November 21, 2007
MADISON – The key to a vibrant downtown is making people believe it is the “living room” of a community, according to Kirk Watson, a former mayor of Austin, Texas.
“And a strong downtown can help tie a whole region together and help make it strong,” said Watson, speaking at the recent Downtown Madison Inc. (DMI) annual dinner at Monona Terrace.
The theme of his talk was “Big Dreams, Bold Ideas.” In it, he urged DMI members to not fear failure, which he said can paralyze progress.
“Learn from mistakes,” he said. “Don’t be a turtle and pull into your shell. Instead, step back and figure out how to improve on it next time. Figure out how to make the next project better because of something we learned.”
Watson, who is now a Texas state senator, said Madison’s downtown benefits from a strong cultural infrastructure and its proximity to the UW-Madison campus.
“But great cities – and great regions – don’t just allow universities and sport events and rallies and artistic events to be the sole supply of what happens in those great communities,” he said.
Rather, they should supplement those great regions, he said, and be places where people of all ages – including families – can enjoy themselves.
Watson said downtowns also have the ability to bring disparate forces together.
In Austin, he said the city council was divided between developers and environmentalists.
“It was a place where we could come together and avoid some of the fighting that goes on in families,” said Watson, who boasted that his downtown is often filled with weekend activities that clog the streets.