Madison, Wisconsin

Home to the University of Wisconsin, Madison's residents pride themselves on their quality of life. Their city consistently ranks in the top tier of polls for best places to live, work, be creative, and raise a family. Much of this could be attributed to the city's vision statement, which says Madison will be a place where:

  • Diversity is valued;
  • Freedom of expression is encouraged and protected;
  • Everyone has the opportunity to realize his/her full potential;
  • The beauty of the urban environment and natural environment is preserved.

This statement could be not better realized that in the effort made by citizens of South Madison to turn around Penn Park. Established in 1953 as a city park when it was purchased from Clifford Penn, it provided a place for recreational baseball and softball for the nearby residents. In the late 1960s it was reconstructed as a neighborhood park, providing a wider array of programmed uses such as playgrounds, ice skating, basketball, tennis, football, and a picnic shelter for the adjacent low-income housing residents.

As time progressed, however, the use of Penn Park for recreational activities decreased, and illegal activities such as drug dealing began to occur. This decline did not go unnoticed by the citizens of Madison. One particular park neighbor, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, expressed a desire to become actively involved in the renovation and renewed programming of the park. Their CDC, Genesis Community Development Corporation, approached Mayor Susan Bauman, who recognized the significance of Penn Park to the surrounding neighborhood. She also realized the importance of engaging the entire neighborhood in the planning process "to make Penn Park a stronger asset to the neighborhood and a more welcoming place for youth and families to come to and enjoy."

With a grant from The City Parks Forum, nearly 10 different community organizations and individuals, including the Boys and Girls Club, the Bram's Addition Neighborhood Association, and the South Madison Anti-Drug Coalition, participated in several group meetings and discussions about planning and improving Penn Park. These meetings resulted in the identification of 17 different improvements to the park, which were then presented to a neighborhood meeting where residents voted for their preferred long-term priorities. Finally, using budget estimates, the residents allocated funds to each item, to identify their final priority list. The Park Commission agreed to plan to implement the top five of the 10 proposed improvements, including creating a grass "front yard" to the park, relocating the playground to a safer location, and establishing better access to the park, all of which were funded by the CPF grant.

The park is being used much more now by the community as a result of these improvements, with 10 more playground dates in 2002 than the average from the previous four years. Special community events more than doubled in 2002. One important indicator did decrease — the number of police calls regarding problems in Penn Park. The perception of the park in the community is more positive, and the community continues to have discussions about how to further improve Penn Park. These efforts can only help to reinforce Madison's position as a top place to live, work, and be engaged in the community.


Si Widstrand
Parks Planning Supervisor
City of Madison Parks Division
215 Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd. Room 120
Madison, Wisconsin 53703
(P) 608-266-4714