Wingra Drive cite the overarching need in that area for improved food options. They also argue that while the location won’t generate as much income, its impact on residents will be much greater.

“The City’s investment in a public market to be justified must be investment to attempt to spur community and economic development where they are seriously needed, wrote former MNA Board member Bill Scanlon. “For that reason the public market needs to be someplace other than the near East Side. The South Side would qualify and seems to be as ready as anyplace that would.”

One potential vendor at the future public market implored MNA not to derail the Eastside effort because the market has to have sound economic foundations or it will be an exercise in futility.

“The south side location has merit and would be a positive for an area in need of more positives, but the near eastside location has the best chance of overall success,” wrote Dan Cornelius who has also worked on Oneida Nation agriculture projects. “Making a living in the small-scale food industry is exceedingly difficult, so giving prospective vendors the best chance of success is absolutely essential.

One response suggested that MNA, in opposing the market at this late stage would soil the organization’s credibility on public policy going forward. Others said that the south side location would best benefit disadvantaged populations and that county-wide, residents would support the market no matter where the location.

One angle that seems to be missed, but often cited by residents in gentrified areas of the city as something they want to improve, is poverty and racism. Is it racist that the market would be located on the Eastside? Not on its surface; but it feeds into the general narrative that Madison does not listen to its racially and economically disadvantaged populations even though minority leaders have been quite vocal about their plights.

Despite stated good intentions of our elected officials and community leaders, we continue to see little action,” wrote Mike Martez Johnson in a Capital Times guest editorial (h/t Adam Chern). “Madison needs more than platitudes, it needs to fundamentally change the way its civic institutions provide for the common good of the community and its residents.

The South Metropolitan Planning Council is planning another push for the Park Street location today (4:30 p.m.) at a meeting of the Local Food Committee which is considering a resolution to direct City staff to begin planning for the Eastside location. The recommendation still has to be approved by the City Council.

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