Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Herald's Chicken: Doctor's Hospital Update

The Hyde Park Herald (Wed. July 25, 2007), the Establishment's leading organ of the press, led off this weeks edition with the headline "Residents reject Drs. Hospital Swap", meaning that there was a consensus against the U of C's plans to tear down the 1914 structure and replace it with a mid-market Marriott hotel. Now, headlines are a matter of journalistic art, and no one is holding the Herald up to, say Washington Post standards, but this is not quite accurate.

The Herald claims there were 250 people in attendance. The population of Hyde Park is, according to the South East Chicago Commission, 44,700 people. That means a minute fraction of the neighborhood's population (0.006%) bothered to show up. Although I got the gut sense a majority of people in the room didn't like the University's plan, I have no way of telling if all of them were opposed to it. Nothing in the Herald's article provides any sort of objective basis for determining if the project is popular or not in the neighborhood at large.

So, with just a back-of-the-envelope calculation, we can see how The Establishment is taking the voice of a small group of people and projecting it as the General Will. This happens with nearly every case of proposed development.


This is not to say that attendees failed to raise legitimate issues. Of all the complaints I heard, two were reasonable. The first was the fear of parking congestion, which is a fear among single-family homeowners throughout the universe. A truly righteous response to this complaint, as an urban-planner friend of mine put it, would be to tell people that they shouldn't be driving cars in a city anyway. Hans Morsbach laments the prospect of not being able to park his car "in front of his house," as if he didn't live in one of the densest cities in the United States, in which millions of people use mass transit every day, and more transit infrastructure is desperately needed. This problem should be shut down with proper design of a parking structure.

Aesthetics are a more substantial concern. Although the Herald did not mention this in its "Rejection" story, a number of the most compelling comments made acknowledged that sometimes you have to tear down an old building; but if and when you do, why not put up something even better? Even some preservationists at the meeting were willing to trade, if the new building were a contribution to architectural excellence. The Inland Steel building was cited as one example of a case in which no one regrets the loss of the building that was there before.

Truth be told, the Doctors' Hospital is nothing to look at. It is significant in an academic way, which is enough for the Hyde Park Antiquarian Society to insist that it remain unaltered, meaning vacant and deteriorating like a dozen other Hyde Park properties. Tear it down and build something better. We could use the restaurants, the cafes, and the foot traffic into the neighborhood.


Peter Rossi said...

The Hyde Park Herald routinely prints misleading headlines, "news" stores that are merely thinly disguised editorials, and various non-stories that are designed not to report any event but stir up opinion against some sort of progress.

Let's have a regular feature that reviews each issue of the Herald and exposes the half-truths and selective omission as well as the stories that are merely opinions not fact.

I'm willing to help!

Peter Rossi said...

In addition to the points raised in the blog entry, there are several other misprepresentations in the article.

The article refers to "union activists" and "preservationists" in attendence. Apparently, willingness to attend a meeting is the only qualification needed to be dubbed an "activist" or "preservationist" by the Herald. Local landscaper, Jack Spicer, is cited as a "preservationist," though Mr. Spicer has no training or qualifications in preservation or architecture.

David Bahlman is referred to as a representative of the "statewide preservation agency" Landmarks Illinois (Landmarks Council of Illinois). This is a private group not a state agency. The Herald uses this wording in an attempt to give the impression that Mr. Bahlman is speaking in a capacity as a State Official.

Mr. Bahlman talks of the hotel as "not Hyde Park" even though he is not a resident. He has appointed himself as the gatekeeper of what is appropriate for our neighborhood. Abandoned, ugly buildings are "Hyde Park" but much needed hotel and meeting space is not. The University puts up hundreds if not thousands of visitors yearly in downtown hotels. Few of these visitors have cars. What they do is spend money on restaurants in downtown Chicago instead of Hyde Park.

chicago pop said...

Peter, how would you like to have "Herald's Chicken"? I view it as a weekly rotisserie, in which we roast the local organ, and the half-truths and selective omissions should come out with the dripping.

How does that sound?

chicago pop said...

Further thoughts on your further thoughts: as with so many things in Hyde Park, the absence of choice means that competition does not operate in some of its more salubrious ways: when you only have one source (the Co-Op, The Herald, the Foreign Car Hospital, etc.) there is no pressure on anyone to run a tight ship. And so with The Herald -- they're the only game in town (and I do appreciate their existence), but there needs to be another outlet. Freedom of the press does not mean one outlet.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Another alternative for Doctor's Hospital would be high-end condominiums for North Side Lab School families looking to move to Hyde Park.

This is unexplored territory on the blog, but in my opinion the high housing prices in the "golden rectangle" in Hyde Park are a direct result of professional parents of Lab kids trying to move on campus. The housing stock is thin -- there are few single-family homes between 58th and 55th. A wealthy person who is used to North Side prices will pay over a million for a family-sized house without blinking.

And yet the neighborhood amenities are still (mostly) those of an impoverished community. There are of course exceptions, like Toys Etc., Freehling Pot and Pan, and the Medici Bakery.

chicago pop said...

Elizabeth: interesting idea and theory. I'm pretty sure the U of C will get it's hotel, and think it's a reasonable thing; but do think you're right that some new, higher-end development would be helpful for a number of reasons. Which is why I support a new tower at 56th and Cornell (Save the Parking Lot!!)

Re: demand from Lab parents, interesting. Would like to know more about that. In any case, the "Golden Rectangle" is far too small to serve the multiple needs of Lab, the U of C, the hospital, etc.

The only way to take pressure off of Hyde Park is for the neighborhoods surrounding HP to be developed, and ultimately the rest of the South Side. Most HP'ers don't seem to think about that.