Friday, February 29, 2008

Mulberry on Why Some People Are Created More Equal Than Others

posted by Peter Rossi

You can almost hear our local NIMBYs saying --

"Ah, remember the good old days. We could assemble a handful of folks at the Hyde Park NIMBY Club and agitate against any proposed development in Hyde Park. The Herald would print whatever we wrote for them and write editorials to support us.

"No More" sayeth the residents of Hyde Park. New groups and new voices have stolen our thunder. The members of the Co-Op voted it out of existence in spite of our screams. The 53rd Street Vision workshop voted for mixed development and mid-rises. Even the ideas of our charismatic leaders are regularly lampooned in fearsome blogs. Now we have to come up with alternative plans and pretend we are in favor of progress.

Like Hillary, let's not abandon the ship yet. All we have to do is gum up the works and scare away any sensible developer by throwing up a smokescreen and increasing costs.

We can stand by our tried and true tactics. Our leaders will smile in the Herald and applaud the devils- 'we thought the workshop was very good, very enthusiastic, a good discussion.' But be careful not to cite or endorse any specifics. In the background, we will get our henchmen to spread conspiracy theories, mis-represent the facts, and invoke association with the evil University where necessary.

There are only a chosen few who should lead our community. Let's face it, we are wiser and more important than anyone else."

There Rossi goes again, you think. He's ranting. After all, our local NIMBYs are just hardworking and earnest altruists. Are they not? You can disagree with them, but they are entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

I beg to differ.

Below I reproduce an email from the remarkable Mr. Jay Mulberry to the NIMBY faithful (well, not all of them!) who he calls the "Good Neighbors." The purpose of Mr. Mulberry's email is to wage guerrilla warfare against the 53rd Street Vision Workshop and spread rose petals in the path of his NIMBY hero.

According to Mr. Mulberry, the 53rd Street workshop was a clever manipulation of the "people" by the wily Irene Sherr and the dictatorial Toni Preckwinkle. Lured by the prospect of free food, the workshop participants were bamboozled by slick tricks. The alderman "surprised" the gathering with a vote on mid-rises. Dazed by a myriad of issues and drunk on Pizza Capri swill, those lovable but dumb residents voted for development.

Who is Mr. Mulberry kidding? His own rag has been fear-mongering about looming high rises on 53rd Street for years. It turns out that those folks, God love 'em, actually want more housing and retail and would be happy to have another mid-rise building join the many others in Hyde Park.

Mr. Mulberry would have Toni tied down and forced to read ten issues worth of Letters to the Editor in the Herald. This will keep her hand on the pulse of the community. The idea of educating citizens about alternatives and having an actual vote is too radical for him.

Wait, Mr. Mulberry's friend and leader has a better way! Let's convene a group of half a dozen or so of the really important intellectual leaders at Valois. Even better, let's high-jack the discussion by proposing absurd "design concepts" which should send any self-respecting developer back to the north side. We don't even need an architect, we can just say that we have one.*

Does Mr. Mulberry seriously think Harper Court can be designed without considering the economics of retail, parking, and housing or consulting the would-be owner of the property? Some might argue that Mr. Mulberry is just charmingly naive. But, as Mr. Mulberry himself admits, there is a deep cynicism here. This is all about getting nothing done.

Mr. Mulberry calls his teacher - "frighteningly devoted to change." He is right, frightening is the word. Let's consider the record:

1. Seven years of opposition to repair of the Point and restoration of the historic landscaping.
2. Opposition to the development of St. Stephens
3. Opposition to the hotel proposal on the site of the abandoned Doctor's Hospital
4. Opposition to a mid-rise on the McMobil site.

Mr. Mulberry concludes on a chilling note: "the concept need not stop with Harper Court but can and should be used in planning throughout the neighborhood." We might as well drop a war surplus Ukrainian H bomb on our neighborhood.

*It has been pointed out in this blog, that the "architect" Mr. Mulberry refers to is not actually a licensed architect.

From: "Jay F. Mulberry"
Date: February 28, 2008 6:57:24 AM CST
To: "Good Neighbors"
Subject: [Good Neighbors] Community Development


In December there was a meeting a "Vision for 53rd Street" organized mainly by Alderman Preckwinkle's office. It was successful from the point of view of attendance (large) and lunch (good, provided by Pizza Capri.) And it was extremely well organized by the SECC's remarkable Irene Sherr . Otherwise, I think it was unsuccessful -- though it is being touted a great breakthrough into the future and a tremendous example of democracy in action.

It was fated, even willed, to be unsuccessful. Groups at tables who didn't know what they were in for were asked to discuss issues for short periods of time and then throw out suggestions "Vision of 53rd Street." "Wider sidewalks" one would say; "more bars" would throw in another; "better stores", "better restaurants", "invisible parking", "mixed use", "clean", "mixture of historical and modern". . .. You name it, you got it. And you also got the Alderman's opening salvo pushing for greater density and her ending surprise asking for a vote on building a mid-range high rise somewhere in the area.

The result was a hodge-podge with no basis in theory or economics and no sense of the need for overall planning vs. random improvement. My guess, biased, unfair and cynical, is that the effort gives Alderman Preckwinkle a chance to do anything she already wants to do and say the community asked for it.

There is a better way and it is well represented by the group formed to come up with proposals for Harper Court. It is the brain child of Jack Spicer who got a rather marvelous young architect to work with community in drawing plans for a new Harper Court. I have been attending the meetings and am just thrilled by them ; They represent the best approach to community growth I have seen -- using real, not rigged, community input; real, not staged, professional advice; and no self-interest, political interest or developer interest in sight. The concept need not stop with Harper Court but can and should be used in planning throughout the neighborhood.
[Jack Spicer is frighteningly devoted to change in Hyde Park, but he knows how to do it right!]

The next meeting of the group is on Wednesday, March 5 at the Neighborhood Club at 7:00 p.m. I think many Good Neighbors would love it. So come if you can.



chicago pop said...

20 people are smarter than 150. Wow.

Here is a true display of the democratic, inclusive spirit. To paraphrase Mulberry's guru Mr. Spicer, "Nobody is that smart, Jay."

rdb said...

Great find with the Mulberry email: we should abandon a bottom-up/consensus-built vision with the support of our elected officials in favor of some random guy who lives in the neighborhood! Yeah!

rdb said...

As an aside, is anyone else surprised by how cautious Preckwinkle and Hairston are, and how much they seem to pay attention to community input? Contrast that with every other ward in the city, where what the alderman wants, the alderman gets, regardless of how stupid it is. Even though it's slow, Toni seems genuninely committed to community-driven, bottom-up development. Given that, the Spicers and Mulberries can have LOTS of input, but true to their thuggish nature, if they can't dictate the whole, they don't want to be part of the process.

chicago pop said...

So these guys don't want to stop at Harper Court, they want to redesign the whole neighborhood! Great idea -- let's let them do it!

They're obviously qualified: there is no architect on their team (Mr. Cook is not licensed as such and for Mulberry to call him that is like calling a paralegal a "lawyer"); there is no developer giving anyone a reality check (the only party who could actually build anything, unless Mulberry is more talented than we know); and most of all, there is no more than Mr. Mulberry 19 other people, and maybe some cookies on a table.

Jay Mulberry said...

The Good Neighbors mail group involves neighbors living from about Kimbark to Lake Park, between about 55th Street and 56th. Those borders are only guidelines, but very few members are from outside them. There are now 105 members, of whom I know about 25%.

The purpose of the group is not to create a political lobby but to give neighbors a way to keep in touch. Our discussions are usually non-controversial, concerning snow removal, where to find a good painter, upcoming events in the neighborhood, etc. The only extended political discussion I can remember concerned the closing of the Co-Op. That was an exception to our general rule. The email you quote was also an exception, but discussion was not extended; in fact, it got no replies at all.

Readers of your blog who think they would like to be part of the group and live more or less in the borders mentioned are welcome to join.

Jay Mulberry

Peter Rossi said...

I want to thank Chicago pop and an anonymous donor for that email find!

remember this -- these guys are NOT about redesigning the neighborhood.

They are about getting nothing done (getting something done would open them to criticism and require them to cooperate with others). They are only about grabbing a little limelight for themselves.

chicago pop said...

The result was a hodge-podge with no basis in theory or economics and no sense of the need for overall planning vs. random improvement. My guess, biased, unfair and cynical, is that the effort gives Alderman Preckwinkle a chance to do anything she already wants to do and say the community asked for it.

Yeah, the way she's rammed through so much other development in the neighborhood. Huh?

SR said...

Does Mr. Mulberry seriously think Harper Court can be designed without considering the economics of retail, parking, and housing or consulting the would-be owner of the property?

Yeah, the "plan" for Harper Court in the Herald struck me as particularly surreal and pointless that way. (Though I'm thinking of drawing up a nice picture of a built-in tandoori oven & patio I'd like to have materialized in my back yard and sending that into the Herald, just to see if doing so might affect the fabric of reality at all.) I don't think it will have the kind of deadening impact the alternate plan for the Point did, however, because it's just a big building of no particular charm and no immediately obvious purpose (whereas the Plan for the Point is all pretty and limestoney).

If I'm reading all this correctly, it's just the Good Neighbors mailing list that is supposed to be limited to the streets mentioned by Mr. Mulberry; the next meeting on Harper Court mentioned in the email (Wednesday, March 5, 7 pm, Neighborhood Club) is open to everybody in the neighborhood. I'm thinking about going, and presenting my "vision" of a Target just like the one on 12th Street in that spot.

EdJ said...

I organized a small working group consisting of my five year old son and five of his friends so that they could develop a vision for Harper Court that would be used as a draft RFP for developers.

Using a professional, but uncertified facilitator, they identified the following requirements for the new Harper Court:

- They want bunch of buildings with lots of different stores and places where people can live and play with stuff (a mixed use development).

- There should be a giant checkerboard in the middle of the court where they can either move giant checkers in a game or where groups of 24 kids (12 dressed in black and 12 dressed in red) can play a real life game (they decided that you can leap frog over the kids when you jump them).

- It should have a really, really big candy store and a toy store that sells McNuggets. When informed that a McDonalds was just a short distance away, they decided that there should be a moving walkway like at the airport that people can take to move them to and through the drive-up window.

- They want the Co-op board to build and operate a “Co-op-E-Cheeses” where they can play arcade games that give out tickets, but then you don’t get any prizes when you go to cash them in.

- There should be an enclosed water slide from the top floor of the tallest building (no taller than two stories because one of the boys is afraid of heights).

- Every summer, there should be a petting zoo where you can feed goats those little food pellets, and every weekend have those inflatable things you can jump in.

- One of the buildings should have rooms with lots h finger paints and coloring books and puzzles so that kids can do art and crafts. They also want to sell their art on the first floor of one of the stores.

- All of the buildings should be between six stories tall and made entirely of Legos. They wanted to build a model to scale out of small Legos, but none of the boys is a licensed architect, so that will have to wait.

Note: the completion of the concept plan was celebrated by the ritual mixing of chocolate and milk.

There will be a follow-up to further develop the concept at the next play date (date to be determined). Please watch for the notice in the Herald.

chicago pop said...

Here are a few questions that readers of Jay Mulberry's frighteningly remarkable (or just frightening) email blast should ask themselves:

How are 150 unrelated participants "rigged community input" whereas 20 of Jack and Jay's friends aren't?

How is Aaron Cook's professional expertise less "staged" than the that of the multiple experts at the 53rd Street meeting?

And why would anyone fault our alderman for making an "opening salvo in favor of density" at a community meeting in a neighborhood with such an anemic market base as ours?

Unless you really don't want density, after all.

ayeff said...

Chicago Pop said: "there is no architect on their team (Mr. Cook is not licensed as such and for Mulberry to call him that is like calling a paralegal a 'lawyer')"

If I were Aaron Cook, I would be insulted. Furthermore, such an attack is gratuitous and will only make enemies. And it's wrong. A paralegal has usually never been to law school and thus cannot practice law. Aaron Cook has been to architecture school and has practiced as an architect in the past ("Town Architect for the City of Hercules, CA"). However, he is not licensed to do so in IL. The proper analogy is to a lawyer who has not taken a state's bar exam and thus cannot practice in the state, but has passed the bar elsewhere. That does not make the person a paralegal; it makes the person a non-practicing lawyer. But the person is substantively no less qualified to be a lawyer.

It's sloppy and unnecessary attacks like these that really turn me off to arguments made on HPP, most of which I agree with. For example, Jay Mulberry's email quoted in this post is absolutely ridiculous. But it doesn't help convince me if you use the same smear tactics that you accuse him of using.

chicago pop said...

ayeff: you called me on this one. Sloppy analogy, unnecessary attack, and not even that useful as a point of argument.

Point taken.

If the professional architects reading this blog -- and I know there are a few of you -- want to sort this out (what services can or cannot be offered, for free or otherwise, by architects without licenses, etc. -- this is a real issue, but is too involved, obviously, for me to sort out) by all means go ahead.

More importantly, my apologies to Mr. Cook, for continuing to push this issue after his well-meaning clarification in the comments to this post, and when it's clear that it is in fact I who am not qualified to be taking on this particular issue.

chicago pop said...

I have to acknowledge the most excellent parody from Edj above, which might just land him the 2008 "Spirit of Columbia" award. Petting zoos, enclosed water slide, and Lego construction: the next Harper Court.

And you read about it here.

Peter Rossi said...


Please take a look at what Mr. Cook himself posted on our blog.
He is not an architect and he actually says so. He is not licensed in any state!

"2. As our website states, we are not a licensed architecture firm in the State of Illinois. We do not advertise as, sell ourselves or portray ourselves to be an architecture firm. We serve as consultants for licensed architects and developers, typically."

I do differ with you. It is common place for folks in Mr. Mulberry's crowd to play fast and loose with the facts. We stick to the facts here. And the fact is that they are not using someone who is a qualified architect to make design proposals and passing this person off as an architect. This is because they do what to lend artifical legitimacy to their cause.

So what have we done here:
1. We have critiqued the absurd proposals of the "working party" straight up on their own merits (or lack thereof).
2. We have called Mr. Mulberry and his leader on calling someone an architect who is not.

My daughter is in law school. She has not passed any bar yet. According to the Mulberry school of propaganda, I should cite my daughter's opinion as a lawyer that any development of Harper Court is legally permissible. Of course, I would never do such an irresponsible act, however, proud I am of my daughter who I fully expect to serve on the Supreme Court some day. And however, convinced I am of the merits of whatever argument she might present.

This is not "smearing someone." If you want to see a smear, check out the Herald or Mr. Mulberry's email.

thanks for your opinion. I hope you see my point of view.

Peter Rossi said...


In my last comment, I took the intrepretation that you were also criticizing my post as "smearing" Mr. Cook. If you were not, my apologies as well.

may I point out one more thing:

It is Mr. Mulberry and his leader who are hurting Mr. Cook by claiming things about him that are untrue.

This is a recurrent theme-

whoever they touch: Mr. Cook, Irene Sherr, Barack Obama, Alderman Preckwinkle, various civil engineers ... they burn, because they believe the ends justfy the means and are happy to misrepresent the facts.

Peter Rossi said...

I second on edj's excellent comment.

You receive the Mark Twain award from HPP for best parody!

Elizabeth Fama said...

RDB raises an interesting note about how cautious Toni P. and Leslie H. are, and how it seems out of character for Chicago politics. Chicago Pop might have the answer in the comments of the post just prior to this one: he points out that as far as we can tell, our aldermen are not corrupt. They're genuinely trying to work with the community, and they fear voting/election reprisal from the loud "community" groups and "committees," whose actual numbers are hard to determine from all the fuss they kick up. It's difficult to go to a community meeting that's packed with people yelling at you and not worry that this may be how the whole constituency feels (Preckwinkle did it at the Co-Op meeting, but I know it was stressful; Hairston endured countless similar Point meetings).

This is why it's really important for the aldermen to find ways to canvass the community in a more scientific way.

chicago pop said...

In Jay Mulberry's comment to this post, he claims that: The purpose of the group ["Good Neighbors"] is not to create a political lobby but to give neighbors a way to keep in touch..." and that "The only extended political discussion I can remember concerned the closing of the Co-Op."

However, the Maroon recently reported on the "Good Neighbors" group lobbying Treasure Island on behalf of one former Co-Op employee in particular, insisting that this individual be hired.

Apart from the question of why a neighborhood group should have any say in which individuals are hired by a business, this certainly strikes me as lobbying, and to the extent that it represents the use of a community organization to influence the outcome of a local decision, it is political.

Writes the Maroon in the article cited above:

The store’s decision not to hire one employee in particular, Ronald (Rahn) Harris, outraged the community group “Good Neighbors,” composed of 105 residents within walking distance of the 55th Street shopping court. Mulberry wrote to Kamberos on behalf of the group: “It is not controversial. Everyone is outraged and wants Rahn hired.”

The intended purpose of the "Good Neighbor" group may not be to lobby; but it seems clear based on this case, and in the case of Mulberry's email in the body of this post, that it frequently behaves that way.

ayeff said...


I was not criticizing your post as "smearing" Aaron Cook.

However, he is not like your daughter who is currently in law school. Here's his profile from his website:

"Aaron Cook is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture with a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture. Upon graduation he worked for John Malick & Associates in Emeryville, CA, which specializes in high end residential custom homes.

Aaron then went on to work as a Senior Designer at Opticos Design, an award winning multi-disciplinary design firm based in Berkeley, CA and Seaside, FL. In addition to other roles, Aaron acted as the Town Architect for the City of Hercules, CA. In conjunction with this work, Aaron has also taken part in many design charrettes including those for Seaside, FL, Chico, CA, New Town, MO, and Loma Rica, CA."

What he said in his HPP comment is that his firm is not licensed in any state. He does not say, though it may be true, that "[h]e is not an architect... He is not licensed in any state!" Of course, if he and his firm are not licensed in IL, then it may be improper for Jay Mulberry to call him an architect. It would be like calling someone a lawyer in a state where they have not passed the bar. In such a state, the person may be barred from practicing law. But if the person has a JD and has worked in a legal capacity (as a judicial clerk, for example), it seems entirely legitimate to call the person a lawyer informally--you might say a lower-case lawyer. Your daughter cannot yet even be called a lower-case lawyer.

Peter Rossi said...


Point well-taken.

These folks have a habit of shading the truth.

If you know Mr. Cook, I would advise him to stay as far away as possible from Mulberry and Co. He will be used and burned in the process.

To return to Mr. Mulberry, how would you like to be the subject of the sort of ridicule and scorn he heaped on Irene Sherr? Not to mention accusations of manipulation etc.

In Mr. Mulberry's spare moments, he spends his time attempting to dictate to Treasure Island who they should hire for their store as pointed out by Chicago Pop.

Mr. Mulberry made the absolutely false accusation that a UofC PR person drafted the document which accompanied ballots on the Co-Op. It was written by a Co-Op board member and approved by the board.

There is a bit of a track record building here!

some day if you have a few spare hours, I can tick off the long list of mis-representations and fabrications that Mr. Mulberry's friends tried to palm off regarding the Point controversy.

Peter Rossi said...

Beth and edj raise important points regarding the aldermen.

There is nothing worse than being yelled at by irresponsible and uninformed people at a meeting.

Alderman Preckwinkle has been the target of numerous unfair and untrue accusations.

However, as much as I sympathize that is what comes with the territory.

I do think that people are feed-up with the lack of progress on development in our neighborhood. If I were the Alderman, I would be worried about this a bit more than our Aldermen appear to be.

Everything proceeds at a glacial speed as every Tom, Dick and Harriet think they should have their time on stage.

Think about how a developer regards this. Just a huge and unncessary cost that doesn't have to be borne if he works elsewhere.

ayeff said...

From all I've read here, it does sound like Mulberry and others manipulate, smear, and distort. His email was quite something. I've gotten the impression that some people in Hyde Park are aggressively opposed to any change, which is rather depressing given that it already seems hard to convince developers to invest here. My comments were meant, in particular, to address the discussion of Aaron Cook, but also, in general, to caution against such carpet bomb criticism. Collateral damage can really turn off those who need to be convinced.

chicago pop said...

Collateral damage is bad, 'tis true, and we must try to avoid it.

That's why we are constantly working to improve our stockpile of fact-guided, contradiction-sensing, satire-tipped anti-NIMBY precision warheads.

They are also useful against self-appointed community representatives, shoddy journalists, obstructionists of all varieties, anti-democratic activists, parking junkies, and purveyors of general inertial mumbo-jumbo.

Richard Gill said...

I suggest we not belabor the "licensed-architect" issue. It seems to me to be a dead end. I am neither an architect nor an engineer, but I worked more than 20 years in the engineering business. Here is my understanding.

Development of conceptual plans, renderings and drawings does not require a license - for either private or public review. Much of that work is done by graphic designers, or as they say in the biz, by people talented in "visualization". Most of these people are schooled in design, but it's not a requirement. Basically, anyone can do drawings that are for look-see, but the drawings need to be grounded in sufficient practicality to have any real value.

Licensed architects and engineers have to sign and stamp final (100% complete) drawings and contract documents; otherwise the builder will not be able to get a construction permit.

This does not mean that licensed architects or engineers actually have to prepare the plans themselves. Much of the design work is done by drafters and designers under supervision of licensed personnel.

In some "Design-Build" cases, construction contractors will bid on jobs in which architect-engineering plans are developed to the Preliminary Engineering (30%) stage. These plans have to be signed off by licensed practitioners, because construction starts at an early stage, and construction permits are required. The final design proceeds while the initial construction is in progress. The preliminary design contains enough information for initial construction (e.g. foundations, utility relocation, local infrastructure) to be done while the detailed design is completed.
This saves time, but not necessarily cost.

Licensing requirements vary somewhat from state to state, of course. A license in California may require expertice in seismic design, for instance. However, there is widespread reciprocity.

chicago pop said...

Thanks for adding some clarity to that issue. I don't intend to belabor it further.

This is good to know.