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