Throughout the past several days, I have watched my Facebook newsfeed explode with whiney posts asking members of the University of Wisconsin community to sign an ever-changing petition to “preserve” Langdon Street. Langdon residents of all sorts have signed this petition, which requests that the city approve the Langdon area as a historic landmark district.
The level of ridiculousness in this proposal and the ignorance of many of its supporters is explosive. This makes it difficult to decide where to begin, but let me preface all of this by making one thing clear: I am currently a member of the Greek community on the UW campus and am not out to mock or point fingers at its members.
The petition, hosted on change.org, currently states, “We the undersigned strongly support the designation of the Langdon Street Neighborhood as a historic district under the Madison Landmarks Ordinance.”
I say currently because the petition’s creator has routinely changed the wording listed online, which of course raises all sorts of ethical issues. It means that the current 1,126 supporters actually supported various ideas.
But even more important than the ethical issues inherent in changing the wording of a petition after people have signed it is the content of the petition itself and the rumors surrounding the petition’s potential.
The movement behind the petition began stirring after a proposal for a six-story apartment building slated for construction on Iota Court made its way through the city process, breaking the hearts of Langdon lovers everywhere. Members of the Greek community and dozens of other Langdon dwellers protested the construction tirelessly and eventually forced the City Council to require a super majority vote for approval — a vote count that eventually was not only met, but also exceeded.
Anti-Iota Court protesters argued the building would change the culture and community that defines Langdon. They weren’t thrilled with the increased population numbers in the area and baselessly claimed the addition of a large apartment building would spike crime in the recently crime-ridden area.
The writers of the petition and many of its supporters have circulated false rumors that if the area is deemed a local historic district, plans to build the Iota Court apartment will be blocked. Such is not the case. There is absolutely no chance of that happening. The Iota Court proposal passed the City Council with flying colors and will move forward whether we like it or not.
Supporters also have gauged that if the Langdon area were deemed a local historic district, future high rises or apartment buildings would not be built. This, they claim, would prevent Langdon from turning into another University Avenue riddled with high-rise apartments as far as the eye can see.
Again, this is just not the case. Langdon will never be a University Avenue — the city’s Downtown Plan allows for apartment buildings only up to five stories high to be constructed on Langdon, with the exception of the Iota Court area. If Langdon were approved as a local historic district, the only change in regards to this policy would be that the buildings would have to have certain architectural and other features that align with the historic feel of the area in order to be contributing buildings.
This lengthy approval process would only make it more difficult, if not impossible, for fraternity and sorority houses, or for that matter any other houses or apartments on Langdon, to make alternations as simple as new window fixtures. The Landmarks Commission would pick through every detail with a fine-tooth comb. Theta Chi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon have both laid out plans for remodeling. If those plans had been presented under a local historic district, the plans for Theta Chi that were approved would never have been realized. Only the richest property owners would be able to meet the standards that would be required under the certification.
And, finally, the rumor the local historic district certification would make Langdon a safer area is just as false as every other claim those who signed the petition without knowing the facts believed. In the end, the certification would likely make the district less safe.
Langdon has seen a spike in crime in recent months. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that the area, in many ways, is underdeveloped, rundown and easily targeted because of the vacant allies and surrounding fences. The crimes we as a community should be most concerned about are least likely to occur in newly developed areas with a safe population density.
This petition is being advertised as a means to preserve the culture and community that is Langdon. If those supporting it would take just a few minutes to educate themselves, they would recognize, in fact, they are attempting to create a radically different Langdon than the one they call home.
As responsible students and citizens, we have an obligation to be better than this. Ignorance is not a good color on anyone. Talk to your local alder, attend a city meeting or look at the city’s website. The resources available to you are endless. If you don’t utilize them, you’ve got only yourself to blame when things go awry.
Pamela Selman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in journalism and political science.