Howard Hughes Mulls New Vision of Harper Court
"I can help get this bird off the ground," he tells community group.
Predictably, we have not been disappointed.
This week, for example (February 20, 2008), we learn that the Hyde Park Co-Op Society is holding elections for its Board of Directors. That's right. And on a related note, it should be added that someone still claims to be the King of France, and is rumored to be sharing a flat in Palm Beach with the Emperor of China and the last Romanov. Like many ageing boomers, they're probably all looking for something to do and someplace to do it, and this is the perfect opportunity to keep them out of counterrevolutionary trouble.
Rulers of non-existent nations might feel comfortable running for an equally defunct community organization. The nominating committee might want to seek out this demographic.
Anyone wishing to hold a position in an organization that is coming to resemble a spooky fraternity without a house on campus, need only gather the signatures "of 20 or more other members of the cooperative." There may be precedents for this sort of thing: maybe it will turn out like the Elks, or the Shriners, and provide us with an entertaining contingent in the 4th of July parade.
II. 20 People Envision Harper Court
At least the Co-Op claims to have 25,000 (ghost) members. It turns out that in Hyde Park, far fewer numbers of people are much more effective at accomplishing things, or at least attracting attention. Need "community input" for a grandiose redevelopment project? Get 20 people in a room with a Big Local Dude and you can make sure your ideas are the ones that count.
Take the recent hubub over Harper Court. We've had our say on the subject here at HPP, way back in fall of 2007. In fact, the Tribune wrote us up. Tear it down and build something new, we said, and this seems to be the direction things are going, so we haven't been raising too much fuss.
But it is curious the way a few Big Local Dudes, with lots of ideas about "bottom-up" community input, nonetheless seem to have a lot of firm ideas of their own, and manage to get their own modest paws over just about every plan in the works.
Whereas the 53rd St. Visioning meeting of late November 2007 pulled in over 150 people and produced statistically significant data pertaining to neighborhood preferences, the latest splashy vision for Harper Court is the product of two meetings, the first with 17 people, the second with 20, with an architectural designer/planner thrown in.
(Source: Romero Cook Design Studio)
Looks A Lot Like This: Lakeside Press Building
(Formerly home to R.R. Donnelly Books)
Finding someone to finance all-new construction of a cluster of 6-ish story buildings, probably requiring significant structured parking and use of high-quality exterior finishings (translation = very expensive!) rented out to poor artists, curio shops, and non-chain, local retail -- all in keeping with the magical realist "original mission" of Harper Court -- is a small difficulty that this 20 person pow-wow hasn't addressed.
For it to work, there's a good chance that Hyde Park would have to transform itself the way downtown Evanston has: with high-rises full of millionaires. And not just confined to 53rd east of Harper.
To their credit, those involved admit that the plan is "purely hypothetical," and "something that can't stand on its own." The HP-K CC website argues that the new Harper Court should also remain true to its original mission of housing small, local, non-franchised businesses. That last statement, it should be noted, doesn't contradict the first two.
The good news is that no sensible folks are arguing for keeping the old buildings. And it's nice to have some pretty pictures. As for the real community input, we're still waiting: the HP-K CC assures us that it's on its way, in the form of a high-tech online survey. Based on the user-friendliness and clever organization of the current HP-K CC website, it should be impressive.
Since we have a little collective experience dealing with survey methodology here at HPP, we'll be keeping you posted on just how reliably the Big Local Dudes live up to their interest in seeking out real "community input."
Whether anyone will be able to find a developer who can pay for the stipulations that result, is another matter.