MADISON (WKOW) – City and law enforcement officials said Thursday night that crime and other problematic behaviors in the area at the top of State Street known as 'Philosopher's Grove' has decreased.
Philosopher's Grove once housed bronze and granite stones that were meant to encourage people to gather there. But Mayor Paul Soglin said his office ultimately decided to have the stones removed after increased complaints about alcohol and drug abuse, fighting and even public urination in the area.
Soglin said the removal of the stones, as well as a nearby bus shelter, could provide less incentive for problematic characters to gather at the top of State Street.
On Thursday night, Madison Police Capt. Carl Gloede said there's been a noticeable difference in the area since the stones were removed.
He said the large groups of people that once gathered around Philosopher's Grove have not returned.
Gloede said, as a result, more people have been walking through the area. He said the public in the past would often steer clear of Philosopher's grove.
“Now you see a greater flow of everyday people who are going to work, going to restaurants and bars, to businesses, going to the Capitol and utilizing that whole area,” Gloede said.
Maria Milsted, who's company owns a property near Philosopher's Grove, said she now feels much safer walking to work.
“There isn't the hard core, criminal activity there that there was before,” she said.
But not everyone who spoke before the committee expressed approval of the decision to remove the stones. Some said the removal of the stones simply served as an attack on the homeless community.
“That area was where we would meet up to eat,” said Al Muhaymin, who is currently homeless.
Dane County Board supervisor Heidi Wegleitner called the removal of the stones an attempt to “criminalize” poverty and homelessness.
Ald. Mike Verveer, whose district includes the area at the top of State Street, said he's heard overwhelmingly positive feedback from constituents since the stones were removed.
“Constituents who live in the vicinity of Philosopher's Grove, they've found that the disruptive behavior, and the handful of individuals who were causing problems and causing some discomfort to pedestrians who were walking through there, have literally disappeared overnight,” Verveer said,
But Verveer said the change does mean some of the bad characters that once congregated at Philosopher's Grove have now moved elsewhere. He said city officials and police haven't identified where that is, but that he remains worried about the possibility of the same problems resurfacing in another area of the city.
“There clearly has been displacement. We've seen a few more people across the street, but nowhere near the numbers we saw at Philosopher's Grove,” Verveer said.