Wednesday, August 15, 2007


An Open Letter to Hyde Park Progress from Eugene F. Fama

I have been biking the lakefront from Hyde Park and swimming at the Point for about 45 years.

I risk assassination in saying this, but I think the new concrete revetments from the loop to Hyde Park look better than the old limestone -- in its best days.

The concrete is definitely more user friendly -- to sit, walk, or bike on. Returning from the Loop on my bike, I can now ride comfortably around the revetment that leads from the Aquarium to the Planetarium, and then pick up the delightful new path in Northerly Island (formerly Meigs Field). I look longingly at the ladders installed on the revetment between the Planetarium and the 12th Street Beach, to allow easy exit from the water. All the way south from the Loop, there seem to be many more people sitting and walking on the new revetments than in the past. The lakefront in general seems much more attractive and inviting.

The new revetments do, of course, have their downside. For one, they would force out the hordes of rats that live in the gaping cracks in the limestone at the point. (Rats have rights, too, you know.) Concrete revetments would also make it too easy to sit, stretch out on a blanket, or stroll around the point without breaking an ankle. (We don’t want the revetments to actually be used.) And concrete revetments would make breaking beer bottles late at night less fun since there would be no cracks to hide the shards that now get into the feet of unsuspecting walkers and swimmers emerging from the water.

When I go to the Point and look at the revetment, I wonder what it is that the limestone crowd is trying to save. I think I know the answer. I have been stopped several times at the entrance to the Point by SAVE THE POINT petitioners. I never recognize them as frequent users of the revetments. I suspect many people who signed SAVE THE POINT petitions were also not frequent users, but were simply fooled by a good slogan.

To vote on this one, maybe one should be able to show evidence of the cuts and bruises that regular users of the limestone revetments accumulate over the years.

Eugene F. Fama


Peter Rossi said...

great letter.

one additional point: the Point itself (not the revetment) is in sad shape. No investments in the landscaping have occured in the last ten years.

This is a direct result of those who have stalled replacement of the revetment (why fix the landscaping if you have to tear it up to rebuild?). If we had went ahead with the Compromise plan we would have had a nice new revetment and several million dollars of landscaping by now

Famac said...

An old friend of mine who used to live in Hyde Park came to visit. She was really shocked about how overgrown the South Side of the Point was with tall foilage. She said "If they really want to save the Point, maybe they could go out and do some weeding."

The protest is the point, not the Point.

chicago pop said...

I'd like 5 no-nonsense reasons why the 9-Point Comp. Plan and concrete are better than 100% limestone. For those new to the debate.

Elizabeth Fama said...

1. The Army Corps of Engineers will not sign off on an all-limestone design, period. So we can't get federal funding with 100% limestone.

2.Concrete is the only way to achieve Universal Access (ramps) to get down to the promenade -- also required to get federal funds.

3. The 9-Point Compromise Plan deliberately includes large water access points that are gradual steps into the water -- making water access possible for children, the elderly, and (shhh) dogs.

4.The Compromise plan reuses all existing limestone, but builds the structural base of the revetments and promenade entirely of concrete, for integrity. The limestone blocks would be used essentially as decoration (but important decoration): as the top two steps of the revetment, and piled in the water to cover up the steel supports when lake levels are low.

5. The 100% limestone plan has to include "strips" of concrete embedded within the limestone, to comply with the Universal Access requirement -- a mixed-use of the materials that the Army Corps says presents engineering problems, because each material would need its own, separate internal pilings, and would suffer cracking at the contact points between materials, with seasonal changes and wave action.

Shall I go on?

chicago pop said...

So is mixed limestone-concrete strip model acceptable to the Corps, and sufficient to qualify for federal funding?

chicago pop said...

I guess the crux of the issue here is that the Point can't legally be restored to its original condition because it falls under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps, and their internal guidelines were developed after the Point was originally constructed. So, to "save" it would basically be to build something in violation of modern standards on several levels. So the challenge for the Point Savers would then be to find a way to make something that "looked" like the original but met modern engineering, safety, and access standards.


Elizabeth Fama said...

Yes, that's right, and the SAVE THE POINT group did submit an architectural plan in 2003 (by Frank Heitzman and Wayne Tjaden), commissioned with donations from the public and a contribution from the Hyde Park Historical Society, with matching funds from the Driehaus Foundation. Their publicity material described it as "preserving the limestone revetments" by integrating the limestone blocks into "a renewed but still historic structure, that also provides better access for everyone, regardless of ability."

The bulk of the changes were on the north side in their plan, with a complete dismantling and rebuilding using the limestone plus the concrete strip that I've described above,and concrete steps and ramps.

Along the tip of the Point it called for merely replacing the existing pilings and steel girders in the water, leaving the ugly concrete "coffins" section from the 1960's intact.

It also called for minimal refurbishing of the south side of the Point, which the POINT SAVERS said was relatively protected from wave action.

The Army Corps studied the plan and rejected it. So that one is off the table.

At community meetings that I attended, three viewpoints all seemed to have voice in the Point Savers group: one proposed the Heitzman/Tjaden architectural plan, one said the we should just leave the Point alone, without rebuilding it at all, and one said we should rebuild entirely of limestone, as it was built in the 1930s (completely disregarding the Army Corps' avowed inability to follow that path).

And through all this muddle, the original Compromise Plan -- which was reasonable, attractive, and APPROVED by all the powers that be -- was lost.

Peter Rossi said...

It would be irresponsible to "restore" the point to its orginal condition even if this were acceptable to various agencies that are giving the funding.

The revetment was installed in the late 1930's. By 1960, large sections had failed -- hence the ugly coffin repairs (which, incidently lasted well because concrete is an amazing durable material).

so it would be a mistake duplicate the old structure.

the Compromise Plan has the best of all worlds- it is mostly limestone in appearance with a concrete and steel core.

I never figured out what was unacceptable about this.

It should also be pointed out that the "community" task force plan does not adhere to either engineering or preservation standards. The head on the IHPA is on record as saying that "community" task force plan could not be approved as meeting preservation standards. The reason, quite simply, bears no resemblance at all to the orginal revetment. It looks like something that a designer on acid drew

chicago pop said...

OK, so now here are some questions as to the process: why can't the Army Corps build whatever the hell it wants to? How are constituents of community groups determined in the first place, and what formal or informal limiting powers do they have on the Corps? How was the Point Saver group able to effectively wield veto power over the Comp. Plan?

Elizabeth Fama said...

I'm not sure about the answers to those questions, except to say that the community meetings became so unpleasant -- with strident voices, picketing signs, and even shouting -- that ordinary, calm folks (like my mother-in-law) stopped attending them, the alderman seemed genuinely concerned that the mob might truly represent her constituents, and the City, Park District, and Army Corps officials became insulted and threw their hands up.

Then Barack Obama gallantly stepped in to form a task force to study design possibilities, promptly started his presidential campaign, and the process was officially stalled.

As to why the officials can't just build what they want, I think they could. What held them up at first was that they WERE participating in a negotiating process with the community. And I believe they spent something like a million dollars on that process, by the way.

I've always thought we run the risk of them just closing the Point and building the original (and, incidentally, unswimmable) design, now that the process is stalled and the money is running down. I don't even know if the Compromise Plan is still available to us in its final form.

Peter Rossi said...

The neighborhood crazies got to the staff folks from Obama and Jackson and filled them full with lies about the city plan. They were told that the city plan was a "demolition" plan and that the city wanted to "wrap the point in concrete." They also lied about those in the community who felt differently. They accused those of us who put together an letter in support of the plan signed by over 300 residents as garnering these signatures by mis-representation. Something they know a lot about!

A very sad and cynical affair. The belief that if you lie often enough and loud enough, folks will believe what you say.