Thursday, October 4, 2007

Development Beat: Prospects for Retail on Cottage Grove and in Hyde Park

posted by chicago pop

That's just a tease, of course; no one expects Target on Cottage Grove within the next 6 months, 6 years, and some may say we need to wait 6 decades. After all, it took 30 years for Grand Boulevard to lose 52,000 people, about as much time as it took Hyde Park to lose a comparable number.

But there are signs of positive change. As we highlighted back in August, Alderman Preckwinkle is helping to bring an exciting mixed-use development to the corner of Cottage Grove and 47th. And an estimated 10,000 folks are expected to move into the area as it continues to attract middle-class home buyers, and as 3,600 new mixed-income units come on line by 2010 as part of the Chicago Housing Authority's "great transformation."

Some changes, in the right circumstances, can be bracing. Look at Evanston, which only a few years ago had a rather torpid downtown area with little-to-no advantage taken of its excellent and centralized transit infrastructure. It now has a booming downtown commercial district, high-rise residential clustered around METRA and "L" stations, and a combination of local and national, large and small-scale retail. All while preserving its historic, single-family neighborhoods. This took forethought, planning, and a commitment to change.

Similar transformations, though more limited, have occurred around rail hubs in Arlington Heights, and Palatine, both on METRA lines.

Hyde Park is indeed a different species, not being a distinct municipality, cut up into several different political jurisdictions, and like everyone else subject to byzantine City bureaucracy. But it does have a METRA line with multiple stations, and good bus service, and, as many readers of this blog have commented, a fair amount of pent-up demand.

So what's the deal?

A few factors are mentioned in a 2005 interview with Hank Webber, VP of Community Affairs at the U of C: prevalence of relatively small spaces discourages larger retailers, as does the suspicion that a local store would lose out to competition from the Loop, or the growing commercial strip along Roosevelt Road. From a demographic perspective, Hyde Park's high student population is viewed as more or less equivalent to an impoverished community like Grand Boulevard, with 25,000 people living below poverty. Though aggregate buying power is there, both neighborhoods have to work hard to convince retailers that they are viable markets.

A 2005 Urban Lands workshop on redevelopment in Grand Boulevard highlighted Cottage Grove as a key element in any revitalization. One crucial factor: there is land available. Public transportation, as well as under-utilized road capacity, make the area ripe for future commercial development as the local population grows and average household incomes rise. Hyde Park doesn't have this kind of real estate to offer, but it would only benefit from the development of a neighboring community that did.

While Hyde Park will most likely have to piggy-back off of neighboring communities for large scale retail, it's not too soon to think about how to improve the climate for smaller businesses. The participants at the above-mentioned workshop agree that, in any of the lakefront, South Side neighborhoods, there is a shortage of small retail space, but building it out is an expensive proposition that will require subsidy (from TIF funds, for example), and a commitment to providing top grade retail space in a mixed-use project.

We all know that a few of those are set to come on line, or are in the planning stages, and how important they therefore are to advancing Hyde Park to its small retail "tipping point."

"The most important thing a community can do is to set the table," remarked a local developer at the 2005 workshop. The deck is stacked against a lot of South Side neighborhoods, for historical, racial, and other reasons. But this is all the more reason to make it attractive for the small retailer to locate here by building the best quality and most plentiful new space that can be provided, whether in the ground level of a new hotel, the street level of a new residential tower, or by upgrading and expanding existing properties.


James said...

Just trying to clarify here:
"...interview with Hank Webber, VP of Community Affairs at the U of C: prevalence of relatively small spaces discourages larger retailers..."
"The participants at the above-mentioned workshop agree that, in any of the lakefront, South Side neighborhoods, there is a shortage of small retail space"

You've written both these things but a certain tension exists between them. I believe both statements were made, but only one of them is true and this time I'm betting on Hank.

There's a shortage of small spaces if you're looking for one, I guess, but most folks in the know believe there are too many small strorefronts zoned commercial for contemporary purposes-- that is, the Big Box retail age.

I'm sort of a dissenter on this issue. I'm not convinced that retail spaces will continue to just get larger; there's a reasonable chance that boutiques and starter spaces will combine to increase demand for smaller spots. I'd go slow on rezoning from Commercial to other purposes, favoring a fair amount of flexibility with mixed use properties. In no case would I want to see buildings constructed in the middle of a retail strip that didn't have either retail or office space at ground level, preferably with doors opening onto the sidewalk.

We should probably look at Lakeview for the best mix of Big Box and Small Spaces. Lakeview is attractive because of all the small stores, but there are a couple anchor properties with Big Box-- at Clark & Belmont and Clark & Diversey, for example. In HP, Harper Court offers the possibility of Big Box among smaller stores.

The big problem IMO is still the lack of rail transit mid-day and weekends.

chicago pop said...

I'm not sure there are too many small spaces, but suspect that there are too many barriers for small entrepreneurs, some having to do with the age and quality of the spaces. The tension you rightly point out (and politely avoid calling a contradiction) stems from a different focus for each remark -- the former being Hyde Park in particular, the latter being adjoining and more severely depressed neighborhoods.

From the perspective of big box retail, perhaps the number of small spaces does seem excessive, but I think you and I may agree (and the developer cited agrees) that this may not necessarily be a problem if and when things turn around in the neighborhood, which will never host big box retail anyway (aside from the Harper Court idea -- which gets an "A" for kahonas!) Folks like to point out how plentiful small scale storefronts were key to the turnaround in Wicker Park, Lakeview, and Lincoln Park, all of which experienced reinvention as boutique districts (with Lakeview creatively fitting in a few big boxes). Looking to this model, having the space in a neighborhood that wants more specialty shopping seems like a good asset to keep in play. Perhaps getting a solid anchor in the neighborhood -- like a GAP -- would then stimulate a market for smaller specialty retailers. We'll see how the 53rd/Harper redevelopment plays out.

More frequent day trains would certainly be helpful if when a boutique shopping district ever came together.

James said...

Re: Big Box at Harper Court-- this would only work if Harper Court & the city parking lot get developed in tandem, with plenty of parking on the city lot site.

We do have a Big Box store in HP-- Office Depot. And Borders, too, although it's a small Borders. What a shame it is that there's not a straightforward pedestrian retail path running from the Lake Park stores to Borders to Harper Court! To his credit, Hank has been apologetic about that.

There's also room for even more Big Box development in the Lake Park center. You build it where the parking lot is now and then put the parking on top. It's a little expensive, but you see this kind of thing in Lakeview a lot.

Again, though, the key is daytime and weekend rail transit. If you get more transit riders shopping there, they'll basically subsidize the more expensive parking situation. I personally don't believe that the popularity of Big Box is what's harming neighborhood retail in places like South Shore and HP. Follow the South Chicago Metra train down a ways and what do you see? Plenty of retail spaces built with trolley cars in mind.

chicago pop said...

Sayeth James: "There's also room for even more Big Box development in the Lake Park center. You build it where the parking lot is now and then put the parking on top. It's a little expensive, but you see this kind of thing in Lakeview a lot." I like this a lot.

You also see this at everyone's favorite hangout, the Target on Roosevelt. I see people WALKING in and out of that place from all directions, a testament to its smart urban design. Would be a great way to get more out of that goddamn mall besides a traffic jam.

In general here, we're talking about two different things and trying to keep them both in play at once. The big box, or larger retail, which may be fit into Hyde Park, or may just as well be outside of it; and the smaller stuff, which defines and is necessary to neighborhood street life. The people who said there is too much retail frontage were the Urban Renewal theorists back in the 60s who tore a lot of it down. Now we recognize that we need it back. We need the large scale AND the little stuff, especially the older low rent stuff, and if we're lucky, the former can exist side by side with the latter, the same way it does in so many places on the north side.

The worst thing is when inner-city redevelopment turns into suburbanization of the inner city, with brand new strip malls and poorly thought-out big box stuff at the expense of any viable older spaces.

James said...

C-Pop:"The worst thing is when inner-city redevelopment turns into suburbanization of the inner city, with brand new strip malls..."

I couldn't agree more. That's Exhibit A in my case against Creeping Suburbanization.

Elizabeth Fama said...

When you mentioned that students are equivalent to 25,000 people below the poverty line, it also reminded me of an issue I don't think we've talked about yet, which is that the student population is transient. It's transient in two ways that might affect our retail differently than other neighborhoods: the students never get old, and they leave en masse in the summer. There are vast weeks between June 15 and September 1 in which HP is almost a ghost town. I've always wondered how tough that is on businesses here.

Peter Rossi said...

I beg to differ on students. Students are relatively wealthy and do not save. Tuition at the U of C is at least 32,000. They all have VISA cards from Daddy.

If you look around other universities, there has been much emphasis on improving the neighborhood retail amenities. For example, the neighborhoods around Penn and Columbia have improved dramatically. They started at a lower point than Hyde Park but now are easily surpassing us. Berkeley and Cambridge are little more than student havens.

Something is broken in Hyde Park. I suspect it is combination of local "activists" scaring away developers and some bad mistakes on the part of the university.

A point made time and time again on this blog -- just 2 miles north of Hyde Park there is incredible development in what was an abandoned area. Hyde Park many of the right conditions for development but little results. There is something rotten here. I don't claim to know all of the answers but it seems obvious that the NIMBY's must take part of the blame.

chicago pop said...

Peter: It's interesting that you mention Penn, which offers a great comparison to the U of C in a lot of ways. I know Chicago has been working with a business consultant that was involved in Penn's attempts to rejeuvenate its immediate vicinity -- Lisa Prasad.

Here's an excerpt of her bio:Ms. Prasad was formerly an Associate Vice President at the University of Pennsylvania Facilities and Real Estate Services Division. In this capacity, she oversaw the division’s $350 million annual expenditures related to developing and maintaining Penn’s physical assets, both institutional and commercial. She also had leasing oversight for the University’s 380,000 square feet retail portfolio that generates an estimated $100 million in annual sales. She oversaw the overall retail strategy as well as its ongoing implementation and marketing. Penn’s retail assets were instrumental in transforming the University of Pennsylvania into one of the foremost urban university campuses in the country.


chicago pop said...

Something is broken in Hyde Park, that's for sure.

Re the students: Peter may be right, but Webber was citing corporate perceptions of student impecuniousness.

Also worth noting re the U of C student body is the exceptionally large number of graduate students (3X undergrads, if I recall?), who outnumber undergrads and do tend to be on the poorer side.

chicago pop said...

Elizabeth, I think student transiency is a major issue; the ones who stay (more likely grads) are probably low spenders, as the current permanent residents tend to be (spending slightly below national averages).

Which gets to doing what we can to make HP more of a destination, from encouraging better day-time and weekend transit access, to distinctive local boutique shopping, to more convenient and competitive shopping for stapes (groceries, household goods, etc.)

curtsy said...

To refer to the Student Body as "the equivalent of 25,000 people below the poverty line" or "they all have VISA cards from Daddy" is engaging in gross generalizations. I would agree, however, that their transiency is the problem.

Speaking with Marisa at The Snail this past summer, she shared that the summers were in fact "lean" and that she managed by living modestly.

I disagree with the previous assessment regarding the "over-abundance" of Thai restaurants in HP. However, on the other hand, if the sub shoppe choices contracted, would we be any poorer for the loss?

SR said...

Probably another big problem with the students from a retail perspective is that very few of them do any Christmas shopping in Hyde Park. The break is long enough that it just makes more sense to wait and shop when you go home than to buy here and shlep everything back with you, especially if you're flying. Don't most retail consumer goods type stores make like 60% of their annual sales during the holiday season?

Peter Rossi said...

I hate to inject facts into this discussion, but the ratio of undergrad to grads at U of C is now more like 2:1 than 3:1. The college has expanded to approximately 4200 students.

Also, grad students are here in the summer!

Grad students are not really poor. I see U of C grad students at Hot Dougs all the time. They are willing to travel to the Northside and spend a fair amount on encassed meats. I can tell you that GSB and Law School students are rich at least in expected future income.

The median household income of our college admits is around 200K, btw.

These arguments DO NOT explain why Hyde Park is dying and the Penn neighborhood is on the rise. Philly is in very bad shape as a city (in marked constrast to Chicago). Penn has the same transient problems, poor labor pool...

Regarding sub shops, at least we have some that is an improvement over a few years ago. I'm also glad we have a couple of starbucks. Somehow I can't make out the evil capitalist conspiracy here. In spite of the best efforts of some hyde parkers, there is still a market response, however eviserated.

Peter Rossi said...

To clarify. Curtsy is right about generalizations. I correct myself-- the idea that U of C students are poor is ridiculous, many have VISA cards from Daddy.

There is no such thing as an "over-abundance" of Thai restaurants or too many subways. This is a market response. However, there can be forces in the neighborhood that discourage shops/boutiques and small restaurants from opening. Consider the fact that many precincts in HP are dry -- sale of alcohol makes restaurants viable.

Fast food can work in many marginal areas where costs (explicit and implicit) are high and revenues are low per customer. So the fact that there are subways opening up in HP not more delis and cute boutiques can be taken as a symptom of a real problem

Peter Rossi said...

To complete the last comment.

The solution to the problem is not to prohibit fast food (this was advocated by Mr. Spicer and his "coalition for reasonable development on 53rd street") but to change the key economic forces. Unfortunately, our local community activists are part of the problem not the solution. T%eir solution is to pressure the Alderman to veto development with fast food. This makes the problem worse not better. We desperately need more development and density in Hyde Park to support the amenities that will make this happen

James said...

I talked to J-Spice over the weekend-- we were both volunteering at a community event and I didn't see any of the rest of you there-- and we had a lengthy discussion about the 53rd/Kenwood development as well as other density-related issues.

As I've stated before, he's very pro-density and, in fact, believes that one of the things we need to do is convince our neighbors that density is positive. The pro-density folks in HP need to come together on that issue, even if we disagree on some of the specifics of development.

His problem with the 53rd/Kenwood development revolves around a concern with some of the bigger issues having to do with planning, specifically that this will end up having a negative impact on pedestrianism in the area because of curb cuts and the like. I didn't come away from the conversation converted to his POV-- and there were some other questions I thought up later-- but I just wanted to convey that the source of his opposition really revolves around some New Urbanism issues.

James said...

Also, I came across this website where you can plug in a zip code and get demographic info:

Here's a map of Chicago zip codes:

Peter Rossi said...


please read his letter to the editor in the Herald.

this contains -- a ban on fast food, advocating 1.5 spaces per apartment, approval of all retail by his group and what amounts to a threat to the 4th ward Alderman that she had better "play ball" or face opposition.

That is not the letter of a person who is pro-density!

I don't understand who elected any small group of "activists" as representatives of our community. What makes these people so sure that their views represent anything more then their own?

Didn't we elect officials to represent us. If you don't like them, fine work to replace them with people who reflect their views.

Finally, results count. Have these people encouraged any development in our community in the last ten years? In fact, they have only opposed development.

In the Point controversy, they hid behind the guise of "preservation." Now it is "reasonable development." The track record is not good.

Which is the real person?

James said...

Peter Rossi: "this contains -- a ban on fast food, advocating 1.5 spaces per apartment, approval of all retail by his group and what amounts to a threat to the 4th ward Alderman that she had better "play ball" or face opposition. That is not the letter of a person who is pro-density!"

What you mean is that the letter is incongruous with his stated position of being pro-density. It's unreasonable to assign someone a label based on one letter to the Herald. If there were a series of positions he'd taken that were anti-density, then your label would make sense. AFAIK, however, this is the only anti-density position that he's taken recently.

It would be fair to ask him when he's going to get around to writing a pro-density/pro-development letter to the Herald.

Rossi: "I don't understand who elected any small group of "activists" as representatives of our community. What makes these people so sure that their views represent anything more then their own?"
You've heard of the First Amendment, haven't you? In case you haven't, let me assure you that Americans have the right to write letters to the Herald advocating any position they want (pretty much.) You have that same right, but you and your pals here have chosen to be powerless because you refuse to do the simple things necessary to assert political power. That's a shame because I agree with many of y'all's views and would like some help with the pro-density argument.

Rossi:"Finally, results count. Have these people encouraged any development in our community in the last ten years? In fact, they have only opposed development."

"These people" are not obligated to encourage development. They have every right to oppose the tiniest change in HP and assert their political rights at their whim. Again, see the First Amendment.

chicago pop said...

Both James and SR have several times suggested that pro-density folks need to come together in some way. I agree. We may have other differences, but this is a big area of agreement.

One thing I'd like to do -- and here I've taken my inspiration from Dr. Wax!!! -- is set up an online petition -- maybe more -- allowing neighborhood folks to register their support of an 8-story building on 53rd and Kenwood, with lower parking ratios. We'll state our case that these things will improve life for all of us, and see if we've managed to convince anyone.

I plan to do the same thing RE: Drs Hospital, since the loudest voicest are coming from the immediate proximity, and the interests of the neighborhood are real but diffuse.

Stay tuned.

chicago pop said...

aside to James: thanks for the insight into the mind of J-Spice. I'm not sure if I am convinced he's new urbanist, pro-density, or whatnot,(for me what is important are his public positions and actions, and these are not reassuring), there are plenty who are, and those are who this blog should be attracting and encouraging to speak out and take action.

James said...

The online petition could be a pretty good start, although much depends on how it's written. Also, you might want to make sure that the proposed development is only 8 stories and not 12.

This online talk can be helpful if it leads to folks finding some common ground along New Urbanist guidelines. But this medium tends to accentuate a lot of differences, sometimes in unhelpful ways. I think it would help immensely if there were some face to face meetings.

Also, looking toward the long run, let's consider what developers want-- certainty. If we could put together a list of New Urbanist guidelines, explaining what we want ahead of any work being done on any projects, then we could grade new projects on how well they match up and forward those grades to the authorities. This would also send a signal to those considering buying properties thinking they can get the zoning changed and waivers signed off on. If their plans run afoul of our guidelines, they they'd know ahead of time that they should think twice before committing any money to the project.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I just have to pipe in once again to defend all contributors (posters and commenters) against the notion that if you don't volunteer for a particular board or organization, and if you don't show up to a particular volunteer event in the community, you're somehow a slacker, a "poseur," or an ineffectual community member. There's no way that James knows what volunteer activities we each do, or the other ways in which we contribute to the neighborhood.

He also implied we "choose to be powerless" because we don't fight the local activism with the same sort of activism. Well, Rossi spearheaded the original Task Force that hammered out the 9-Point Compromise Plan with the City, and he was part of all subsequent meetings for years afterwards, trying (unsuccessfully) to undo the political damage of the Save the Point group whenever City officials and community activists or mediators met. Chicago Pop treats this blog like a part-time job, and in my opinion is doing more good than he would as a member of a local board, or two, or three (which is not to denigrate James' work on boards -- but just to point out that this blog contributes enormously in bringing ideas out for discussion, and providing a forum for varied voices).

Finally, Rossi, Chicago Pop, and I have all had letters rejected by the Herald which, at least up until the recent past, has been notorious about picking and choosing which voices it wanted heard. So it wasn't for lack of trying, there.


Peter Rossi said...

Of course, folks can say whatever they like. What they should not do is pretend to represent the views of anyone but themselves. I've never done this re any community issue. Unfortunately, Mr. Spicer and co make a habit of this.

James does not choose to dispute how someone who calls themselves pro-development can consistently oppose any development in our community: examples include the McMobil site, the Doctor's hospital, St Stephens church on Blackstone, the 53rd and Cornell development. Spending 26 million on rebulidng the Point. The list goes on.

Name one development that Mr. Spicer and co have supported. You can't. Of course, they can exercise their 1st amendment rights to oppose anything they want. That is not the point. The point is that they can't support anything. Therefore, they are anti-development until they prove otherwise. This is an open and shut case.

Finally, it's awfully easy to say -- I'm in favor of "preservation." It sounds nice. But then you don't define what "preservation" or "reasonable development" means. This means that you define these terms as only those things that please me or meet my personal criteria. Mr. Spicer and others consisently refuse to define what they mean other than to say -- "I'll know it when I see it. " That is not acceptable.

James said...

Elizabeth Fama: "There's no way that James knows what volunteer activities we each do, or the other ways in which we contribute to the neighborhood."

I'm guilty as charged. I'm goading, here, hoping that I can prod folks to attend face to face meetings. I'll keep Peter Rossi's involvement in the point issues out of this, except to acknowledge it.

However, you're circling the wagons rather than being fair across the board. The very people you're defending consistently take potshots at others who take part in community activities and they take those potshots because their targets are active. Your complaints would mean more if you also defended folks who don't post at this blog.

I know I probably sound defensive when I defend those activists who don't post here. You should realize that I have the same kinds of relationships with them that you have with C-Pop and Rossi. Because I know them personally, I know their intentions are good, even if I disagree with them from time to time.

When I'm lobbing grenades, at least I'm directly confronting the people I have a problem with. The bomb-throwing from the blog's founders tends to be directed at a caricature of some "other".

I'll agree with you, Elizabeth, that this blog could be a good forum for bringing out ideas. However, if your friends here are going to continue to caricature other activists, the discussion will be short-changed and intelligent people y'all need to convince will just avoid you.

In any case, Hyde Park is long on intelligent people with good ideas and short on team players, folks who are willing to compromise a little here and there to get some things done. You're choosing to be powerless because you're not forming a group which can talk to the powers that be with some political strength.

Sorry about your problems with the Herald. However, even with the Herald, you'd have more clout if you spoke as a group. And you can certainly speak to the TIF and the HPKCC even if the Herald ignores you. But, again, choose representatives and make civil presentations. I'm willing to help and I think you'll find the HPKCC will go out of its way to include diverse points of view.

James said...

Rossi:"Of course, folks can say whatever they like. What they should not do is pretend to represent the views of anyone but themselves. I've never done this re any community issue. Unfortunately, Mr. Spicer and co make a habit of this."

Two things to say here. 1) Your complaint would be more effective if you mentioned specific examples of where you think they crossed the line on this. 2) Yeah, implying exaggerating political strength is part of the game; they're just beating you on the politics and, to some extent, you should figure out how you can make that technique work for you.

Rossi:"James does not choose to dispute how someone who calls themselves pro-development can consistently oppose any development in our community: examples include the McMobil site, the Doctor's hospital, St Stephens church on Blackstone, the 53rd and Cornell development. Spending 26 million on rebulidng the Point. The list goes on."

I never said J-Spice was pro-development. I said he was pro-density. I'm unaware of anything having to do with St. Stephens. I know he has problems with the 53rd/Cornell plans, but I'm uninformed of the issues, myself. Doctor's Hospital is a commercial project and would not increase the number of residences in HP and therefore would not increase population density, although I'm will to admit I'm splitting hairs on this one.

As for the Point, my understanding is that he favors a $50 million dollar project, so he's definitely in favor of spending $26M there. He would be in the right to ask you why you're against development when you're fighting against spending the other $24M.

In conversations, J-Spice usually has a list of projects that he wished had gotten completed. Peter, you're right to ask why he hasn't gone public with his support in any of those cases. That's where I think you guys could be most effective-- getting him and others to commit to supporting responsible development. IMO the first step toward that would be grading new projects along New Urbanism lines.

SR said...

Peter Rossi:

A lot of your wealthier GSB and Law students live on the North Side and commute down here for classes.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Hey James,

Hmm...well, Irene Sherr doesn't post to this blog, and I was careful to publicly commended her work on behalf of the neighborhood. I've tried to be thoughtful and even-handed in all of my comments. I believe I've taken the fewest pot-shots of anyone who participates on this blog, other than perhaps SR, who's pretty darned sweet.

Listen, I have no control over the other posts and comments, since each person contributes on their own with no censorship. Chicago Pop moderates with a light hand because he wants people to feel free to participate, so sometimes mildly offensive things get through. He doesn't even ask to read my posts or Rossi's posts before we put them up.

OK, I made one "funny" at the preservationists' expense with the Historic Tree post, and Curtsy took me to task (which surprised me since it was really a joke post).

Blogs are a different beast than real newspapers or even editorials; some of the most effective blogs have terribly acerbic wit along with good, substantive content -- what seems inflammatory to you is also a great marketing strategy because it makes for fascinating reading. Chicago Pop treads that line pretty well.

I would suggest that everyone participate with their strong opinions, but just refrain from saying hurtful stuff.

I enjoy stopping to chat with Jack on the street, and I do it fairly often. That doesn't mean that I can't also disagree 100% with him on the Point issue, which I do. I have heard absolutely nothing about a 50 million proposal for the Point, and if anyone has any details about it, please contribute them. The last anyone heard was that the whole project is stalled, pending review by a not-yet-existent committee to be formed by Barack Obama...who now has bigger fish to fry.


James said...

Elizabeth, when I complain about the posters on this blog, you should just figure I'm not talking about you. Of course, why you would want to throw in with C-Pop and Rossi is beyond my ken. Most days, it's like there's a race between them to make the most uninformed statement du jour, a race Rossi usually wins. (Try harder, C-Pop!)

If the non-satire assertions were more truthful, or at least thoughtful, then the satire would stand out more. But the satire here tends to be just slightly more outrageous accusations directed at people who take time out of their busy lives to maintain HP's livability. What's the point of that?

I have a blog of my own and I occasionally post stuff that I've completely made up. But when I do, it's almost always my friends or myself who are the butt of the joke. Is that the case here?

What keeps me coming back is the blog's one redeeming quality-- that all of you really would like to see HP improve along New Urbanist lines. It's like y'all have an excellent idea of the direction HP should move in, but no idea how to get the community there. Plus, you keep shooting your allies. Boy, that's frustrating!

Elizabeth Fama said...

I want to read your blog, but I can't find it through your profile! Are you willing to share the address?

J/tati said...

James mentioned the tone and use of satire on this blog, and I admit to not quite "getting it" most of the time. I absolutely want to see this forum continue to grow in both readership and participation, but I wonder if the very bloggy snarkiness might be intimidating to some, or an excuse to write off some of the opinions altogether... and the latter would really be a shame.

If there were a way to clearly demarcate humor from commentary, that would be great. But then again, I don't think I'm one of those super intelligent Hyde Parkers that James keeps referring to, so it might just be flying over my head :)

Elizabeth Fama said...

I think J/Tati has proven with his business acumen and his thoughtful commentary that he IS in fact one of the intelligent Hyde Parkers to whom James keeps referring.

But (continuing my defense of satire) snarkiness is a common trait of many blogs (and many of the most popular ones). Blogs are by nature conversational and sometimes confrontational. HPP is not a newspaper, a dissertation, or a neighborhood organization -- and I personally think it would be boring if it attempted to be completely inoffensive, or, say, had to back up every single opinion with exhaustive research.

J/tati said...

Elizabeth, I see what you mean about blog writing style and tone.

I guess my comment reflects my frustration and surprise that there aren't many more forums of this sort that publicly address these hyper-local issues. Where does this dialog occur? Where are our third places?

chicago pop said...

J/Tati, you could always start one up yourself ... :-)

Call it "The Third Place: We're Open Late," or something.

chicago pop said...

I think there's no question that the blog has so far unfolded at a level that may not initially relate, say, to people who feel they aren't "old timers," are relatively new to the neighborhood, etc. There have been a few reader comments to this effect, i.e., "more background info would make it easier to follow along."

I'm not sure what we could do about that without changing the blog; but there is a niche opportunity there for some other intrepid blogger that wanted to capture local life from a different angle, which would be great! Perhaps it goes with blogs as it does with small boutique retail: not too many folks want to actually set one up.

curtsy said...

Elizabeth - I actually found your dead tree preservation piece mildly humorous. However, it WAS predicated upon a rather tired stereo-type (or should I say, tie-dyed stereotype!)

Elizabeth Fama said...

My original idea for that post was to claim with some bravado that Hyde Park Progress had shamed the Park District into that brush-clearing work. I just thought that readers may not have remembered the original post pointing out the neglect this year at the Point, and that it would seem too arrogant. Arrogant isn't funny.

SR said...

So, what do you think about this blog post from Megan McArdle at the Atlantic that NIMBYism arises from the fairly simple economic self-interest of property owners?

(The Matthew Yglesias article she points to, and the Virginia Postrel article Yglesias points to, are also pretty interesting discussions of density issues).

chicago pop said...

Interesting set of links, SR. I think NIMBY-ism is an issue of self-interest,but I'm not sure it's always so consciously rational. Since not all NIMBY's are looking to flip their property, they might not be thinking that way, which seems to be the case in Hyde Park where people stay put for a long time.

The correlations between density and zoning, and property values, and when people allow upzoning, or downzoning, all seem too local and particular to allow for easy generalization. Chicago's big problem, I know, has been that it was zoned for far more density than ever materialized after the 50s, which then horrifies residents in lakefront neighborhoods when they discover just how tall a developer can legally go with a given project. The battle then is over downzoning. But I imagine this could vary from place to place.

In general, however, I think NIMBY-ism does serve as a suggestive index of the general trend towards political conservatism in American society since the 1960s, as more and more people became homeowners in suburban areas. In a place like Hyde Park, the paradox is that many consider themselves politically liberal, and are so on social issues, but act in a way that is actually conservative with regard to key issues of sustainability that have grown in importance over the last few decades.