As Madison redraws aldermanic districts to accommodate the city’s disproportionate population growth over the last decade, District 8 — which encompasses much of the University of Wisconsin campus — could potentially lose residential halls and a student-dominated housing area under two proposed map options.
The options provoked concerns about the representation of the UW student voice in the city council, but ultimately led to the creation of a new map recommendation that will keep the UW student population together.
The redistricting comes after the 2020 census showed the city of Madison’s population added 36,733 residents since 2010. But the growth was not equal, with Madison’s far east side, far west side and downtown campus area making the largest gains, according to the city of Madison’s redistricting website.
District 8 grew from a population of 10,220 in 2010 to 15,454 in 2020 — about a 51% increase over the decade. Under redistricting targets set by the city, each aldermanic district should have roughly 13,739 residents with a five percent deviation above or below, meaning District 8 will have lose at least 1,000 residents to be on the high end of the target range.
Two of the redistricting options proposed by the city — Concept 5a and Concept 6 — would have accomplished this by splitting some residence halls and a student-dominated housing area into separate districts. The proposed maps would move the two areas into District 5, which comprises more affluent, single-family homes.
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Former District 8 Alder Scott Resnick explained that District 5, which covers the Eagle’s Heights and West High School area, is likely to be represented by a middle-aged individual who would be more worried about issues that affect families — like transportation and schooling — than issues that affect campus like campus safety, housing rights and alcohol laws.
“The general goal [of redistricting] is to keep those constituencies of students together,” Resnick said. “Not only is this where young families live, this is where several very different issues live.”
UW student and current District 8 Alder Juliana Bennett emphasized the importance of students being heard and represented properly in the redistricting process.
“This past redistricting process has been kind of frustrating because there is an overall lack of regard and incompetency toward student-related issues,” Bennett said. “Student needs are unique and they are unique to their own demographics. There are nuances that a non-student representative cannot understand.”
UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank expressed similar concerns in a letter to the Redistricting Committee, saying that containing the residence halls as a single district would ensure that its voice remained strong.
Blank also said that she was against a proposal to remove the 55th Ward, known colloquially as College Court, from District 8 given the high number of BIPOC and low-income students living there.
In an email to The Badger Herald, Redistricting Committee member Ben Zeller said the District 8 will retain a majority student population even if the 55th Ward or some residence halls were removed.
Zeller also said the district has not always encompassed all the undergraduate dorms, which was the case for at least 30 years up until the 2011 redistricting that moved Ogg, Smith and some lakeshore dorms into District 8.
“[The issue] is whether the UW student ‘Community of Interest’— undergraduate students living in UW Housing plus current Ward 55— should be further prioritized to remain in District 8,” Zeller said. “That can be done but has ripple effects to surrounding districts and the City as a whole that may or may not be acceptable to Redistricting Committee members, some alders and other city residents.”
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In response to feedback from Blank, Bennett and other community members, the Redistricting Committee released two new options Thursday — in both, the dorms and the 55th Ward would be kept together.
In a statement to The Badger Herald, Bennett hailed the new maps as a “major improvement.”
“They reflect a shared understanding that students are indeed an integral community of interest to Madison and our voice is deserving of representation in the city,” Bennett said. “It means the greater campus area will continue its 50 year tradition of electing likeminded student peers to common council to represent their interests.”
Later Thursday evening, the committee voted to make its recommendation map 7a, one of the options created to keep the dorms and off-campus housing in a single district.
The Committee will continue to consider feedback and potential adjustments until Oct. 7, when it will recommend its final district map to the city council.
The Redistricting Committee is working under a compressed timeline due to the pandemic delaying the 2020 census, according to a public informational meeting held Sept. 22.
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Bennett said the recommendation of 7a will make campaigning, elections, representation and advocacy much simpler for the greater campus area. She said the recommended map, if approved in its current form, would ensure the issues most pertinent to students are represented on city council through a lens of the whole campus’ needs.
City Council will choose a final map by Nov. 2.