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Philosopher's Grove changes

Madison is considering removing 11 stones at Philosopher's Grove and adding programming to the space to reduce negative behaviors in the area.

In response to ongoing complaints about negative behavior at the top of State Street, the city of Madison is considering changes to the Philosopher’s Grove area in an effort to enliven the space and reduce crime.

Pressure to do something about the space at the intersection of West Mifflin and State streets increased over the summer as business owners complained about negative behaviors.

The subsequent months of planning have brought about a two-pronged solution for now. One of the initiatives would remove a couple of bike racks and a series of stones from the art installment known as Philosopher’s Grove to facilitate more foot traffic through the area. The other would create an activities program to facilitate programming in the space and on the stage on the 100 block of North Carroll Street.

Madison Central Business Improvement District executive director Mary Carbine said at a Board of Estimates meeting last week that the scope of those activities will probably be small to medium scale. Ideas include pop-up flea markets, a farmers' market one day a week, arts and culture activities, tai chi, acoustic music or community crafts.

“These are all things that are already potentially in the hopper, should I say, but waiting for the program to be approved and moved forward,” Carbine said.

The program would involve $25,000 from the city, drawn from the contingent reserve, the planning division placemaking budget and the Director of Planning and Community and Economic Development budget.

The removal of stones will also cost $25,000 and has sparked disagreement in the arts community.

The Madison Arts Commission approved the plans but expressed concern about the removal of public art.

“By our vote, MAC supports the compromise solution put forth by the Downtown Coordinating Committee,” chair Barbara Schrank wrote in a letter to the Downtown Coordinating Committee and others. “However, a number of commissioners expressed doubt that removing 11 stones will do anything to address the underlying behavior problems in the area.”

Schrank and the commission encouraged the city to use funding for programming in the area to address social services, security and enforcement, in order to improve the likelihood that the underlying negative behavior would be addressed.

“Because a public art installation is being modified, it is critical that the intended objectives for the site are achieved,” she wrote.

The City Council will consider the changes on Tuesday.

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