Now that the polling results from last December's 53rd Street Visioning Meeting have been passed around, I wanted to post some reflections on the event, originally posted as a comment on the blog shortly after the meeting, but now worth posting up front.
So here is my take on the meeting, with some of the more important numbers -- above all, the tallies showing support for mid-rise development on 53rd, and lack of support for building height restrictions anywhere in the corridor.
Co-blogger Peter Rossi and I both want to stress the positive significance of this result for possible development on 53rd and at McMobil. It means that if NIMBYs start making noise about opposing mid-rises, representing "the community," and standing in front of a vast troop of neighbors who oppose building for greater residential density on the 53rd Street corridor, a big red caca flag should pop up in your head.
There have been, as yet, no good reasons advanced as to why buildings 4 stories and taller should not be put up anywhere from Woodlawn to the Lake on 53rd St.
Here's the report:
A few things were remarkable about the crowd: about 25% of those in attendance were African-American. About the same amount were under 40. There were also a few families with small children.
For some contrast, take a look at the picture of the Co-Op Board meeting in the December 12, 2007 Herald for just the opposite demographic. The workshop representation was almost the exact inverse of what usually passes -- with much smaller numbers -- for "the community."
The NIMBYs were vastly outnumbered at the 53rd Street meeting. The most controversial vote, and this only moderately so, was the final one (which one heckler felt was "railroaded") asking if people would approve of a mid-rise "somewhere" on 53rd, not specifying where.
The results were favorable, with 63% answering Yes and 26% No. That's almost the same split as we saw with the vote to close the Co-Op, and suggests that good sense has not decamped from the neighborhood along with good retail.
A different measure of the same sentiment was taken by a separate vote, and makes it just as clear that most folks there did not oppose a mid-rise on 53rd, or at McMobil in particular.
The category "height limitations," meaning a cap on how high a building can go, which is the linchpin of opposition to a mid-rise at McMobil, pulled in only 8.3% in the first round and 13.2% in the second. Height limitations are not a majority concern. A well designed mid-rise building at McMobil, I believe, could win most people over.
Asked what buildings should look like on 53rd, the top 3 responses were "Mixture of historical and well designed modern buildings" (44%); "mixed use" (40.6%); and "underground and off-street parking" (21.7%).
I decided to drive the issue home in a post immediately following the meeting because there is an increased awareness of the site, and because not everyone now reading the blog may have read the earlier posts dealing with what may happen at McMobil.
It was also clear at the time that the Spicer Dream Machine was revving up a PR drive to limit the height of whatever gets built at McMobil, all while beginning to display the trappings of a pro-density self-transformation. The latter is bogus.
Despite not having been able to advance a single substantiated or objective reason to oppose anything taller than 3-4 stories at the McMobil site, which sits within clear view of buildings just as tall or taller, Jack Spicer has signed a petition and written 2 letters to the Herald on behalf of folks who resist adding population to Hyde Park. Spicer's most recent letter on the subject is a case in point: his a priori claim for wanting height limitations is that mid-rise buildings are "oversized, monolithic projects that dwarf their neighbors and bring congestion and boredom." (Herald, December 12, 2007)
The terms in the quotation above are all subjective, lack specific referents, and have no bearing to any existing plan for the site. They embody numerous tacit assumptions, and have more to do with phobias about density inside the NIMBY mind, than what can be built outside of it.
For change to happen in Hyde Park, we need more households and more people. That means making the buildings for them. The results of the 53rd Street Visioning Workshop demonstrated that Hyde Parkers understand this and are willing to see it happen.