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.
(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.