In the year 2020, Tenney-Lapham is a diverse residential neighborhood on Madison’s Isthmus. As an older neighborhood with mature housing stock, it offers Madison good-quality affordable housing. The neighborhood also has significant historic structures both in and out of the Fourth Lake Ridge and Sherman Avenue Historic Districts. The area has a good mix of owner-occupied and rental housing. In fact, many two and three unit structures are both – with the owner occupying one unit and renting out the others. Between 2008 and 2020, significant new development occurred in the neighborhood along East Washington Avenue between Blair Street and the river and along the Yahara River Parkway. Across the river, a multi-modal transit hub linking commuter rail, streetcars, airport shuttles, buses and a park-and-ride offers local residents many transit options.
In previous decades, the neighborhood had a large population of university students. However in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the construction of multi-story, high-density student apartment buildings closer to campus caused a sizeable shift in student rental patterns away from this near eastside neighborhood. In 2020, Tenney-Lapham is more likely to provide affordable, workforce housing along quiet streets suitable for raising families.
This transformation was fostered by important changes in City transportation policy and zoning, and also through more frequent building inspection and incentives for conversion of properties from absentee landlord to owner-occupancy. In transportation, a significant step was the return of Johnson and Gorham Streets to two-way between Wisconsin Avenue and Baldwin Street. A new zoning ordinance, local landmark designation of the Fourth Lake Ridge and Sherman Avenue Districts, and a new conservation district ordinance maintained most of the older neighborhood as one, two and three unit structures. As the rental vacancy rate rose, the City and local financial institutions offered incentives for properties to be acquired by owner-occupants, including owner-occupied two and three units. Other multiple unit structures converted to condominiums. These changes provided many opportunities for members of Madison’s workforce to obtain affordable housing in a safe, convenient, residential area that is within the City limits.
The proximity of this neighborhood to downtown and the campus has made it an ideal area for the City to introduce and foster alternatives to automobile transportation. Further reducing the pressure of automobile commuting through this neighborhood was the development of a park-and-ride transit hub just east of the Yahara River in the area bounded by East Washington Avenue, First and Johnson Streets. This location provided a natural hub for receiving arterial traffic from East Washington Avenue, Fordem and Pennsylvania Avenues. The existing rail infrastructure in this area enabled the return of passenger rail. The transit hub is more than just a parking lot and commuter/light rail station. It also includes recreational green space as part of the Yahara River Parkway and offers restaurants and retail shops enabling commuters to take care of daily errands as they transition among rail, bus, cars and bikes.
Last but not least, Tenney-Lapham also has a traditional neighborhood business district along East Johnson near Paterson Street. With the influx of more families and long-term residents, the business district has thrived and expanded along the 700, 800 and 900 blocks of East Johnson Street. The availability of shopping within walking distance of home and via alternative transportation, such as the Isthmus-circulating shuttles and streetcars has made neighborhood living much more viable. For all its residents, but most particularly for people with fixed incomes, disabilities, or working at lower wages, Tenney-Lapham offers a neighborhood where it is possible to be a no-car or one-car household without being culturally, economically or socially isolated from enjoying the full life of the City.