Saturday, September 8, 2007

Herald's Chicken: Headlines as Wish-Fulfillment

What is propaganda? Long answer: wish-fulfillment posing as a news story. Short answer: an average front-page Herald headline.

Take the modest front page piece (September 5, 2007) this week: "Doctors Hospital Plans Redrawn." One could be forgiven for reading this and thinking that the University -- the only party whose plans mean anything, and the only party able to translate any plans into steel, glass and concrete -- had changed its mind, and decided to use the mediocre institutional relic as the basis for a full-service modern hotel.

Wrong! The University hasn't even returned the Herald's phone call for the story. Someone else, it turns out, has redrawn the plans. Who? Local Dudes. Plus a few outside consultants. There are probably even a few folks who have redrawn the plans while sitting in the grass across the street. Does any of this amount to a preservationist victory? Not by a long shot, although the headline seems to suggest otherwise.

As post-facto copy editors who admire the journalistic integrity of The Onion, we suggest the following, more accurate version: "Local Dudes Draw Alternative Hotel Plan." This at least fills in the "who" of the standard 5-W's of journalism (who, what, when, where, why) and gets at the rather important qualifying adjective, "alternative," neither of which made it into the original headline.

The alternative plan business must be buzzing. It's clear that even if not much preservation actually goes on in Hyde Park -- at the Point or anywhere else -- the alternative planners are probably doing well. It wouldn't be surprising if more effort and funds go into the drafting of alternative plans than into actual fund-raising to repair or replace much more distinctive landmarks than Doctors Hospital, like deteriorated church steeples, or mysteriously "disappeared" bank building clocks.


Elizabeth Fama said...

Actually, shouldn't your headline more properly be, "Local Dudes Busy Drawing Alternative Hotel Plan," since the Herald article indicated that the Chicago-based plans are still in process?

I like your idea of raising preservation funds to DO things, rather than to study them and to lobby. I really admired that steeple on the Unitarian Church. We ought to have used some SAVE THE POINT money to repair it. (For those not in the know: it was more expensive for the church to repair it than to remove it.)

chicago pop said...

"I like your idea of raising preservation funds to DO things, rather than to study them and to lobby."

The lobbying thing is actually another form of 'leakage', that takes money from the pockets of well-meaning neighborhood doners (and others) and drains it away to boutique architect and design firms who may not achieve any results.

It's also, as with virtually all NIMBY activism in Hyde Park, entirely reactive. No one is out in front, keeping an eye on the horizon. In terms of effectiveness alone, it would seem that this is a second class strategy, whether it's regarding condo towers, the Point, or historical preservation. The NIMBY lobby needs to let someone else have a vision and make plans so that it can claim that "the community" has been shortchanged. Whereas, if "the community" actually had a vision for Hyde Park, all this righteous organizing to "save" things would be much more complicated. And much more democratic.

curtsy said...

I believe the Unitarian Church's decision to not continue to allocate funds to the preservation of its steeple (which, as I recall, was not a part of its original design) was a rational decision based on their core mission as a church community. I too loved the view of that spire as I walked west along 57th Street. However, I highly doubt that the long-term cost of maintaining the supplemental spire could have been supported by local donations. How much would YOU pay yearly for the pleasure of its presence?

chicago pop said...

"How much would YOU pay yearly for the pleasure of its presence?"

Oh, something south of the several million that have been wasted on various studies and plans for renovation of the Point.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Well, the City payed millions to negotiate with the task force, to change the plans, and to study the drawings and independent engineering report of the SAVE THE POINT group -- but the SAVE THE POINT group raised tens of thousands. I've heard $90,000 bandied about, but I don't know for sure. In any case, tens of thousands would have been enough to take care of that steeple in perpetuity.

However, the preservationists in Hyde Park seem to be interested mostly in questioning projects that the University, developers, or City undertake.

Or is that unfair?

curtsy said...

Actually, as I recall (and perhaps I'm mis-remembering), the estimated cost at the time for repairs of the steeple was far in excess of $100,000. I think it may have even exceeded 200,000. And the long-term concern of the Unitarians was that, after having already spent considerable resources on the previous round of "routine maintenance", the steeple would continue to require expensive periodic servicing. But maybe you know better as to how much it would have cost "in perpetuity."

And the amount of money the city has spent (wasted?) in the sinkhole negotitions with the SAVE THE POINT posse is not germane to the subject of the lost spire. Those funds would have never been available to the Unitarian Church. As for the money raised by the SAVE THE POINT cadre, it would seem that in the Free Market of Ideas the Point was a more compelling cause than the handsome spire. But then again, perhaps you have a better idea as to how others should allocate their efforts, funds, and resources?

chicago pop said...

"perhaps you have a better idea as to how others should allocate their efforts, funds, and resources?"

Don't be silly, clownish crusty; that's what Jack B. Nimby is for. To convince folks that doomed causes (The Point) are worth rallying (and donating) for, while others are simply doomed (the steeple), the result being a warm affection for the status quo of overall decay.

curtsy said...

C-Pop (that's with one "o", right?)-- I DO fancy myself a bit of the class clown/general jester, but I doubt you would be so quick with the "clever" nicknames if we were to be discussing these issues in person, face to face, say at Istria. Surely that is one of the true pleasures of anonymity on the internet.

Although I actually agree with much of the POV expressed here, I also enjoy playing Devil's Advocate (which, by the way, does not automatically align me with the HP Establishment.) In fact, I have long been amused, bemused, and annoyed by the neighborhood's political culture. Nevertheless, I am not prepared to swallow the Kool-Aid you are selling. Your inclination to go ad hominem somewhat undermines the credibility of your arguments.

chicago pop said...

Fair enough.