Family friendly neighborhoods for UW grad student?
February 21, 2009 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Where's the perfect place for us to live in Madison, Wisconsin? We're planning this from afar, and having done that once before already, we're trying to go about it a little smarter this time. Reality checks welcome. Details inside.

My wife has accepted an offer of admission to a graduate program at UW Madison. It's a unique opportunity for her (and she moved with me for grad school to Louisville) so we're moving to Madison this fall. AskMe has already covered our questions about the cultural aspects of Madison pretty well, but we're planning this move with likely only a short visit sometime in late March or early April before we relocate the last week in July.

Please help us make our planning time in the city as useful as possible. Most importantly, what neighborhoods should we be looking at as we plan? The specifics are that we have a toddler (and a small doggie), so public safety is a priority. We're frugal, but need a decently sized two bedroom, and will probably be looking in the $700/m to $750/m range.

We will have one car, so the neighborhood needs to be relatively well connected to the university by public transit; within 4-5 miles would also be nice, if possible. The neighborhood doesn't need to be bohemian, gentrified, trendy or demonstrate any other aspect of cultural eliteness that we can't afford on a student budget. Accessible, pedestrian safe, and relatively affordable will suit us just fine.
posted by mrmojoflying to Education (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My dad lives in Madison right near the capitol building, which is right downtown. Great transportation, a block from the big farmer's market, affordable.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:45 PM on February 21, 2009

If your main concern truly is cost, and you don't mind bus rides or long bike rides into campus, you might try Fitchburg... there's some complexes south of the Beltline on Park that should be in your price range and there are buses that go straight up Park to campus.

Also, what about Eagle Heights, the university-owned housing for married grad students? My classmates that lived there all quite liked it, and it's cheap and walkable to campus.
posted by deadweightloss at 1:11 PM on February 21, 2009

Best answer: I live close to the capitol and pay $300/mo for a room in rundown 4 bedroom house.
It's definitely NOT the safest street to live on, either. If you look downtown, I recommend (as a general rule, although I know there are exceptions) avoiding anything from Hancock to Blount Streets.

The Vilas neighborhood is an area I would recommend. It's close to the University, has a free zoo for the little one, mostly contains families, with some college housing mixed in. It's a safe neighborhood, yet is still affordable. There's a grocery in the neighborhood, parking is easy to find, etc.

The Willy Street area is affordable and fairly safe. A lot of graduate students I know live there. There's a neighborhood co-op and a good amount of cheap restaurants. The busing system gets out there too.

Madison is very bike friendly, so keep that in mind as well if it's a good option for either of you.

Check out apartments by location here or use the comprehensive search here.

I've lived in Madison for four years and in Wisconsin for my entire life, so feel free to MeFiMail me with any additional questions, before you get here or after, about anything at all relating to the city, state, or otherwise.
posted by mesh gear fox at 1:26 PM on February 21, 2009

I have one uncle who lives in Middleton with his wife and three kids. He commutes by bike to work (near the Capitol). It was named the #1 place to live by Money magazine. A cursory look at the rental listings shows plenty of places in your price range. Google maps puts it at 6 miles from campus.
posted by desjardins at 1:29 PM on February 21, 2009

I lived near/in the UW Arboretum for 2 years and couldn't have been happier. If you're looking for BoHo student artsy areas, you'll want Willy Street and surrounding. The West side is more yuppie, and downtown Washington is kinda the area to avoid.

Madison is a great place, and if I weren't so blindly in love with the West Coast, I'd live there in a heartbeat.
posted by thatbrunette at 1:41 PM on February 21, 2009

One more thing to add: It will be difficult, but not impossible, to find a decent two bedroom that allows dogs in a decent neighborhood for $750/mo. In all honesty you're probably going to have pay at least $850.
posted by mesh gear fox at 1:48 PM on February 21, 2009

I'd look east of the capitol. That's where I live, and there are plenty of nice neighborhoods, some more expensive than others, but with more character and community than most neighborhoods. The Atwood neighborhood is nice, but so are some of the older, more working-class neighborhoods like Northport. I think that's what the neighborhood is called, anyway. I live between Atwood and Sherman, and getting to campus is a breeze. A 40 minute walk, a 20 minute bike ride, a 15 minute bus ride (I work on the downtown side of campus, however; it takes twice as long to get to the other side). The buses come very often. Damn, I wish I wasn't moving.
posted by theefixedstars at 2:07 PM on February 21, 2009

Welcome! You're going to love it here.

Eagle Heights / University Houses is absolutely the obvious place for you to live -- completely safe, quiet, tons of little kids around, playgrounds right outside your door, easy bike ride to UW or (if you don't bike through the Madison winter like the truly hardcore) the Route 80 bus goes directly to campus. Extremely international, if you're into that.

But -- and this might be a big but -- I'm not sure if pets are allowed.
posted by escabeche at 2:10 PM on February 21, 2009

Seconding the Williamson Street/Near East Side area of Madison. Safe, family-friendly, central, beautiful. Highly recommended, I grew up in Madison and this is one of my favorite parts of the city.
posted by ekf at 2:26 PM on February 21, 2009

Seconding Eagle Heights for the cheapest location with lots of young families and a great international mix.

If that doesn't work: With a toddler and dog, you'd probably like a fenced yard, which is rare downtown or near Willy St. The Vilas area is nice and is more likely to have a yard.

"Willy St." = "E. Williamson St." When I lived there 15 years ago, there were dodgy neighborhoods near Willy St., especially just north of the street. We had to get our neighbor evicted for dealing drugs out of his apartment, there were problems with a peeping Tom, it was common to see drunk/yelling people, and belligerent teens threw trash cans around. Right before I moved away someone was held up at gunpoint in the co-op parking lot. However, it's entirely possible that the area has been significantly cleaned up.

The Atwood neighborhood is quieter than Willy St. and still a quick bike ride to campus. I lived near the Barrymore Theater for years and enjoyed it. The neighborhood behind the Barrymore is a mix of houses and two-flats; if you head closer to the lake, there are more single-family houses.
posted by PatoPata at 2:44 PM on February 21, 2009

Williamson-Marquette and Shenk-Atwood neighborhoods are great; easy-going and easy to get to downtown and campus. They're quiet enough, but have lots of their own vibe and a good amount of restaurants, taps, and good groceries. Definitely less "studenty," but there are plenty of grad students around. Very dog, bike, and kid-friendly. It's definitely gotten nicer since PatoPata lived here.

Vilas is nice too, and would be more convenient to campus (although maybe more expensive? Dunno, just from the look of the houses). If you have to go farther out, maybe look at Monona...

Fitchburg, suggested above, is quite a haul on a bike and would traverse some kinda sketchy territory.
posted by mimi at 3:16 PM on February 21, 2009

Best answer: Pretty much all the neighborhoods that have been offered are accesible, definitely by car and pretty well by bus. Campus is pretty much central slightly west of the "isthmus" so neighborhoods span out from there.
Near west:
Eagle Heights/University Houses is a good fit it sounds like.
Vilas neighborhood also safe but likely higher than 750
Hill Farms area might be a good option further out but likely within your price range and lots of parks etc for kids/families.
Near East:
Willy Street might not be as pedestrian safe as years past and im not sure within the price range.
Atwood would likely also be a good choice but getting further from campus.
Tenney Park/ Sherman Terrace is affordable, close to lake and not far from campus.
Fitchburg would be affordable but pretty far from campus and less pedestrian friendly.
Good luck Madison is a gem! I wouldnt fret too much there are plenty of possibilities and it is kinda a small town with a big city feel, but pretty easy to get around and plenty to entertain. "72 square miles surrounded by reality". or would be good resources for you!
posted by Cainaan777 at 3:27 PM on February 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow...lots of great information, exactly what we need as we start scouting housing. We would love the convenience of university housing, but the dog is a non-starter there and non-negotiable for us. Part of our concern is that when we relocated to Louisville, we did so into a rapidly declining neighborhood. The information in this thread will help us locate somewhere a little more stable for our move to Madison. My wife is very excited, it's a great program and not a person we've talked to has said anything bad (or even unenthusiastic) about the city itself.
posted by mrmojoflying at 3:42 PM on February 21, 2009

I've heard the most culturally important area of Madison is located on the isthmus.
posted by trotter at 3:47 PM on February 21, 2009

Cripes, all these other Badgers on here.

Which program is she in? That might help a lot if you don't want to spend a lot of time hiking across campus in addition to getting to campus.
posted by kldickson at 5:52 PM on February 21, 2009

My ex-girlfriend moved to Middleton and loves it there. That's about all I know about Madison, however.
posted by Precision at 7:33 PM on February 21, 2009

Best answer: We will have one car, so the neighborhood needs to be relatively well connected to the university by public transit

Madison has a pretty decent bus system, a lot of it geared to campus commutes, so that's easily done.

within 4-5 miles would also be nice, if possible.

That covers a lot of good areas from the Isthmus to Middleton. Really, five miles is everything. Even four is almost everything that matters.

The neighborhood doesn't need to be bohemian, gentrified, trendy or demonstrate any other aspect of cultural eliteness that we can't afford on a student budget. Accessible, pedestrian safe, and relatively affordable will suit us just fine.

Wow, that's more like where shouldn't you live. Basically, most of Madison is already unpretentious nice family friendly neighborhoods. The farther west you get it becomes duller and more suburban, but at least as far as Midvale it's still Madison-y, even out to Whitney Way, depending.

There are nice bits on the Isthmus, but they're interspersed with other less-nice bits and especially at the north end you really would want a feel for the city before you settle down there. Once you get past campus, as a general rule, the lakeshores are decent but the middle isn't so much. And there's tremendous crosstown traffic to contend with, because it has no place else to go.

I don't find any part of Madison annoyingly bohemian (and certainly not of the expensive sort), although pockets are gentrified or trendy. It's tricky with the housing boom which has led to condo infill in a lot of areas. Some of these weren't even residential before, though.

Keep in mind there are some troubled areas with higher crime. The Allied Drive neighborhood is one such struggling area, but it's right next to much nicer areas like Dunns Marsh.

Mind you, Madison has had a few high-profile murders recently. As a whole the city isn't experiencing a huge crime wave, but it has impacted the sense of safety there.
posted by dhartung at 9:49 PM on February 21, 2009

Response by poster: Well, we just made our first visit over the weekend and drove to most of the areas mentioned above. We've chosen a nice little fall-back place in a complex in Fitchburg, just in case we can't find anything else while doing this from a distance. I think we're going to be looking in Middleton (and pay a little more), simply because that is where our daughter's preschool will be. All in all, it's a neat town and my wife and I are excited to be moving. Thanks again for all the very helpful information.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:51 AM on March 24, 2009

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