Category Archives: 2. Meetings

Accessibility for Everyone in Downtown Madison

   The speaker at our April 7th meeting was Jason Beloungy, Executive Director of Access to Independence, which is one of eight such organizations in Wisconsin.  It serves Columbia, Dane, Dodge and Green counties.  Today he spoke of the collaboration between his organization, the Downtown Madison’s Beyond Compliance Task Force, and the City of Madison’s Disability Rights Commission.

   The goal of this alliance is a fully inclusive and accessible downtown which includes entrances to buildings and within their interiors such as restrooms as well as the accessibility to outdoor events and parking opportunities.  Achievements of the last three years began with conducting a survey of persons facing barriers to accessibility that help prioritize the group’s efforts.  From this, two separate guides have been developed.

   The first was for streetory which involved entrances to buildings and the way to provide the best accesses to and within outdoor dining areas.  The second guide developed is for festivals and outdoor events.  The current project centers on “Well Built Conferences” which addresses designs and best practices for buildings.

   Jason feels that individuals and organizations can help by getting directly involved with the Disability Rights Commission; getting input from those with disabilities; hiring people with disabilities; and by promoting accessibility and inclusion.

   Our thanks to Jason Beloungy for his presentation this week and to Larry Larrabee for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/IGFkTbDrKD8.    

“How Can We Make Madison More Vivid?”

Zach Brandon made an inspiring presentation at our March 24th meeting of the Rotary Club of Madison.  As the president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and past Deputy Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, he is well qualified to speak to us about Madison’s present and future in his titled address, “There is Light in the Darkness.”  He structured his presentation around the intervening years since his prior Rotary presentation in 2018 which was his third.

The year 2019, as he showed, was full of positive indicators with Madison having the largest percentage of millennials moving to a new city, leading city in increased percentage of high digital skills positions and high stability in those jobs.  2020 began with more positive signs of Madison as a tech growth center in the Nation.  But then, covid-19 struck, and all conversation and attention stopped which muted the story of Madison.

Then the issue became, “How can we make Madison more vivid?”  Zach feels a part of that is to target the work force of the future in terms of gender, diversity and equity.  As he says, the data suggests the wind is still at our back, especially when national surveys consistently predict Madison to make the fastest recovery from the covid-19 down turn.

He concluded that Madison’s goal should be developing and attracting top quality workers to the right mix of jobs in the Madison economy.

If you did not attend the presentation and would like to feel good about your community, please view his presentation on our Rotary Club’s YouTube Channel.

Our thanks to Zach Brandon for his presentation this week and to Larry Larrabee for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/Fp1PFHlnaSQ.

The 2020 Election’s Effect on US Foreign Policy

   Professor Pevehouse then went on to outline some of the largest foreign policy facing us now:

Jon PevehouseThis week, UW-Madison Professor Jon Pevehouse provided an analysis of the Trump Administration’s major foreign policy initiatives and how the outcome of this past November’s election is affecting American foreign policy going forward. The Professor started by commenting on the two overarching differences between the present administration and the last: 1) Staffing: President Trump understaffed diplomatic roles and left many gaps, signaling our priorities. President Biden has since ramped up diplomatic staffing; and 2) Stability: Under the last administration, foreign policy could change with a tweet. Under the current administration, that will not be the case, which will lend itself to increased foreign trust.

   Professor Pevehouse then went on to outline some of the largest foreign policy facing us now:

  • China – Tensions between the U.S. and China are higher than they have been in some time, due to the self-proclaimed Trade War that President Trump imposed. Currently, we are part of Phase 1 Deal, as China agreed to buy certain supplies from America. They have not kept their part of the bargain to date, so President Biden needs to consider next steps. He will likely try to work with other countries to get help, rather than go it alone. Other issues around China include security in the South China Sea and Human Rights violations.
  • Middle East – There has been much back and forth regarding our involvement with the Iran Nuclear Deal over the past administrations, and Prof. Pevehouse sees this continuing into the future, since incentives to reach an agreement going forward simply aren’t there for Iran.
  • Europe – Although it would seem natural that America and the EU would have better relations than we did under the Trump Administration, it likely won’t be lockstep immediately. The EU and China have a deal that allows them a leg up on investing in China, which they’d need to give up if they wanted to work closer with the U.S. again. Hopefully over time, this will improve.
  • COVID-19 – The World Trade Association is trying to find middle ground regarding importing and exporting vaccine, as they hope to balance intellectual property and access. They are currently looking at licensing the vaccine to other countries so they can be manufactured locally.

   The presentation today really illustrated the connectedness of the world and helped to illustrate the different perspective of the respective administrations.

   Our thanks to Prof. Jon Pevehouse for his presentation this week and to Jessika Kasten for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/aXgm9YdoHe8.

 

Revitalizing Downtown Madison Post Pandemic

Brad Binkowski

Between the pandemic and the protests, Brad Binkowski believes downtown Madison has gone through one of the most tumultuous years imaginable and looks now like it did in the 1980’s when retail moved out to the malls. He believes it’s important to remember what downtown was; imagine what it can be again; and take the steps necessary to get it there. He says private sector investment is a necessary component of that revival.

Brad stressed the importance of building underground parking to reactivate sidewalks for pedestrians and customers and said the city needs to help cover the extraordinary costs. He says underground parking is behind the success of Urban Land Interests’ development of Block 89 which turned vacant buildings and surface parking into 560,000 square feet of office space on a block that now has the highest assessed value in the city. Brad says multi-modal transportation is growing, but the reality is that tenants demand parking.

ULI is now looking to develop the American Exchange block on the square – a development that has been 23 years in the making. The project, which ULI hopes to start in 2022, will have 805 underground parking stalls and 300,000 square feet of office space targeted to tech companies. Brad says the revenue the block will generate will help the city advance other initiatives.

Brad believes Madison has extraordinary strengths: a quality of life that doesn’t exist in many other places; a labor pool that includes the highest percent of educated millennials; and the highest net in-migration of tech employees in the country. But he says we desperately need a vision of what downtown can be.

Brad closed by saying that Rotary is a force that is committed to a vision for downtown and is critical to creating a dialogue on a plan for downtown Madison and a strategy on how to get there.
Our thanks to Brad Binkowski for speaking this week and to Janet Piraino for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/MRnkBjm9Cps.

How to Be Curious and Why It Matters

Anne Strainchamps

Anne Strainchamps spoke virtually to Rotarians this week on January 20. As a veteran public radio host and producer, Strainchamps shared “How To Be Curious And Why It Matters.”

As a journalist, Anne said, “Curiosity is the DNA of our radio show.” She said curiosity is the key to learning, progress, invention; inventors are driven by curiosity.

“Curiosity is a habitat that can be cultivated,” Anne said. She continued, “We teach math, history, why not curiosity? It’s the one skill I value most; my job is to be professionally curious, and it’s my life’s satisfaction.”

But you can’t wait for it to strike. Anne told Rotarians to hunt for that spark and feed it by asking lots of questions. Asking good questions is a lost art. She suggested asking beautiful questions, questions that spark stories such as, “What do you treasure in your home and why?”

Science is a way of asking questions about the universe; politics is another opportunity for good questions. In today’s environment of polarization, Anne says it’s difficult to be curious and angry at the same time. She told the story of a former coworker, Barbara, who could disarm office conflict when hearing such a story by pausing…then asking, “Why would they say that?” And you would realize you were caught up in being angry or right.

Anne Strainchamps is the host of To the Best of Our Knowledge. She co-founded the show, along with Jim Fleming and husband Steve Paulson, and has been a featured interviewer on the program for more than a decade. She has worked in public broadcasting at WAMU in Washington, DC, and at NPR.

Our thanks to Anne Strainchamps for speaking this week and to Valerie Renk for preparing this review article. Our apologies for the technical difficulties during our livestreamed meeting on January 20. We have reloaded Anne’s video presentation, and you can view it without interruptions here: https://youtu.be/um27uKYTtn8.

Behind the Scenes of “The Niceties”

The impetus for Eleanor Burgess’s play “The Niceties” was a 2015 incident at Yale, Eleanor’s Alma mater, that involved a disagreement between faculty, administrators and students about whether Yale should be setting guidelines about which Halloween costumes are appropriate. Those in favor of guidance were trying to ward off controversies over students seen in black face, or stereotypical Native American costumes. Those opposed believed one of the purposes of college is for kids to learn to self regulate and make their own decisions.

Friends lost the ability to talk to each other as the controversy continued.  While this is common today, it was unique in 2015.  People felt the need to pick a side: the university doesn’t have the responsibility to coddle whining snowflakes vs. there should be consequences of making students of color feel uncomfortable. 

After two months of obsessively reading op/eds about the incident in her pajamas, Eleanor realized this incident should become a play. 

Eleanor said she naively thought the play would be out of date by the time it was produced.  But in today’s era of Trump, and the killing of George Floyd, we are still having these conversations.  The difference is, in the play, the professor and student have faith and admiration for each other and believe they can change each other’s minds if they just make the right arguments.  Today, we would back out of those conversations much faster and realize it’s hopeless.

   Eleanor hopes we can learn to talk together again – to thread the needle and realize that two things can both be true at the same time.  In the play, the professor says, “no matter how much we disagree, we’re still stuck in a country together.”  But today, we don’t even share the same reality or set of facts. Eleanor believes we can’t live this way forever. Restoring our capacity to have conversations with people we disagree with is not just a nicety, it is a fundamental necessity. 

Our thanks to Eleanor Burgess for speaking this week and to club member Julie Swenson who interviewed her.  We also thank Janet Piraino for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/SkGEtyy_sCE.