Thursday, February 28, 2008

Obstruction without Representation - Part I: How Jack Spicer is Blowing His Social Capital

posted by chicago pop

There are two things going on in recent events surrounding Harper Court, and they're not necessarily related: we've got this survey, conducted by the HP-K CC, to gather input as to preferences regarding possible development at the site of Harper Court. A lot of people sat around and hemmed and hawed about how to design it back in early February. Now it's live, and people are responding.

Very good.

But then, we've also got a second group, nominally a committee of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, the fleet-footed and un-bureaucratic-sounding Development, Preservation, and Zoning Committee, but it's clearly taking it's own line. This committee is spoken for, of course, by Jack Spicer, described by the Herald as "a member of the working group" (February 20, 2008) of the above committee.

Somewhere along the line, Spicer's working group of the above-mentioned committee decided to do its own thing, to bring in an urban planning consultant, and on the basis of a workshop of 20 people, build a castle in the sky and splash it on the front page of the Herald last week.

Meanwhile the HP-K CC waits for the results of its community survey. Spicer's group has already decided what it wants, on the basis of an extremely small focus group, and is now lobbying for acceptance of this design, "hoping to drum up support for its vision" (February 20, 2008) -- all before the HP-K CC survey is even completed.

If I were one of the survey-drafters, I'd say that's not quite cricket.

So what's going on here? Different arms of an organization working at cross purposes? A sneaky power-play on the part of an aspiring Daniel Burnham? Talking up "community input" while making sure to get your stamp on the process as early as possible, so that community input equals your input?

All of the above, and then some. If the encouragement of this kind of factionalism and behind-the-scenes maneuvering reminds folks of how deliberations were derailed over the Point, then you're right on the money. No sooner is there a consensus on canvassing Hyde Park residents about their preferences, then the Committee for Development, Preservation and Zoning has gotten its own designs on the front page of the Herald.

Pat Wilcoxen's indignant letter to the editor this week (February 27, 2008), nicely captures the irony of this fact, but diplomatically pins it all on the Herald's headline:

"To give the impression that there is a preliminary design is a disservice to the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference...This is one idea, and the emphasis should be on drumming up support for more participation, not for or against this particular design."

Is the Herald's headline really at fault here, or is it Spicer's Committee?

Go back and re-read last week's issue and you'll see that, the headline aside, Spicer's group was already pitching its redevelopment plan, and hoping to "shop it around," well before any survey input had been gathered. The Herald, as sometimes happens, duly reported that fact.

If Pat Wilcoxen has an issue with pitching a design before community input is tabulated, she should take it up with Jack Spicer, not the Herald.

Episodes like this could easily give one the impression that Spicer is burning through whatever social capital he has managed to retain after a series of spectacularly obstructionist displays that have cast doubt on his role as a community representative.

As the Point continues to decay, the millenarian hopes in a Salvation-by-Obama -- in which the unholy engineering demands of the Army Corps of Engineers are smitten with a thunderbolt like the armies of the Antichrist -- seem more and more hollow.

Strike one.

certainly didn't win any points with the University over the Drs Hospital escapade.

Strike two.

And now he's undermining one of the neighborhood institutions that claims, perhaps with the most justification, to represent "the community," the HP-K CC.

Strike three?

Hyde Park certainly seems full of aspiring successors to Daniel Burnham, each one of them painting different castles in the air, and maneuvering to get their castle up front. If this goes on long enough, we may witness the spectacle of Establishment big-wigs duking it out amongst themselves over height limitations and parking lots. Reserve your seats now!

Meanwhile, what the community really thinks -- and just as importantly, what a developer is capable of accomplishing -- may eventually provide a reality check to whatever splinter-group the Herald chooses to lobby for in future issues.


Anonymous said...

Makes me think of the Bentsen/Quayle debate back in the 1980s.

"Mr. Spicer, you're no Daniel Burnham."

There has to be a certain amount of megalomania attached to this kind of thing where you have one or two folks who rant and rave about the lack of community input into local development/repair projects, complaining about the city and Daley running roughshod over everyone, and then actually undermining the vehicle for the community input they so vociferously demand. Hypocrisy in spades.

I think at the root of it all is simply that Spicer wants what he wants. These little subcommittees and splinter groups are trying to pass off subjective demands as objectivity. It's pretty clever, but it's still a dirty trick.

EdJ said...

You have to remember that community input in Hyde Park is all about "Enough about me. What do you think about me?"

I don't know if I missed it, but did the Herald even mention the survey in this week's issue? I didn't see it anywhere. They made a big deal about how it was coming and the the HPKCC wanted a wide range of input, and then what? I am shocked - shocked I tell you - to find out that the Herald is not following journalistic guidelines.

Elizabeth Fama said...

...this kind of factionalism and behind-the-scenes maneuvering reminds folks of how deliberations were derailed over the Point...

Absolutely. The trick they played before with the Point -- of saying they represented the desires of the community -- only worked because there was no Hyde Park Progress back then, there was no 53rd Street Vision Meeting, there was no revealing Co-Op vote. Nowadays there are wider, more diverse voices speaking, and small factions with the Herald in their pocket can no longer claim to represent the community.

Keep discussing, everying! Keep arguing! Don't let anyone claim to represent you.

EdJ said...

Nowadays there are wider, more diverse voices speaking, and small factions with the Herald in their pocket can no longer claim to represent the community.

Nicely put Elizabeth.

Our local officials are noticing that these small groups don't pull the weight that they once did. I liked Leslie Hairston's letter to the editor about the committee of six in East Hyde Park who got so much ink in the Herald last week. According to her, her office wasn't contacted for comment. Again with the not following journalistic standards. I'm shocked - shocked I tell you.

Richard Gill said...

If HPKCC has not authorized Spicer or anyone else to speak on HPKCC's behalf, the Conference has an easy solution: Tell the Herald, the Aldermen, and the public that nobody but authorized individuals can speak for the Conference, and say who those authorized people are.

If HPKCC has any kind of workable structure, then only the Board can authorize formation of a committee and give it a charter, and only the Board or the President can designate spokespersons.

Is there a record in the HPKCC's minutes designating a committee? If not, the committee does not exist, except as a renegade faction. If people continue to act against the Conference's wishes, they should be kicked out.

If the Conference can't, or won't enforce this, then they're enabling anarchy, and they're worthless.

Rosemary said...

This is floating around at my office. Which "group" is sponsoring this survey?

chicago pop said...

Rosemary: the survey that you can link to from the link you provide is "the" survey hashed out by the HPKCC and associated with George Rumsey.

There's a link to the survey to the left of this page, and I've been encouraging everyone to take it to make the results as broad-based as possible.

The survey, however, is distinct from the Harper Court redev plan cooked up by the Development, Planning, and Zoning Committee, which had nothing to do with the survey. It's also not clear what authority this latter committee has to do anything.

Peter Rossi said...

yes, but you can't let the HP-KCC off the hook so easily. They are in the pocket of NIMBYs.

George R. has been quoted extensively as bemoaning the fact that the HP-KCC has not been called into render an opinion on Harper Court. The HP-KCC set up this "study group" or "task force" or whatever you want to call it.

The "preservation" committee of the HP-KCC has been prominent in opposition to the repair of the Point and the hotel proposal at Doctor's Hospital.

The HP-KCC tries to represent itself as a independent voice and a source of information on all points of view. But let's face it, they are against meaningful change in Hyde Park and support the worst of our local breed of NIMBYs.

Shanty Minister said...

Good city/community/urban planning leadership is an altruistic act. Persons w/ agendas (as people in HP and citywide undoubtedly have), can't provide a good workable solution unless they are willing to forego their personal wants for approaches which serve the greater community over the long-term. We know most people aren't that selfless.

But expecting a “developer” to shepherd a balanced and equitable planning solution (perhaps at the expense of his own profits) is not likely to happen EITHER. This is why leadership on urban planning issues and community development really MUST be steered by local residents along with the municipal planning department. The problem is, we live an Chicago, and it's likely that some influential city officials have enough clout to steer development “solutions” towards a beneficiary OTHER THAN the residents for whom the development is [ on the surface] intended.

Similarly, Developers generally have NO training in city planning, construction and they certainly are not formally educated in architecture or engineering (or in in any design or construction discipline). As far as I know, the only major requirements for a Developer in the City of Chicago is that the Developer meet some general business application guidelines, have insurance, maybe a bond and that is about it.

To me, it's like hiring a nurse's aide instead of seeing a doctor, and wondering why the aide can't diagnose and treat a sick patient correctly -- the first time.

The mistake is to think that just any (or most) developer(s) can address [solve] the problems of a community. Developers will just throw money at it-- which is not the same as resolving the problems.
The smarter (experienced) developer-- in concert with competent municipal Planning Officials- would HIRE urban planners (and licensed architects) to develop a strategy that addresses the myriad needs of the affected community-- perhaps even at the expense of some of the developer's own [financial] needs.

As for that "planning group" hired by HPKCC....
it says on the "designers' " own web site that they are not "licensed architects". Forgive me, but maybe one of you lawyers can answer this, but my attorneys always told me it was illegal in the State of IL (and in most US states) for persons not licensed in the practice of architecture to engage in building design --including some city planning activities. An architectural firm could, however, hire some non-licensed firms to do some renderings or models of designs developed BY the licensed architects. But a non-licensed firm is clearly prohibited from engaging in architectural design and engineering by state law. (In fact, a multiple infraction of someone providing illegal architectural design work is a Class 4 felony.) Anyone can lookup the IL Architectural Practice Act. It defines what constitutes "practicing architecture" quite clearly.

Anywaaay, it seems a better way to have approached this is for the City-- along w/ substantial input for the HP community (and HPKCC) to have hired a licensed (urban & architectural) design firm TO DEVELOP A MASTER PLAN FOR ALL OF HYDE PARK. Working on individual (pet) development pockets within Hyde Park is foolish, imo, without first devising an overall plan for the entire community that is Hyde Park --including how the 2016 Olympics will impact the area. Working on smallish blocks or areas of ANY COMMUNITY without considering how the design impacts neighboring streets, commerce, residents, etc. is the definition of amateurish (and self-involved).

Additionally, these myopic approaches will almost certainly ensure a less effective solution and premature failure. Planned obsolescence is almost guaranteed.

chicago pop said...

As for that "planning group" hired by HPKCC....
it says on the "designers' " own web site that they are not "licensed architects".

That's really interesting.

George said...

Hi, folks. Let's see if I can clarify a bit.

The HPKCC Development (et al.) committee met in mid-December after the 53rd St. Vision Workshop, to discuss ideas for followup. A couple of participants said that Harper Court seemed to be coming back into priority, so we decided to concentrate on that as ONE of our efforts.

In the January TIF meeting, the Alderman requested that HPKCC Development Committee work with the TIF Neighborhood & BUsiness Committee to present a report in March on community concerns and issues about Harper Court redevelopment.

In our early meetings, it became apparent that some of the group was interested in "physical" visioning, while others wanted positions. So we formed a sub-committee that evolved into Jack's group. The main committee has been working on the survey.

Both actions are authorized by the HPKCC board (yes, I have the minutes to show it).

I HAVE talked with Jack about being careful how he reprsents the designs his subcommittee has created. The Conference sees the designs as a means for stimulating discussion, NOT a statement of what we want OR think will be built.

Meanwhile, the survey is currently at 752 respondents (thank you, Chicago Pop, for pinning it). As I said at Tuesday's community meeting with the Alderman and James Wilson (City Dept of Planning), my objective in the survey is to come to agreement about what the community hopes for, so we can MOVE AHEAD.

The idea of a multi-task approach like this was inspired by the Corridor Housing Initiative (in Minneapolis-St.Paul), which successfully combined community participation and input with architects and developers to reach conclusions that pleased the neighborhood, the architects, and the developers. We don't have the budget, the time, or the personnel to carry out such an endeavor, so we are trying to "invent" our own process to stimulate discussion.

And the real objective is to make progress on Harper Court redevelopment.

EdJ said...

Not to come to the defense of the designers, but they only put together a conseptual design. I think they'd et in trouble if they actually took their drawings and started building off of them.

I agree with shanty minister that developers can be bad, but local obstuctionists can be just as bad, or even worse. While a master plan might be a good idea, I shudder to think about that process in Hyde Park. It would just lead to more excuses from our own obstructionists to stop anything new.

chicago pop said...

I'm not sure I agree with the idea that Hyde Park needs a 'master plan'. I think a piecemeal approach, in fact, is fine. The opposite is too reminiscent of Urban Renewal, and the idea that you can figure everything out all at once. I don't think too many people would buy into that these days, although it's fun to think big.

Edj is right that anything larger than what's going on right now might spiral into chaos -- and raise the question of boundaries -- between Hyde Park and Woodlawn, Hyde Park and Oakland, Bronzeville, etc., that would also be difficult to manage.

It's my understanding that CMAP is already putting together a comprehensive "plan" for the southside, figuring Hyde Park as a regional hub. That was part of CMAP's motivation for participating in the 53rd St. workshop.

And Edj is right, that in our community misguided and self-indulgent community activism is just as great an impediment, if not greater, than any scandalous behavior on the part of developers. Maybe if there were more developers circling the waters, the story would be different.

But as with most things, what goes in the rest of the City, is usually the opposite of what goes in Hyde Park.

chicago pop said...

George writes: The Conference sees the designs as a means for stimulating discussion, NOT a statement of what we want OR think will be built.

That may be the case, but it's poor judgment to, as Pat Wilcoxen and others, including myself, argue, to put out a design before the input is in, and before the constraints of reality and the other players are known. It might wind up making things more difficult, and from that perspective is irresponsible.

George's language above is certainly well chosen, and probably the right language to use here, but whether that is in fact how Spicer and his Gang of 20 view things, represent them to the Herald, and plan to base their behavior on, is a different matter. That was a VERY small group, and Spicer doesn't represent ANYBODY, and they're already taking as if they've got a plan for us to follow.

Further, I think there is already evidence -- from the Herald and from statements made by Dev. Committee participants like Jay Mulberry, that not everyone is being as cautious about this as George.

Peter Rossi will have more to say about Mulberry's take on the HPKCC Dev. Committee as a sort of counter and alternative to the Dec. 2007 Visioning meeting, the legitimacy of which Mulberry completely rejects. I would assume that Spicer agrees.

So there's much more invested in that visioning endeavor than, as really should be the case, a little something to get things going.

Shanty Minister said...

I'm not a lawyer and can't give a legal opinion but, I should have been more emphatic about this licensing issue.

EdJ, doing a conceptual design (even if the intent is NOT for it to be built from those exact designs) has been determined ALREADY --by IL COURT PRECEDENT-- that such an activity constitutes an attempt at "the practice of architecture". (I can provide links to legal white papers on the topic when I get around to it.)

Again, conceptual design (even without permit or construction drawings)of a building is generally considered illegal if the person/s are not licensed by the State in which the property is located.
When I have a chance, I'll look up the specific court case. Of course, you can always call the IL Dept. of Professional Regulation (or look up the state statue online.) The definition of "what constitutes practicing architecture" --even the derivative use of the word architect/architectural etc., is regulated. Period.

chicago pop said...

Is it illegal to have Romero & Cook, a "Design Studio" without any licensed architects, do architectural renderings of Harper Court?

Shantyminister writes:An architectural firm could, however, hire some non-licensed firms to do some renderings or models of designs developed BY the licensed architects. But a non-licensed firm is clearly prohibited from engaging in architectural design and engineering by state law.

Here's the "Disclaimer" from the Romero and Cook website:

Romero Cook Design Studio is located in Chicago, Illinois. Romero Cook is not a licensed architectural firm in Illinois or any other state, nor does it advertise or market itself as a licensed architectural firm. Romero Cook Design Studio is not a "professional design firm", as defined by the Illinois Architecture Practice Act of 1989.

Michael J. Romero is not a licensed architect in Illinois or any other state. Aaron M. Cook is not a licensed architect in Illinois or any other state.

chicago pop said...

Here are a few sections of the Illinois Architecture Practice Act of 1989, defining what constitutes the practice of architecture (which includes offering aesthetic renderings) and what is in violation of the statutes (offering such services without a license from the State).

Any commentary from legal professionals on this issue would be welcome.

Regulated architectural services:
Sec. 5: The practice of architecture within the meaning and intent of this Act includes the offering or furnishing of professional services ... aesthetic and structural design, technical submissions consisting of drawings and specifications and other documents required in the construction process...

Definition of Violation:
Sec. 36.a
The practice, attempt to practice or offer to practice architecture [see above definition], or the advertising or putting out of any sign or card or other device which might indicate to the public that the person is entitled to practice architecture, without a license as a licensed architect, or registration as a professional design firm issued by the Department ... constitutes a separate offense...

LPB said...


I appreciate your clarification of the relationship between the HPKCC Development Committee and the sub-committee headed up by Spicer.

Just one thought for you: Considering Spicer's rather under-handed role in the Point controversy and the current sad state of the Point that he and his ilk "saved," I for one am very skeptical of his capacity for thoughtful compromise going forward on anything else, including Harper Court. From my perspective, Spicer's track record on the Point adds up to a *lot* of baggage.

I would like to think a tiger can succeed in changing his stripes. However, in my mind, the onus of demonstrating that he is sincere about deferring to larger-scale community input (in the form of a survey, or the 53rd Street Visioning Workshop, or whatever) rests wholly on his actions; not just words he strings together in his letters to the Herald editor. In other words, I'll believe it when I see it.

Despite your words of warning to Spicer on how careful he needs to be in positioning the designs of his subcommittee, the mere use of *his* voice as the mouthpiece for this subcommittee already raises red flags for me. In my more cynical moments, it is not hard to believe that Spicer is using the subcommittee as a vehicle for his own agenda, rather than a outlet that will reflect input from the community -- a community that truly does include a sizeable segment that he has managed to alienate over the years. By unveiling one possible concept for Harper Court in advance of the survey results, Jack Spicer looks like he's trying to do an end-run around the survey. That is one possible interpretation based on what I know of his past behavior.

In the mean time, I'm keeping my eyes open for any further actions on Spicer's part that might either support or refute this interpretation.

EdJ said...

I think the discussion about whether what the designers did for the conceptual design is architecture or not is an interesting side-note, but shouldn't be the focus of the discussion. They've listed enough caveats on their website and in the paper. The core issue isn't whether they are licensed architects, but what should be done with Harper Court and who is going to lead it.

Aaron Cook said...

A point of clarification from our company, Romero Cook Design Studio:

1. We are not getting paid by the HPKCC for these images. The only money that has been accepted is for production costs. The images that have been put forth for Harper Court are purely to start a conversation about the future prospects for Harper Court. We wanted to share our planning ideas with the community at large. We feel that our ideals are applicable to any number of urban places and are broadly accepted as sound planning techniques. As a resident of Hyde Park myself, I too would love to see good development in the neighborhood. Furthermore, I agree with several of the comments made in that an overall master plan should be produced for the area.

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.

If anyone has any concerns or comments, please feel free to contact us. We will be more than happy to speak to you.

Shanty Minister said...

Soooo, would you want an important skill-based medical procedure (that is regulated by the State) done on you by someone who was not lawfully allowed to perform that procedure?

And I am not saying I know enough about Romero /Cook to know what their role in this HP Harper Ct. process is. R/C may have acted lawfully (I hope.) But HPKCC might need to provide clarification on the sequence of how that design came about. Details matter.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Regarding the Point, maybe SR can correct me (since she's fast becoming more knowledgeable than I), but I'm pretty sure the SAVE THE POINT architectural proposal was drawn up by a landscape architect who had done no engineering studies. He didn't look into the feasibility of construction, or whether it adhered to Army Corps standards -- which I assume was beyond the scope of his mission as outlined by the SAVE THE POINT group.

So Edj, I do think this "side issue" is important in the sense that it seems to be a pattern -- a small group that perceives its community role to be almost purely "arbiter of aesthetics."

Did anyone ever see the Doctors Hospital "alternative" architectural plans? Were they architectural renderings, or aesthetic designs?

chicago pop said...

Did anyone ever see the Doctors Hospital "alternative" architectural plans? Were they architectural renderings, or aesthetic designs?

Whatever the hell they were, they sure weren't vetted by "the community" in any real way, and certainly not the way the University's plans were. Just served up by the usual suspects and delivered to the University.

Nice job with the community input there, no?

ayeff said...

Chicago Pop says: "...the Dec. 2007 Visioning meeting, the legitimacy of which Mulberry completely rejects. I would assume that Spicer agrees."

Why don't you ask Spicer what he thinks?

On Hyde Park Urbanist, Jack Spicer himself says: "In general, I thought the 53rd Street Vision Workshop was really very good -- great crowd, lots of enthusiasm, and good investigation of the very complicated issue of increased population density for Hyde Park."

It's a simplistic straw-man-view to paint him always as the devil. It diminishes the value of one's criticism.

chicago pop said...

I'm glad you brought up that document, ayeff, because we're going to be taking a very close look at it in our next installment.

Peter Rossi said...

Mr. Spicer's group has been quoted at length in the Herald as questioning the legitimacy of the Vision Workshop.

You are right; Mr. Spicer is very careful not to say much of anything in public (certainly nothing negative). He simply has his buddies do it.

There is a very long history here. If you like, I can give you many, many examples.

The only person I've seen him criticize in public is Alderman Preckwinkle who has had the audacity to call him on some of his more outrageous acts -- such as trying to kill development on 53rd which doesn't appeal to his views (anything over 6 stories, I believe)

EdJ said...

The bottom line on the discussion on the Point or Harper Court is that these group are going to put out drawings that show their concept vision. If we say you're not a licensed architect or an engineer, they are going to agree and say that that's not the point - they are just showing what is best for the community.

It's more important to focus on the fact that with Harper Court and the Point, the drawings are based on the discussions of a small group of people who are trying to drive the discussion by trying to set the terms early on. With the Point, it doesn't matter that they were concepts drawn by a landscape architect. More important to focus on is that they are not based on regulations or engineering studies.

Spicer and others have put their vision out. Time to counter their vision (or lack thereof, depending on how you see it) by responding to he survey as well as putting our own concepts and vision out there. And maybe even get someone to draw what that might look like. People understand what they can see. The other side gets that.

SR said...

Elizabeth, according to Save the Point, they "commissioned architects Frank Heitzman and Wayne Tjaden to prepare a proposal for preserving the limestone revetments at The Point, in conjunction with improving universal access … Heitzman and Tjaden proceeded on the basis of the study already done by coastal engineer Cyril Galvin.”

Heitzman and Tjaden are listed as “Frank Heitzman, AIA, Architect, Wayne Tjaden, AIA, Architect” in this document on the STP website. Whether they have any background in shoreline protection projects, I couldn’t say; I wasn’t able to turn up much about them by Googling, except for this, showing a lot of their projects that seem to pretty much be retail stores and libraries and whatnot.

I don't know if referring to Cyril Galven's study in drawing up the architectural plan really constitutes having an "engineering" plan or not. I'm guessing "no."

But then one of the fun things about the whole imbroglio is that it's basically impossible for a non-expert to really evaluate any of this stuff for feasability. I think I'm more skeptical than y'all about the credibility of the City's and the Army Corps of Engineers' claims about how the core of the revetment HAS to be concrete; it may very well be so, but even if it weren't both of those parties would have reasons for saying so that have nothing to do with physics. (The Army Corps has been a creature of patronage from its inception, and the Mayor has a lot of "friends" in the concrete business). It would be nice to think we can rely on Obama's committee to straighten all this out and tell us the real final score on what the engineering plans have to be, but since they've appointed another Army Corps guy to do the review, that report when it appears may not be 100% convincing to everyone either. Of course there's probably nobody outside the Army Corps who has a lot of experience with revetment projects, so there ya go, it's frustrating.

SR said...

Regarding planning issues: Wouldn't it be nice if the community could just articulate general acceptable guidelines for the whole neighborhood, and then developers could look at that and decide if they want to do anything within those parameters, and then be allowed to just go ahead and do it if it fits, and not if it doesn't? Instead of every single project having to go through a million hoops and be subject to all kinds of random political pressure in the guise of "community involvement" in an unpredictable process that probably significantly deters developers from sinking any resources into attempting to build anything at all in this neighborhood?

It's really a shame that zoning is basically a meaningless sham in Chicago, because that's what it's supposed to do (and so far as I know pretty much does in communities that don't have a powerful alderman system.)

Richard Gill said...

sr: - I agree that general guidelines ought to be enough in most cases. I believe that zoning is intended to incorporate guidelines (requirements, actually) as to basic attributes, such as size, purpose, use, open space. Then, building code goes into more specific detail.

Beyond that, it's pretty much aesthetics, and agreement on that is almost impossible. Isn't zoning and code generally enough, in terms of mandatory guidelines?

Unless a community has some legislated "architectural character", such as in a landmark district, then developers ought to be able to build to their own aesthetic preferences. If they want to profit (Oh, there's that word) from their risk and investment, they'll want their property to be attractive enough to sell or rent. Occasionally, there may be a dud, but I think that's preferable to pre-set tastes in design.

All - note that the primary disputed properties in Hyde Park are involved in disputes over re-zoning. That's the legal hook the NIMBYs are using to stop things. The other arguments are mostly fluff. Remember, no matter how loud they shout, each NIMBY has only one vote, and now "we" outnumber them. And, P.S., the Herald can't vote.

chicago pop said...

Here's why all the controversy around zoning-aldermen-corruption in Chicago gets no traction in Hyde Park:

We don't have corrupt aldermen.

We don't have dozens of developers banging down the doors to build in Hyde Park

Finally, and perhaps most important and general, zoning does not define anything once and for all, even in the absence of aldermen and with perfect community consensus. Trying to fix the appropriate use of each and every parcel once and for all is like trying to invent an artificial language and get everyone to use it. It will never happen.

Needs change, there has to be some flexibility to accommodate the market and developer interests, and what makes cities work changes. This would be the case without corrupt aldermen (which we don't have in the 4th and 5th wards).

Zoning spread primarily as a way to implement suburban development, not urban development. Urban areas are too complex and interrelated to squeeze for all time into an inflexible set of codes. Which is why it's so easy to change them.

The process for doing so should be transparent and responsible, but it should be there, that's for sure.

Richard Gill said...

Pardon me, if I try to turn down the volume a bit. If Mr. Spicer is in charge of a committee, I'm glad to know that the committee is an authorized creature of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference. Not everyone agrees with what HPKCC does, but it is a hard-working and responsible organization that doesn't always take the Establishment line (recall they sponsored the first mass neighborhood meeting to air the problems and prospects of the Co-op).

Since Spicer's group is working under HPKCC authority, the Conference can reel him in, or even remove him from his position if he strays from his committee's purpose or makes erroneous or outlandish statements as a HPKCC representative. Mr. Spicer probably doesn't need that embarrassment. Not a perfect situation by any stretch, but it's better than Spicer et al out there freelancing.

SR said...

C-pop, I'm not even talking about corruption, just the basic fact that it's up to every alderman what gets built in their district. There are constant complaints here about Hairston being too "weak" to stand up to tiny pressure groups; if building approval weren't in practice completely up to her, the issue wouldn't even arise.

Meaningful zoning regulation may not be a perfect solution, but it beats self-selected groups trying to out-shout or at least out-influence each other.

Peter Rossi said...


I disagree with you on the HP-KCC. They did not play it straight on the Point. They barely acknowledged the hundreds of residents that signed a statement supporting the Compromise Plan. They did not report correctly on details of the controversy. For example, they claimed for years that Alfred Caldwell designed the revetment. He did not; he designed the landscaping. They did not examine critically the statements coming out of the "Community" task force. They did not do the research on the "Memorandum of Agreement" and reported incorrectly about the role of the IHPA. I believe they DID NOT report that the IHPA approved the Compromise Plan.

They have asserted property rights on the design of Harper Court. I don't see what entitles them to do so.

Elizabeth Fama said...


The HPK-CC web site does mention the IHPA approval of the Compromise Plan on the Summer, 2005 Point page of its website. On that page there's a link that takes you to a .pdf of the document. But the web site is such an unsearchable creation, it's easy to miss.

Peter Rossi said...


thanks for finding it in that mess.

I stand corrected.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I haven't been ignoring SR's interesting musings about the Army Corp's insistence on concrete, and the idea of possible patronage, and the fundamental fact that no ordinary Joe can evaluate the Army Corps' engineering expertise. I've just been mulling.

I guess I'd say first that the complaint from the SAVE THE POINT group all along has been that the Army Corps is over-engineering the Point, not under-designing it.

Secondly, the Army Corps engineers have rebuilt other shorelines along the Great Lakes, where presumably "concrete patronage" would not necessarily have been a local issue. (If we're worrying that Daley and the Army Corps both have friends in the concrete business and that's driving the whole design, that's too far for me to leap.)

Finally, I'm relying somewhat on my own observations with respect to the concrete -- and you really should all go see the "concrete coffin" tip of the Point one of these days if you haven't. The concrete promenade that they poured in around 1963 has held up to the nastiest of the winter weather (northeast winds and crashing waves), hands down. It's the pilings and the rails and the gravel fill that have all washed away. The concrete is almost obstinate in how intact it is, with everything else disintegrating around it.

But I realize that the failed levees in New Orleans made everyone suspicious of the Army Crops' expertise. I just think that if the design is of the right scale [check], it reuses the limestone in an attractive way [check], and it's functional, especially for swimming and walking [check, and check], it's just nuts to block its repair, while the federal funds are available, and the construction crews are still scrambled.

Shanty Minister said...

As someone who now has done a lot of work in the Chicago suburbs (and here in the City), trust me, Chicago is much better designed [planned] than the 'burbs. The zoning (along with a Master Plan) aids in that process. Chicago Suburbia should be re-classified as Vulgaria. I am not one who thinks life is better in suburbia.

I believe much of the zoning formulas for Chicago do a good job of tempering the design aspect of development as it affects traffic, building mix & type, bulk, scale and the all too important density.

As for Harper Court, "designs" done by "groups" interested in the Harper Court area would be well served to design with the zoning requirements in mind. (After all, it--zoning-- is the law.)

As for the engineering practices of Landscape Architects..I believe that such large civic projects are almost always done with designers and engineers collaborating on the design.

For example, Licensed Architects are indeed able to provide some limited engineering services--but depending on the nature/scope of the project, the governing municipality may set boundaries and/or additional limitations on what engineering may be done by an architect. I suspect the same is true for licensed landscape architects. (As LAs, like architects, can't really practice their profession without some knowledge of engineering. Of course, some engineering is indeed part of their formal training and licensure.)

Regarding the concrete choice at the Point, some Roman and French aquaducts are some of the best (if not first) known examples of concrete [and mortar] used in structures. (Mortar is a form of concrete mixture.) And many of those Roman aquaducts are,of course, still standing- like the Pont du Gard (a masonry aquaduct est. 13 B.C.) in southern France. But there are also other examples of "poured" structures that are still standing..

While the Limestone might "look" better at the Point, it's quite possible that depending on the quarry/area it comes from, Limestone might not last as long as a good mix of concrete. (Concrete can be of a lesser durable engineered mix too.) So a material's longevity at the Point is affected by the "engineering" too.

In general, concrete is likely to be less money (to fabricate and install) than Limestone. So, the "willingness" of taxpayers & Municipal officials around matters of cost [taxes] will affect/influence the choice of materials.

The Point engineers SHOULD do the right thing and pick the best mix of materials vs cost. But a lot of other factors affect those final choices. There's no point in designing/engineering something that the community has no willingness nor ability to pay for.

Put your complaints where your tax dollars are.