The HPP intelligence network recently picked up a bit of electronic NIMBY chatter. Just a few whispers detected and processed at our global listening station, alerting us to the possibility that someone might decide to build a building near the Powhattan -- a tall one, maybe a little taller than the ones already there -- on some of the parking lots pictured below.
Whether the chatter is true or not, what is true is that the current use of this land for surface parking only is economically inefficient, and even wasteful, from the perspective of the local economy. Land given over exclusively to surface parking lowers the residential density of a neighborhood, which reduces the local trading area and makes it harder to do shopping close to home.
And it just looks like hell.
What do you think about the fact that in one of the sections of Hyde Park-Kenwood closest to the Lake, home to some of the most impressive interwar and post-war residential high-rise architecture in Chicago, and with some of the neighborhood's best access to public transportation, significant chunks of city blocks look like this:
Local folks might want to get used to the prospect. At some point, someone is going to buy them out and allow them to pay to park in someone else's building.
On land this close to the lake, with such abundant transportation infrastructure, and already designed to accommodate high urban densities, it's practically inevitable. And it's probably a good thing.
1640 E. 50th Street -- The Narragansett and Powhattan Buildings
It's all basic stuff. Which you'll know if you scan hipster-liberal zines like Salon.com:
As parking lots proliferate, they decrease density and increase sprawl. In 1961, when the city of Oakland, Calif., started requiring apartments to have one parking space per apartment, housing costs per apartment increased by 18 percent, and urban density declined by 30 percent. It's a pattern that's spread across the country.So if and when the day comes that someone wants to build something reasonable on any of these parcels -- say something comparable to the Powhattan or the Newport in size or shape -- don't be fooled by cries of "Congestion!" or "What about parking!"
In cities, the parking lots themselves are black holes in the urban fabric, making city streets less walkable. One landscape architect compares them to "cavities" in the cityscape. Downtown Albuquerque, N.M., now devotes more land to parking than all other land uses combined. Half of downtown Buffalo, N.Y., is devoted to parking. And one study of Olympia, Wash., found that parking and driveways occupied twice as much land as the buildings that they served. (Katharine Mieszkowski, Salon.com, October 1, 2007).
These are the neuroses that keep Hyde Park's biggest NIMBYs tossing in bed at night, but like most neuroses, they have little to do with reality.
The cry that you probably should take seriously is this one: "Not another high-rise to block my view of the Lake!" In the 4th Ward, we've seen the lengths to which people will go to protect the "views" over which they have no proprietary rights.
If anyone already living in a high-rise between 51st and 49th Streets cries out about another high-rise going up next door, we'll be able to expand the NIMBY taxonomy beyond the owners of quaint Victorian frame houses on Harper Avenue.
The new species, if it is ever discovered, may well include inhabitants of vintage Deco towers, and perhaps a few Modernist ones. Specialists at that point will have to recognize this species as a local variant of the world-wide "last one in the door" genus (from the Greco-Latin nimbyotopus rex) or:
"I've got mine, now you stay out."