Monday, April 7, 2008

Harper Court Survey: Women Under 40 Say 'Yes' to Everything

posted by chicago pop

Preferred Performance Activity at the New Harper Court
(Ashley Dupré Spring Break 2005)

Who would have thought that the stodgy HPKCC would produce a survey that conformed to every frat boy's fantasy? Or the legal script being used by defense lawyers for Girls Gone Wild producer Joe Francis?

Truth can be stranger than fiction, gentle reader. The results of the "Community Priorities for Harper Court Redevelopment" survey are in and the biggest news is this: almost twice as many survey respondents were female as male. Most of them were between 19 and 39. And they said "yes" to virtually everything.

While this may certainly be fantasy material for the geezer types who write letters to the Herald, it also has the less arousing effect of draining the survey results of much useful meaning. Especially when we know that in our frigid little corner of lakefront reality, let alone in any healthy relationship, the headline statement on this post rarely holds.

No one says "yes" to everything, as much as we might like them to. So something must be up.

For survey results to be meaningful, they have to indicate relative preferences, and be designed to do what survey-makers call "force discrimination." This has nothing to do with national guardsmen or Brown vs. the Board of Education. It's about making people think about trade-offs, and forcing them to establish hierarchies among what may be competing or conflicting desires. You do it by giving them a choice between two or more options.

Lake Park between 52nd and 53rd, ca. 1956
(before the HPKCC helped tear it down)
Archival Photofiles [apf2-04028], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Basically, the way the survey was set up, people were not asked to choose between one package of goods, and a second package of goods that may not "fit" with the first. Say, for example, making Harper Court a space port for luxury moon shots, or a floating casino. Can't be both at once, even if people might want both when asked about either option separately.

Take the first 4 questions of the survey. Survey respondents were given 4 possible goals for Harper Court and asked to rank them from 5-1, very important to not important. Respondents ranked 3 out of 4 of the goals as very important, with the majority chosing "important" for the fourth goal.

The same thing happens with urban design. Everyone wants to "make the landscaping welcoming, with trees, seating, and flowers." Everyone also wants to "strengthen the pedestrian character of 53rd Street." Everyone even more wants to "provide well-lit ambiance at night."

It keeps going. Everyone and their mother wants a "multilevel parking garage to serve Harper Court and the Hyde Park business district." Everyone and their activist granola neighbor with the 6-foot vermiculture tower wants HC to be "accessible day and night, with improved transit and handicapped access." People only started to get a little apathetic when asked about "planned and separated access for service vehicles and delivery," and I don't blame them.

The most telling product of this flaw emerges in the most interesting data: "Development Components," or, what kinds of stuff do people want to see in a new Harper Court? The big categories are, by a long shot, restaurants (61% very important), public space (51% very important), a movie theater (39% very important), followed by retail amenities. All of this fits with the overwhelming preference for making Harper Court a "destination," which it currently is not.

Here's the rub. No one expressed preference for any of the other things you need to make a successful urban development with restaurants, retail, and a movie theater. Those other things are what give you density, and density, as the sponsors of the December 2007 53rd Street worskhop and Aaron Cook are both aware, is absolutely fundamental to any successful commercial redevelopment of Harper Court.

The things that would get you density -- a hotel, office space, new housing, were all ranked by a majority as "not important."

That's a problem. Because you can't get the good stuff without all the boring gray stuff like condos and offices. It won't wash, no one will build it. If anything, preferences like these might suggest to a builder that this community doesn't really want change after all; they want to keep their public space, a handful of restaurants, and a few languishing curio shops.

That's clearly not the case, but this survey didn't manage to bring it out. Its primary failing, by not forcing discrimination, was to fail to hold the issue of density front and center and make people connect the dots between what they want, and what they need to get it.

In that respect, the survey was a failure, and certainly did less to make the connection between the realities or urban economics, and the unconstrained wanderings of consumer desire.

Ashley Dupré Does Pro-Bono Gig For HPKCC Board Meeting


EdJ said...

After reading about the results I was reminded of the focus group scene from the Simpsons episode: "The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show" I expect that the outcome of the survey will be that we can expect "Harper, the Rockin' Court" as a result of the survey.

Okay, how many of you kids would like Itchy & Scratchy to deal with real-life problems, like the ones you face every day? (the kids all cheer and agree) And who would like to see them do just the opposite - getting into far-out situations involving robots and magic powers? (more cheering) So, you want a realistic, down-to-earth show... that's completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots? (The kids agree)

And also, you should win things by watching!

Zig & Lou said...

I think most reasonable people would agree that robots and magic powers would improve the dynamic of Harper Court.

Greg said...

Pop, don't you realize those girly pics make it kinda hard to concentrate on my outrage at NIMBYS? :-p

chicago pop said...

Let's not get too excited here. I'm only providing some illustrations of the demographic highlighted in this post (Let's paaaaarty!!!!! Patio dining! Yeeeesss! Parking decks! Yeess! Ambiguous public space! Yeeesss!) that swarmed to the HPKCC survey. (Ahsley Dupre was suppposedly 18 when these vidcaps were made, but whatever). This should not detract from the high seriousness of discussion of Hyde Park issues, but it probably will amongst the Objectivist types that grump-out once in a while.

chicago pop said...

I think Edj proves once again that every issue on this blog and in life more generally can be explained with an analogy from the Simpsons.

Wish I had thought of it first.

EdJ said...

I was only inspired by your excellent post.

Peter Rossi said...

there are two points to be added:

1. the question with the highest proportion of "very important" answers was the about developers sharing the final plans with the community.

2. One of the criteria with the lowest proportion of "important" (4&5) was the question about the importance of sticking to the original mission of the HCF.

NIMBYs in the community will pound on #1 as an excuse for nay-saying and holding up any development and conveniently forget #2

George said...

I think Peter's 2 points are right on-target (although not necessarily his conclusion).

We knew that most questions would likely get fairly positive results, as they have all been collected from prior discussions. The point of the survey was to try to set priorities about what was important to everyone to try to include it in the RFP or development process.

I was amazed that Hyde Parkers like to eat so much (restaurants). Apparel did not do nearly as well as I expected (so much for Gap vs. Old Navy).

But I strongly like the results to "destination" and the implications (from several questions) that 53rd Street desperately needs something to do at night (and LATE at night, too).

I think a rockin' Harper Court redevelopment would be great. I don't think the alderman will go for the strippers, Chicago Pop.

catuca48 said...

Chicago Pop's initial post says it best. The survey results do not tell us much if anything in terms of priorities.

Can one conclude because people indicated that restaurants are important that they would like the City to request a food court as part of the RFP? Or that since there did not appear to be a lot was not a lot of interest in other uses aside from retail that people want a single story strip center served by a parking structure?

Given the structure of the survey, there is no way to make comparisons or draw conclusions based on the rating an option received. For example, people were not asked to state their relative preferance for restaurants versus apparel. Plus these uses are not at all mututally exclusive. In fact many of these uses are complementary and will thrive in the presence of appropriate co-tenants.

I am not sure what one can conclude from the results. Although, let's see what the Herald says!

chicago pop said...

catuca48 makes an interesting point. What's in the survey results to substantially differentiate them from the status quo? People want a movie theater back in the neighborhood, and they want stuff to look nice, but basically, someone could come in and say, "you want what you already have -- restaurants, and little bit of [very sad] retail, and no office or residential, or density."

It's true that looking at this, one might propose a strip mall development with a parking deck attached.

Raymond said...

Whoa, whoa, whoa, you're gonna make me lose access to this site at work with these pictures.

deep throat said...

As someone who spent more than a decade in the market research industry, I wanted to weigh in on method employed in the Harper Court Survey.

While I agree that is important to assess and quantify the **absolute** level of interest in the various features and desires that have bubbled up on an qualitative, anecdotal level (which is what the survey did accomplish), I would disagree with the contention that the survey provided much prioritization to those issues/desires.

In some cases, when opinion on the absolute level provides enough discrimination, then you can get away with the kind of ratings questions employed in the Harper Court Survey.

However, since it's never a sure thing that this kind of discrimination will occur, experienced market researchers very typically design additional questions that force that kind of discrimination -- through a ranking of features, or a conjoint analysis that employs trade-off scenarios, for example.

Peter Rossi said...

George is showing his NIMBY colors.

It doesn't make any sense to conclude from this survey that we should try to make HC have restaurants and not apparel. This should be the choice of a developer who has every incentive to get it right.

Community groups should have no say whatsoever as to what kind of stores should be in a development except to alert developers about potential interest.

The idea that the HPKCC can sit down and play a development with no expertise or incentives to get it right is ridiculous.

Community input can be valuable for non-commercial aspects but only in an advisory sense.

We need to understand that NO developer has yet expressed an interest in HC (at least in recent memory).

As Deep Throat says, this survey doesn't have much to say about anything except that people want "everything." You can't say that people lust after restaurants rather than clothes unless you force them to make choices.

EdJ said...

Although I haven't looked at the results too closely, it appears taht we can conclude that people recognize that Harper Court as it exists right now, is not working. They'd like it to be an anchor for retail and entertainment (Harper, the Rockin' Court -- It doesn't just get busy. It gets BIZZZ-AAAY [Sorry. Another Simpsons reference]). From that perspective, it seems helpful to those of us who want change and appears to support many of the findings from the 53rd Street TIF meeting last December.

Beyond that, it doesn't seem to help in developing an RFP for specifics of what goes into the court, and it probably shouldn't. It does highlight the need to increase education about the need for greater density in the neighborhood to support a destination Harper Court.

Greg said...

In a way, the survey does make a good point: a mixed development consisting of an assortment of entertainment/shopping/dining options would probably be the best way to get folks in there, get them to stay and spend money. A little bit of everything is good. Personally, all I really care about is a movie theater and making the lot into a parking garage, but a theatre, combined with a couple new restaurants, and some decent retain would do a lot to enliven HC and 53rd street in general. Basically a mall concept on a smaller scale.

Checkboard Lounge is already a destination, we just need the other pieces to the puzzle.

chicago pop said...

It's interesting to note that the results of the 53rd St. workshop, which were not based on pre-formulated questions (but rather on participant-generated and questions) came up with an overwhelming preference for more shopping and retail at the top of several lists generated when people were asked to choose among other participant generated categories (discrimination).

The results of that workshop also dealt explicitly with architectural forms and development approaches in a way that the HPKCC survey failed to do. In two separate instances, "mixed-use" development was prioritized by participants when asked 1) what should go in buildings along 53rd street (53% selected mixed use retail and residential uses from a range of audience generated options); and 2) What should 53rd St. look like (24% selected mixed use buildings; 24% variety of retail).

It would therefore be questionable on a methodological basis to conclude from the HC survey that there is any kind of deep consumer preference for one type of retail over another, or for anything at all, really. And unlike the 53rd St. workshop, the HC survey avoided any questions that would force people to think about land use, building form, and density. Which could open to way to updating, but essentially preserving, what is there already.

chicago pop said...

Did I mention getting a Planet Hollywood?

EdJ said...

Planet Hollywood? From the survey results, you'd think it'd be a Hooters or Chippendale's.

There may be some problems with the survey design, but we should give credit to George and HPKCC for trying something different to get people's input on issues in Hyde Park (Although to get the real Hyde Park experience, there needed to be a window with a video of a NIMBY shouting us down when we entered a choice they wouldn't like).

I think that it's clear that the survey needs to involve making choices and maybe having some background on the implications of different choices (such as retail and entertainment requiring greater density).

chicago pop said...

Here's where I'll give credit: the HPKCC survey made an effort to get beyond the narrow clique of self-identified community representatives and their opinions on Harper Court, which until quite recently, nobody has done.

In that regard, they made an effort to be scientific and objective, and for that, big doggie bones. That's why I called attention to the survey here at the blog.

The survey did achieve a notably even distribution of participation across age demographics. And they did get a lot of women, many of whom actually live in fairly affluent households. All interesting.

However, given the discussion at HPKCC that preceded the decision to go ahead with this survey (the need for an "alternative" to the 53rd St. Workshop that would be more "independent", less in thrall to local dark powers like the alderman, more rooted in the community, and correct what were perceived to be that event's own methodological shortcomings ) I would note that I don't think the bar was raised significantly in terms of quality of information generated.

Some of seems to contradict the work that another HPKCC Committee is doing, with the drawings by Aaron Cook.

But it's certainly better than the closed discourse that was taking place before among old-timers. There's no going back to that.