Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The East-West Divide (in Madison, that is)

by Tom Bozzo

Yesterday's Tonya Show reported the bombshell that Tonya is contemplating a move to Madison's near east side from her present near west side location. This is not quite the Madison equivalent of defecting from the former West Germany to the East, but as Tonya notes, Madison neighborhoods have partisans who can be quite dramatic about such things, so keep that image in mind.

Our old neighborhood, for instance, has an annual "Twelfth Night" pageant (last year's was the 80th running) that involves production of a jokey neighborhood pride musical. See here for a still from "Nakomalot" (1964), showing how much more effort went into such things when there was no internet and little else in the way of electronic time-wasting opportunities.

(My grand idea, never produced, was "Near West Side Story," with a story involving a young couple with a small but pleasant house on Nakoma Rd. aspiring to an attractive move-up house and gangs of amateur golfers at the Nakoma and Maple Bluff country clubs. There was perhaps a bit too much class warfare to "Near West Side Story" for Twelfth Night, which is attended by some of the owners of the neighborhood's $700,000 houses — a lot for Madison — a few of whom are actually even Republicans.)

Anyway, we've considered both the near west and the near east in both of our house purchases, though we chose the near west both times.

There are undeniable attractions to the near east. In addition to the neighborhood diversity factors Tonya cites, there's the array of neighborhood amenities: the co-op, which aspires to a near west location that is hostage to the financing details of the Monroe Commons condo project, Oscar's pseudonymously blogged-about coffee houses, the Fatigued Frequent-Flyer Tavern, the cute Get More Stuff antique and gift shop, and much more. We have Pasqual's, Michael's Frozen Custard, the Polish deli I keep forgetting about, and Barrique's Wine Cave. Advantage, maybe them by no more than a nose.

The sticking point for us was, in both cases, related to the neighborhood geography and the quality of the housing stock.

We had once rejected a nice, if suboptimally laid out, house in the original plat of the suburban Middleton Hills "new urbanism" development the first time around because we weren't attracted to the 32-foot-wide lot's "feature" that you could reach out the master bathroom window and flush the master bathroom toilet next door. (Middleton Hills actually has a "Diversity Road," which I call "Laying It On Thick Street" or "Irony Drive" since Middleton Hills' actual diversity involves having both upper-middle and upper-class residents.) That is borrowed somewhat more from the near east's than the near west's version of the traditionally-sized urban lot, though even in our present near west loaction we get to wave at dog-walking neighbors through the dining room windows when we're all in our jammies having breakfast.

The other thing is that the near east is now, on a housing quality-adjusted basis, just about as expensive as the near west. A near east candidate in our 2000 search, listed at $250,000 when that was still a lot of money and nothing in Madison was selling below the listing price, had some nice Victorian detailing, but the master bedroom ceiling looked like it was susceptible to collapse from overflying aircraft noise, and a back wall whose support system made me feel like Steve Thomas from his eager early days on TOH, prattling on about the character of the place while Norm Abram and Tommy Silva shake their heads and say it all has to go.

This is all well and good and technocratic, but what should Tonya do? Oops, gotta go to work!
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