Sunday, October 15, 2006

Madison, WI: Exactly how many square miles surrounded by reality?

Madison is constantly being characterized as being "x square miles surrounded by reality" -- a description attributed to Lee Dreyfus, a former governor, but the attributions give many different figures. The question is, what is x? Here's a sampling of opinion.

10 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Ronaldusmagnus, a commenter straining to be witty at Little Green Footballs:
Geography quiz for those UW students:
Q. Define Madison Wisconsin.
A. 10 square miles surrounded by reality.

12 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Commenter tbcpp on Slashdot:
I'm from Wisconsin, and this just confirms the saying we have in the state:"Madison: 12 square miles surrounded by reality"

15 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Henry regularly headlines the main stage at House Of Blues, has performed in numerous showcases and charity events, and has toured both the U.S. and Europe. Kevin Henry was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, once described as "15 square miles surrounded by reality". An ideal environment for the young artist, Henry took full advantage: singing and playing the piano by the age of 4, publishing his first song at 8, and performing regularly in civic theatre productions.

20 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Wisconsin Technology Network:
Madison, contrary to those "20 square miles surrounded by reality" putdowns, also is a good place to earn a living. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive. High-tech business growth is well documented, and non-technology businesses (if there really is such a thing) have a myriad of choices to leverage technology in their operations, including wireless Internet access.

25 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
It's a town dominated by two major institutions -- the state capitol, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The sometimes hazy and sometimes overly idealistic qualities of both organizations have no doubt been the main reason that some have described the city of 200,000 as twenty-five square miles surrounded by reality.

52 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Mark Singer in The New Yorker (this citation has additional historical value in that it's his notorious hit piece, written in the wake of 9/11, slamming Madison for the school board's unwillingness to throw out its commitment to civil liberties for the sake of the war on terror):
Twenty-three years ago, a moderate Republican governor named Lee Dreyfus referred to Madison as "fifty-two square miles surrounded by reality."

68 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
J. A. Bartlett at the Daily Aneurism:
Former Wisconsin governor Lee Dreyfus (the first candidate I ever voted for, elected in November 1978--and a Republican) once characterized Madison as "68 square miles surrounded by reality." People up here tend to embrace that distinction. They love to dream things that never were and say "why not?"--and then make those dreams into reality. Take the total ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, which went into effect on July 1. No matter how big or small the place, no matter how effectively segregated a the establishment's smoking area had been in the past, it doesn't matter. Smoking inside of restaurants and bars is verboten here, period. (Even, I kid you not, in cigar bars.) If you want to light it up, you gotta take it outside.

70 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Wikipedia (if they can’t figure it out, who can?):
Detractors refer to Madison as The People's Republic of Madison, the "Left Coast of Wisconsin," or as "70 square miles surrounded by reality" (although the number varies significantly depending on who is quoting it).

72 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Rep.Tammy Baldwin (D-WI):
I love to tell people I'm from Madison, Wisconsin. Even those who've never been here have heard great things about it. People affectionately joke that Madison is "72 square miles surrounded by reality," but I truly believe that this magical place is as real, and as good, as it gets.

76 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality
Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune:
Kevin Barrett, who teaches a course on Islam, thinks the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were "an inside job" masterminded by the Bush administration to justify U.S. aggression in the Middle East.

If you advocate this theory on the street corner or the Internet, you can count on being ignored. But if you propound it on a college campus, you will not lack for attention. When Barrett went on a radio show and said he had addressed the subject in class, he raised up a mass movement of Wisconsinites who thought he shouldn't be allowed to mop the floors at the state's flagship public university, much less contaminate the promising minds of its students.

The revelation confirmed the widespread view of Madison, and its famously liberal university, as "76 square miles surrounded by reality."

80 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality staff listing:
Born and raised in 80 square miles surrounded by reality, Shane finds himself with a firmer grasp on reality than most people who grew up outside of the Reality Distortion Field known as Madison, Wisconsin.

As a last word (for the time being) it's hard to top Doug Moe, Capital Times columnist and their resident custodian of local lore, who has made several extensive studies of this matter. His most recent report was was dated July 29 of last year and titled "Now 76 square miles of unreality." The numerous citations it quotes are literally all over the map. He concludes with this thoughtful and downright philosophical passage:
Now on Thursday Lanier at Planning and Development was running his numbers and eventually came up with a figure: According to his department, Madison is 76.23 square miles.

That's opposed to the Engineering Department's 75.77 square miles.

Maybe, for simplicity's sake, we can settle on a round figure of 76 square miles.

Or maybe we will just have to live in a constant state of confusion, since the number is subject to change anyway, and to be confused in Madison is to be at one with the city's overall karma.

For instance, on Thursday, I was chatting with Lanier when he noted, "I've always wondered about John Nolen Drive."

He was referring to the much-traveled road into downtown that separates Monona Bay from the rest of the lake.

"What do you mean?"

Well, Lanier said, as far as he could tell it had never been annexed into the city of Madison.

"Is it in the town?"

"I'm not sure," he said. "Maybe it's in the lake."


Anonymous said...

According to the city it's currently 76.41 miles.

Anonymous said...

His honor, Lee Sherman Dreyfus is still alive I believe. Here is a link to his Oct. 12, 2006 blog. Sheesh let the man breath air will ya.

Madison Guy said...

Anonymous 9:21 -- Of course, you're right. I could try to pretend I used “late” metaphorically, but that would be bullshit. I just screwed up. Sorry, and thanks for the correction. I’ll fix the post, but leave this here to show the kinds of problems you can get when blogger and fact-checker are the same person.

And it sure is great to have Lee back among the living, not that he ever left...

Dan Seidensticker said...

How many square miles surrounded by reality? The Incorporated area for the City of Madison is about 76 miles; add Lake Mendota, Monona, and Wingra and it increases to 97 square miles. What about island communities inside of Madison? Adding Shorewood Hills, Monona and Maple Bluff brings the total to 102 square miles, include the many town islands and the total rises to 105 square miles.

Should Middleton and McFarland be included? If so, the total is now 116 square miles. If we go that far, we may as well look at the Census Urban Boundary, which reaches out to Waunakee, Sun Prairie, Cottage Grove, Stoughton, Fitchburg and Verona. The total then is 191 square miles...ok, maybe that’s going too far.

Cybergabi said...

What fun. A fast growing community surrounded by reality ;-)