Sunday, January 27, 2008

Herald's Chicken: We Want Our Say Too!

posted by Peter Rossi
This week's Hyde Park Herald features an instant classic, "HP-K CC proposes new committees" (January 23, 2008). The Herald passes up all other actual events to feature the ruminations of members of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference in the most prominent news spot. The opening of HP Produce doesn't make it above the fold.

So what is in this gem? The reporter and headline writer try their best to conceal the content of the story from the reader with confusing terms, irrelevant pictures and rambling quotes. It took me a while to get the gist and it's a doozy.

A few folks got together on January 10th to grouse about why they are not being consulted on future "development" of Harper Court. The story claims that these "dozen" people represent the "Zoning and Development Committee" of the HP-K CC.

The HP-K CC website refers to a "Preservation-Development Zoning" task force (there is that word again) but doesn't cite a list of members or even the purpose of this "committee." There are long rambling posts by well-known NIMBYs on their "views" on development. However, I only devoted a short time to wading through the stream of consciousness that this website represents.

Let's get this straight. This is a standing committee that wants to weigh in on any issue involving preservation/development and zoning. We know that "zoning" is code for "alderman." As far as I can tell, this committee has no regular meeting schedule nor are minutes taken. Perhaps, the committee members do not feel it necessary to produce minutes as this is done for them by their faithful Herald scribe.

Harper Court is a particularly sore spot for NIMBYs. As we all know, Harper Court is a run-down set of badly designed retail spaces. The original mission of the Harper Court Foundation was to provide space for artisans. This mission is not being fulfilled (unless you think that vets or restaurant owners are "artisans"). The best thing to that could happen would be for the HCF to sell this valuable property to a developer and get out of the landlord business. With the proceeds of this sale, HCF could set up an endowment to aid local artists.

So what is the sore spot? The HP-K CC wants to be consulted on the future of Harper Court. Does this "committee" have any greater claim to input than any other random 12 people in Hyde Park? I think not.

The subtext of this article is that the HP-K CC feels threatened by real attempts to solicit community input. The recent "53rd Street Vision Workshop" was a meeting of more than 150 people who actually voted on issues near and dear to NIMBY hearts. In particular, those who attended the workshop voted overwhelmingly to endorse mid-rise and retail development.

I'm wrong, you say. The HP-K CC likes the 53rd street workshop. No, they "agreed that a community workshop similar to the" vision workshop is what they want. The article goes on to quote HP-K CC types questioning the representativeness of the workshop. In particular, the race card was played. In fact, the 53rd Street workshop was conspicuous for drawing younger people, families, and African Americans.

What our friends in the HP-K CC want is a recount. A chance to pack a meeting with NIMBYs much the same as at meetings regarding Doctor's Hospital and the Point.

To my mind, this reinforces the need to get out of the game of who can turn out more screaming people to a "community meeting." For a fraction of the cost of a "vision workshop," we could have a scientific poll which really would be representative. This, of course, limits the opportunities for some to appoint themselves as guardians of our community.


chicago pop said...

You'd think that something with the lovely bureaucratic title of "committee" could at least follow Robert's Rules or some model of procedural order, but this mysterious and Very Important new committee has no minutes, no roster of members, no stated purpose, no rationale for who has been selected to serve. I've been to stamp club meetings that are more transparent.

It sounds like there were some good NIMBY rants posted on the HP-K CC website. Maybe they should be excerpted for entertainment purposes?

Peter Rossi said...

one point of clarification-

as I said in the post, the headline is very confusing. What it is talking about is more "workshops" like the 53rd St Vision. The committee here is the "Zoning and Development Committee" which also lives in other morphs. I don't think it is correct to call it a "new" committee.

But leave it to the Herald to muck things up

Mike said...

There's an article in the Tribune about the way zoning works in Chicago and the relationship between developers and alderman in some wards.

Peter Rossi said...

The Tribune is a real newspaper.

Keep tuned to that series of articles. A much more interesting one is coming up

Elizabeth Fama said...

I like your idea of a scientific poll, Peter. It would be a good way to assess opinions outside of community meetings. But I wonder how you would educate people before giving a phone survey. Regarding the Promontory Point issue, for instance, a dear friend said to me just this week, "I've never had the attention span to follow this fight, but just know the concrete revetment on the north side [51st-54th] is ugly as hell."

Once again, the average person who thinks he or she wants to "save the Point" has never seen the Compromise Plan. I don't want my friend to respond to a phone survey until she HAS seen the Compromise Plan!

J/tati said...

I don't know whether this is related, or has been discussed before, but does anyone else find the HPKCC website bizarre? When I first moved to HP, it seemed like one of the few logical sources of local news and information, but it's so unreadable that I give up every time I return. But then again, maybe that's a good thing. It forced me to walk around and meet people and actually learn about the neighborhood and its history by interacting in the flesh. I went from stymied and somewhat depressed about my new home to optimistic and excited about living here after making friends with other newcomers and old timers alike. This was last winter, and it was the impetus for opening my shop. Maybe Pop should lower the utility of this site, lest its convenience prevent others from doing the same. Sometimes I wonder whether virtual third places like this discourage the development of physical ones :)

chicago pop said...

does anyone else find the HPKCC website bizarre?

Jacques (Tati), I think that's one of those things that's just understood around here. Sometimes when I'm trying to navigate around that site I suddenly start breathing very heavily and find my heart racing and have to run outside in order not to scream out loud at my desk.

But if you can handle the insanity of the site itself, they actually do a fairly decent job of archiving neighborhood wackiness in its many different varieties.

Peter Rossi said...

beth is right. In order for the response to a poll to be meaningful, the respondents need to be informed.

However, even the Point issue is becoming much clearer over time -- there are only two alternatives --
1. leave things alone and condemn the Point to a slow death


2. execute a genuinely good plan (the Compromise Plan)

there is nothing else on the table.

Peter Rossi said...

j is right. the HP-K CC website is fascinating from both a psychological and sociological point of view. Don't try to find anything there.

I don't agree with Chicago pop. There is a slant to everything on this site that is decidedly anti-progress. Witness the rhetorical questions about whether those who favor development are promoting a division in HP. What is more correct is that those won't reason and argument only by screaming louder are the real problem

Otto said...

But if you can handle the insanity of the site itself, they actually do a fairly decent job of archiving neighborhood wackiness in its many different varieties.

Indeed. I've come to think of it as a minor masterpiece of the steganographic art.

SR said...

there is nothing else on the table.

Is that true though? This committee Obama put together is apparently going to get funding sometime next year (well, the HP Herald article said Jesse Jackson Jr. had gotten the funding put into some bill or other, but that the money will not actually be allocated until next year’s budget, I’m not sure I understand how all of that works). What this committee is supposed to do is run the whole mess past an outside engineer, and then come up with some alternate proposals.

Having spent some time ploughing through the Point archives at the HPKCC website (which, yes, is very disorganized, so much so that I have no idea whether I’ve really seen everything on the site about the Point or not) lately, I suspect the chances of the Obama committee (assuming they begin meeting regularly once the money comes through) coming up with anything that both Save the Point will accept and the City will be willing to build are somewhere between slim and none. But it will probably take a couple of years for that process to exhaust itself. In the meantime, won’t people who have been following news about this committee in the Herald assume that the Point thing will be resolved eventually? It’s hard to say Compromise Plan or nothing when there’s this third thing supposedly in the works.

I still think the TIF committee might be willing to look into doing a neighborhood survey. Or maybe Preckwinkle would be willing to do that on her own, even. I was really sorry to miss the last TIF meeting (I meant to go, and just forgot all about it until 2 hours after it would have started), since the scheduled discussion of the Vision workshop might have been a natural time to mention the idea of maybe doing a survey of the whole neighborhood. Did anybody go to that meeting?

chicago pop said...

Peter: all I'm saying is that the HP-K CC website is a treasure trove of documentation regarding HP NIMBYism. I don't think we disagree on that. They document all the craziness, if you can find it.

SR: I myself did not attend the last 53rd TIF meeting. But a few folks have recently guilted me about showing up to a future one if for no other reason than to observe some of the finer species of Hyde Park exotica before they go extinct.

chicago pop said...

Did anybody go to that meeting?

To more fully respond to this question, though I did not attend, I got the low-down from a keen observer, who informed me that the usual performers were there, but that it was lightly attended overall. There were a few questions pertaining to the design of the earlier visioning workshop, including one about why the questions that were voted on had not themselves been designed by community members. The person who had moderated at the workshop, Hubert Morgan (who is an excellent facilitator; neither a dry bureaucrat nor an autistic engineer) apparently fielded these questions pretty well, as he did at the visioning event.

LPB said...

Okay, this isn't related to the HPKCC, but this is a flashback to an earlier post about Harper Court

If you'll remember, Charlotte Des Jardin made the fantastically deluded suggestion that the Torpedo Factory in Old Towne Alexandria would be a good model for Harper Court in her letter to the Herald (dated 10/10/2007), even though Hyde Park is not a comparable community -- Old Town Alexandria is located on the picturesque Potomac, and is in a historic tourist area, surrounded by many restaurants, parks, shops, and museums.

Well, this week's couple featured in the NY Times Weddings & Celebrations section held their celebratory reception at the Torpedo Factory.

Call me an unimaginative skeptic, but I have a very hard time envisioning any couple choosing to hold their wedding reception at Harper Court (much less have this touted in the Sunday Times).

On the other hand, I could totally believe that some couples would decide to hold their receptions at the new Hyde Park Art Center.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I can't tell you how it warms my heart that SR is tackling the Promontory Point issue (as she sets up the future "" web site), to the extent of heroically slogging through the HPKCC archives. And I think she has the scenario right: the community will assume that a fresh plan will be on the table soon because of Obama's committee, and that we should all wait patiently. Perhaps that's why I still have Fix the Point bumper stickers left -- because all of our readers feel "in limbo?"

This weekend TWO people suggested independently that I should run for 5th ward alderman, and one nudged me with his elbow to say, "You could just sign off on the Compromise Plan then and be done with it." Aside from my Shermanesque refusal of the job, I wonder if that's even true. SR, do you think Leslie Hairston could say "Fix the Point" tomorrow, and just skip Obama's committee entirely, or do the slow cogs of government have to churn away at this for us to move on to the next step?

SR said...

SR, do you think Leslie Hairston could say "Fix the Point" tomorrow, and just skip Obama's committee entirely, or do the slow cogs of government have to churn away at this for us to move on to the next step?

So far as I know she could if she wanted to—the interesting thing about the Scope of Work document for that committee is that it doesn’t really obligate anyone to do anything. It just says they’re going to conduct this review and then make a presentation of alternate plans. So even though the Park District and Hairston have both signed off on this, it doesn’t oblige them to do or not do anything but go to the final public meeting so far as I can make out. (Meaning, one possible—in my opinion likely—outcome is that the two sides still can’t agree on a final plan, and then nothing at all happens).

(But hey, it's only going to cost U.S. taxpayers $450,000, so whatever).

But I can’t think why she would want to suddenly go ahead with the Compromise Plan. Just imagine the howling, from constituents who conversely are not currently howling at her at all about the ongoing deterioration of the Point. Plus, the whole point of getting the “preservation” language into Jackson’s House bill about this is to provide a basis for citizen lawsuits against any concrete-based construction at the Point, I strongly suspect. (Some Save the Point people were hinting around about lawsuits with respect to the preservation language in the 1993 Memorandum about the Point also, if the City tried to go ahead with its plans, in one of the Herald articles I came across from around 2003 IIRC). So even if she were willing to take the political heat, the whole thing could be tied up in court for years anyway. It’s really in her best interests to just let the committee thing play out.

Peter Rossi said...


the MOA (memo of agreement) has been followed exactly. the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has certified that the Compromise Plan meets standards for historic preservation.

so this was just more mis-representation and grasping at straws.

There is nothing to keep Leslie from simply authorizing it tomorrow.

Alec Brandon said...

Hey guys, I don't know if you saw this but we both got mentioned in a Chicago Weekly article (the Hyde Park Herald of the U of C, which is why I'm posting it here).

I couldn't actually make it through the entire article (that's generally the case with Weekly articles), but still, it is always nice to know people actually read your stuff.

Also, you guys got the superlatives "witty and acid tounged." I had to settle for a mere "young and impatient." Regardless, I'll take what I can get.

chicago pop said...

Alec-thanks! That's a very interesting article (though I'm nerdy enough to make it through the exposition of "scenes theory" which claims that it's all of us in Hyde Park, not just The Establishment, who are boring).

But I'm not sure I buy this notion that Hyde Park will only support what is in the character of Hyde Park to support. That's kind of a weird analysis.

Alec Brandon said...

Here is another Weekly piece by the same guy.

He goes after me a little more vehemently in this one. He seems to have calmed down his rhetoric a little bit.

SR said...

so this was just more mis-representation and grasping at straws.

They may not have a leg to stand on ultimately, but they could tie it up for a good long while if they really did decide to sue. What constitutes "preservation" or "matching" the existing structure isn't defined in any of the documents, leaving a rich field for protracted litigation I suspect.

SR said...

I forgot to say also, I'm not sure that IHPA certification automatically satisfies the requirement for "preservation" standards to be met as a precondition for federal funding. Presumably Jackson Jr. doesn't think so, or he wouldn't have bothered with inserting that limitation into a federal bill (which postdates the IHPA certification) in the first place.

(Well, I suppose it could have just been more handwaving on his part too, but still, I'm having trouble believing that the bill doesn't add another wrinkle of complication or two to the availability of federal funding).

Elizabeth Fama said...

Hmmm, I don't think John Thompson investigated Hyde Park Progress well. That is, unless the standards for "young" and "new to the neighborhood" in Hyde Park are so skewed that 80 years of combined Hyde Park living between Rossi, Chicago Pop, and me don't make us "established residents!"

I also disagree with his thesis that the amenities in Hyde Park reflect our values: "neighborly, utilitarian, and egalitarian." Nothing would be more egalitarian than having the punk rock cafe he says could never exist here...or a vietnamese restaurant, or a pasta shop, or a GAP store, or any of the other amenities we're missing.

SR said...

(Psst, Elizabeth, click on the staff photos over there. If that kid was out of diapers before I moved to Hyde Park, I'll eat my worthless Coop shares).

I loved the Mayor’s WTF reaction to the Tribune series on zoning today:

"Well, you've known this for 20 years. You've never printed it," barked Daley, who has been mayor since 1989. "Don't tell me about it. Now all of a sudden you wake up on Jan. 28 and you talk about it."

Poor Richie! They’ll be complaining to him about gravity next!

SR said...

FWIW, it looks like there are some meetings coming up regarding this (see Announcement of a new 53rd and Beyond Expanded Visioning Process, which links to this: February 26th 7 pm, place tba for:

“HPKCC Development Committee, other community groups, the TIF, and Ald. Preckwinkle are setting up an ongoing, hopefully professionally facilitated community planning process. First to be looked at is Harper Court
•What is the process/timeline of this RFP,
•What guidelines have already been set forth by residents and planners and what should go into the RFP
•and what should be there (as distinct from what could go anywhere on 53rd/Lake Park/51st? )
Still being sought for spring- 53rd-Lake Park and beyond in larger persective--what do we want them to look and be like, and will they work?”

Scroll down for a raft of (always crucial) meetings-before-the-Feb. 26th-meeting, including for the Development, Preservation and Zoning Committee: “HPKCC Development, Preservation and Zoning Committee and 53rd Street Future Steering Committee hold a planning session for the Feb. 26 meeting tent. on February 4, 7 pm, Hyde Park Bank 4th floor. Contact first as this meeting is mainly to follow up a previous meeting, dealing with a prioritizing survey and draft guiding principles for an RFP.”

Wow that sounds fascinating, who wouldn’t be willing to run the meeting gauntlet for this “expanded” visioning process? Obviously this will be more inclusive and representative than just letting a bunch of yahoos show up for a couple of hours and push some buttons.