I love Madison, but there are those moments when very vivid, brief and fleeting memories of our time in Berkeley come to mind, and I would give anything to be there again – if only for a brief visit.
I think its the architectural character of the Berkeley hills that I miss the most – being able to walk through those amazing neighborhoods was definitely a highlight of the Berkeley experience. Though Madison may sometimes be referred to as the ‘Berkeley of the midwest,’ the residential character of Madison is a far cry from the seemingly endless, meandering, and often breath-taking quality of the Berkeley hills. Maybe its age, maybe its fiscal, maybe its the climate, or maybe the grass is always greener – but whatever the case, the residential fabric of Berkeley is something to aspire to.
To be fair, there are certainly bits and pieces of Madison’s near-west and near-east sides that share some neighborhood quality in common with Berkeley, yet the biggest difference is not just the old Berkeley, but moreso in the way that newer modern architecture is folded into and around the city. We certainly have our share of contemporary residences in Madison, but they’re usually an anomaly and tend to stand out like a sore thumb (which is often the goal – consciously or otherwise). What I respected most about the ‘nouveau Berkeley’ homes was their ability to seamlessly fit in with the fabric of the older homes, even though the architectural style may be radically different from the neighboring context.
I also enjoyed the walkability of the Berkeley hills – and the fact that you could get lost there – wandering up some steep, curvy side street that opened into a tiny neighborhood park. Wandering through the park, you notice a tiny staircase leading to another tier of the park with dappled light from a tree-lined boulevard featuring a series of gorgeous houses perched overlooking a deep valley with glimpses of the bay between the trees…. on and on it goes.
While the residential character of Berkeley wins big versus Madison, imho, I personally like Madison’s downtown experience quite a bit more. I won’t compare Telegraph to State, but I never experienced a sense of urban ‘center’ in Berkeley the way I do in and around Madison’s capitol square. There were smaller enclaves or sub-centers in Berkeley (Madison has those as well), but no singular, identifiable zone you could point to and say ‘this is Berkeley’ – the way you can in downtown Madison. I’m not doing a very good job articulating this with words – and it might simply be that I didn’t visit the right places, but I find Madison’s downtown much more pleasant and identifiable – more of a sense of singular ‘place’ than I ever discovered in Berkeley.
I let my rambling thoughts turn what should have been a simple post into this meandering comparison – but all I meant to say was – even though it may be unseasonably warm (75 and sunny!) here in Madison, a Lanesplitter pizza, a tall glass of Jupiter IPA and a walk through the Berkeley hills would sure hit the spot right about now.