Celebrate South Madison: A Snapshot of Madison’s Culture

I had a really fun time at “Celebrate South Madison.” At first I was pretty skeptical, but overall I gained a lot from the experience. Even though the event was relatively small, I got to experience things I rarely see on campus. The different musical acts were very fun to watch and the food was really good too! More importantly, I felt honored to experience other people’s culture that they wanted to share with the community. On campus, we don’t always get that, so it was refreshing to see people proudly embrace their culture and heritage.

I think events like this can really help the community by giving people a chance to express themselves, learn about people in their neighborhood, and simply to just enjoy food and music with new friends. My favorite part about “Celebrate South Madison” was the welcoming environment. Even though I didn’t know anyone there and I felt like an outsider, people were very kind to me and they wanted to let me in on their lives. With that sort of environment, a community can strengthen together and form bonds that last a long time.

I think our main challenge is our lack of knowledge about the area. We don’t’ know which mediums we should use to reach our target audience, and we are having trouble pinpointing a specific angle to focus on. We definitely need to do more research, but going to the festival was a good start. I have already learned a lot about the area, and I’m excited to learn more. But I believe that if we want to truly help the community, we’re going to have to spend more time there and see what people need.

Another challenge about the South Madison area is the misperception that many people hold about it. Even in simple conversations with my friends and classmates, I have found that many people see South Park Street as unsafe. But I am convinced that if people would be able to experience what I did at “Celebrate South Madison,” their minds would be changed.

Like I mentioned above, “Celebrate South Madison” was relatively small. There was a good amount of people there, but I feel that the event didn’t reach it’s full potential. New communication technologies could truly benefit events like this by spreading word to people who might not otherwise know about them. And if technology can be used to bring more community members to an event, it would also attract people from outside the community. That would hopefully result in people coming back to the area after experiencing what it has to offer.


Technology has potential to boost social capital, but combined effort is needed

It is tough to judge a community without being there, but based on the stories and testimonies by our guest speakers, I would guess social capital in the South Park Street area is higher than I originally thought. But I hypothesize that this social capital is fragmented between active community members and others who are practically disengaged. Overall, South Park Street has incredible social capital potential, but right now that potential is not being harnessed.

Putnam (1995) says that social capital is a mixture of social life, social networks, and civic engagement. Based on hearing from our guest speakers, South Park Street has many community organizations that seek to better their fellow community members. Many citizens in the area feel a sense of pride concerning the area’s history of culture and tradition. Though this would seem like high social capital, a portion of the community seems to be disengaged with the community efforts. Communication seems to be inconsistent between different groups in the area, so social capital is not meeting it’s potential. Putnam says that television is the main culprit for lack of social capital, but that statistic is consistent throughout the country. Basically, Putnam states television viewing equates to less civic engagement. But the stories of people who know the area provide examples of strong community ties and social events. Again, I would argue that communication is the problem.

Hampton and Wellman (2003) believe that the Internet neither weakens nor drastically helps a community, but it can add to existing forms of communication to improve community ties. They also say that Internet use is associated with larger neighborhood networks. I believe that the South Park Street area could benefit from new communication technology if it’s used right. One of Hampton and Wellman’s points concerning Internet use was that it’s an inexpensive way to communicate between many people. Based on what we have heard in class, most of the community organizations in the area don’t have a lot of money to throw into communication, so this could be a great place to start.

In order to be effective in helping community organizations in the South Park Street area, we’re going to need to use websites and social media in a way that builds upon already established communication infrastructure. This may be tough because we don’t know much about the current state of communication between community groups and residents. But by partnering with local organizations, we should be able to at least find a starting point. I believe technology can drastically grow social capital in the area, but relying on existing community groups is essential.