Madison Mayor Proposes ‘77 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality’ Joke as Official City Motto

by Andrew Johnson

Wisconsin’s capital may soon embrace the statewide slight other Wisconsinites use to describe the liberal bubble the city’s residents live in.

Mayor Paul Soglin plans to offer a resolution to the city council that would make the Madison’s motto “77 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality.” Shrugging off the deprecating intent with which the line is usually imbued, the mayor compared the moniker to another recent city resolution, making its official bird a plastic pink flamingo.

“I find that people have a sense of humor and appreciation for it,” he said. “It’s a statement about who we are.”

But council members aren’t quite laughing along, calling it more “harmful than helpful” to the city. Meanwhile, the local Chamber of Commerce president likes the concept, but has a tweak: “Maybe we should figure out the square footage of the City Council chamber and use that,” he joked.

The phrase dates back to a comment by Republican governor Lee S. Dreyfus about Madison during his 1978 campaign, when he described the city as “30 square miles surrounded by reality” (at the time, it was actually 65 square miles).

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