posted by Jason Finkes
Anyone associated with the University knows this fated phrase. It slips from our tongues, ironically self-describing our love of the ascetic lifestyle, slaving away for the sake of truth and beauty in our gothic monastery. But more and more, I begin to wonder which came first: the deprivation of doing things or the lack of things to do in Hyde Park.
Now before I get jumped all over in the comments section, I do appreciate all the wonderful things Hyde Park does have to offer: the decaying and rodent-infested Point, the generally overpriced Museum of Science and Industry, the gamut of high culture (the Court Theatre, the Oriental, Institute, the SMART museum) and the nice oddities, few and far between (Hyde Park Art Center, Doc Films sometimes, the new Hookah lounge). As far as I can tell, aside from the great wealth of entertainment for stereotypical academic and/or cultivated individuals, Hyde Park is a dead zone.
Now I love a good classical concert, or a great art exhibit, or the amazing opportunity to educate myself and see real artifacts stolen from real ancient civilizations. But sometimes, to get away from rigorous academic bootcamp, you don't want stereotypical academic pasttimes. And when you don't want to do those things, you're hopping on a bus and traveling god-knows-how-long on CTA or Metra to a neighborhood that actually DOES have some night life.
Now some may say that we don't have night life because the neighborhood can't support it or that all neighborhoods can't be the center of night life. Furthermore, they may argue that Hyde Park is uniquely situated so as NOT to have night life, due to unsafe streets at night.
But then again, there isn't a whole lot to do on the southside in the first place. Something really would be better than nothing. And as far as I can tell, responsible and well-conceived development comes before low crime. I'm not arguing for gentrification, I'm arguing for some real development that could develop into a functional neighborhood that could support some night life, in a community chock full of young people who desperately need to be entertained and begin to interact with the community they've been isolated from.
What really irks me is that one of the best additions to the neighborhood, a blues/music club/venue in the form of the Checkboard Lounge that was brought here with much urging from the University is a 21+ venue. Now this wouldn't be upsetting if any of neighborhoods other night life activities weren't impossible to get people to go to for fear of their respiratory health (hookah lounge) or bars (does any know how many there are or does everyone else lose count when they try to total them?). We didn't need another 21+ venue.
What we needed were places for a larger portion of the University and the Hyde Park community to mix. The Checkerboard could have been such a place. But by bringing in a 21+, you create a place that Undergrads will never attend, because they simply can't until their 3rd or even 4th year, by which point they won't go because it wasn't an option early in their career. They're stuck in a rut, thinking Hyde Park is dead.
This lack of a night life and prevalence of 21+ venues like bars and the Checkerboard certainly makes it more understandable when one hears that some younger students lament the passing of the Co-Op (not as a bastion of the community and a defunct organization that used to be SOMETHING that activists desperately try and preserve and remind us of) but as a place to go to get booze and not get carded, so they too can do something or anything on those cold, lonely, boring Hyde Park winter nights.