Sunday, May 25, 2008

U of C: Guardian Angel, Despot, or Sucker?

posted by Peter Rossi

In recent years, our favorite (and only) neighborhood university has gone on a buying binge. First, Doctor's Hospital and the Hyde Park Theatre and related buildings at 53rd and Harper. Then a multi-million dollar bail-out of the Co-Op. This was followed by the purchase of the radioactive Harper Court. Most recently, another transfer payment to take over the Chicago Theological Seminary.

All told, these various purchases and subsidies are close to topping the $75 million mark. We haven't seen this kind of activity since the old Urban Renewal days. It mirrors work that other universities are doing.

The Guardian Angel

There has always been a sense in which the U has been the buyer of last resort for HP, somewhat like the Federal Reserve. If things get bad, we can always count on the U to bail out the neighborhood. The Hyde Park Theater building is a case in point. Neighborhood theaters are a thing of the past (why settle for one screen when you can have your choice of 15 at AMC with parking too!). It was clear no one would buy this abandoned building. So along comes the U, patiently plunking down its millions and engaging a top notch developer to make something of the old Cinema Paradiso.

The same story was played out with Doctor's Hospital. Who is going to spend $50,000 a year to send the kiddies to the U and feel good about it when you can't even stay near the campus? The various units of the U spend millions each year to feed and house visiting faculty and speakers in downtown hotels. It seems very logical to build a hotel on the site of this eyesore. An auction was held and guess who suffered from winner's curse? This whole deal has gone sour as local NIMBYs hid behind preservation and labor issues to stop the U dead in its tracks.

Harper Court has suffered from NIMBY attention. The HP-KCC (in the person of its "preservation task force") rushed in to control this development under the assumption that there would be a long list of suitors willing to develop under the most intrusive conditions. No one was stepping up to the plate, so again our white knight reached into his wallet.

We have been over the Co-Op many times here in this blog. But the bottom line is that the University forgave past due rent and satisfied the Co-Op's creditors with bushels of cash. Again, one could argue that this was absolutely critical for the neighborhood and the U. Who would live in a neighborhood without a functioning supermarket, however great Peapod is?

The latest and largest (more than $40 million) investment is the take-over of the Chicago Theological Seminary at 58th and University. These buildings will house the new Milton Friedman Institute (there is even a chapel to worship the free market!). It is easy to make the argument that this is a great deal for the university. The CTS buildings are right in the middle of the campus and are also very striking. The Milton Friedman Institute is a smart move to attract donors who want to honor Milton and the economic principles that, as the Wall Street Journal put it, let the University of Chicago win the Cold War.

The Despot

This flurry of activity and huge investment is sure to stir up our local conspiracy theorists. The U is an evil empire that reveals an arrogance that makes Bill Clinton look bashful. The U will only pay lip service to community input. The U and its wealthy donors will build academic temples inlaid with gold and tony shops to satisfy the temporary residents (students) and fussy faculty.

The problem with this theory is that it presupposes that the incentives of the University are different from that of the community. This is clearly false. It is very much in the interest of the University to have a vibrant neighborhood. Those who think that the University only wants luxury condos and expensive shops are woefully ignorant of the U payroll. Thousands of staff members and graduate students pull down modest pay and want to live in our neighborhood.

Never Give a Sucker An Even Break

My biggest worry about this latest spending spree is that the U won't pull it off. The U has an spotty track record in managing and developing commercial real estate.

A review of a few recent episodes is in order. A prime example is the Hyde Park Theater mess. As the Herald reported this week (yes, friends, once is a blue moon reporting can be found there), the U has just fired the developer for this parcel. This is worth thinking about as this developer (Brinshore and Baum) has an excellent reputation. However, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the whole idea of developing the Theater site is flawed. 53rd street is not Damen Ave. It can barely support a collection of marginal shops (HPP and Freehling Pot and Pan, notwithstanding). Where are the customers going to come from to browse the cute boutiques this development was to feature? The immediate central Hyde Park neighborhood doesn't have enough customers, with enough income to support specialty shops. Either you have to attract customers from elsewhere (but you need to provide parking) or you have to increase the number of residents.

Perhaps, the U fired the HP Theater developer in order to coordinate with the development of nearby HC. However, this does not explain why they chose to start this process with Brinshore and Baum in the first place. Local NIMBYs have been effusive in their praise of the HP Theater development "process." The fact that it proved to be another dead end keeps up their dismal track record.

The Co-Op fiasco is a lesson in commercial real estate management as well. In 1999, the Hyde Park Shopping Center (owned by U of C) was renovated and Co-Op signed to a long-term lease. The plans for renovation were singularly lacking in ambition and mass. There just aren't enough stores in the center to attract customers. The Co-Op footprint is way too small to attract the interest of major chains. Finally, we all know how Whole Foods was shown the door!

There are other examples. There have been all sorts of failures in attracting restaurants to the "golden rectangle." Any one can see the reason (even Hans Moresbach gets it) -- the precinct is dry. This needs changing before you start subsidizing restaurants.

There is also a real concern that the U is not very savvy in negotiating real estate deals. Harper Court and the Shoreland are cases in point. The U paid 6.6 million for HC and sold the Shoreland for a song. The 6.6 million is more than other developers have offered for HC. And these other offers were made in heady times of inflated real estate values. A search of Cook County records tells the tale of the Shoreland. The U sold the property to a developer in 12/04 for $3,750,000 (based on tax stamps). The developer flipped the Shoreland for $10,000,000 in 9/06.

In the end, the success of the U in bringing about a change in our neighborhood is critical for us all. I hope President Zimmer is thinking long and hard about bringing more expertise in commercial real estate to bear on these critical developments. But this is not all, there has to be a concerted effort to increase the density and population of Hyde Park. This means supporting large scale residential development in East Hyde Park and elsewhere.

We can't afford to develop the reputation as the only prime area in Chicago that actively discourages development. We all need to do a better job of selling our local officials on change and making the case that the 50 cranks who show up at "community meetings" don't speak for us all. The U needs to step up and be counted on this one.

38 comments:

Zig & Lou said...

"The immediate central Hyde Park neighborhood doesn't have enough customers, with enough income to support specialty shops."

I agree with this to the point that you would be speaking of handmade paper stores, or a store that sells glass baubles from Finland; but there are particular 'specialty' shops that a community like HP and the neighboring areas (Kenwood, North Kenwood, and so on) can and will support. The concept of 'lack of density' is based on models that do not account for the unique nature of a particular community or of the quality/value experience that particular, unique business may pose to the economic equation.

Peter Rossi said...

Zig and Lou-

good point. However, I think this development called for not just one or two shops but a good bakers dozen!

p

chicago pop said...

I agree with this to the point that you would be speaking of handmade paper stores, or a store that sells glass baubles from Finland; but there are particular 'specialty' shops that a community like HP and the neighboring areas (Kenwood, North Kenwood, and so on) can and will support.

I would just point out that, for the South Side including Hyde Park, the overwhelming concern is less for specialty shops -- as much as we all love and support them -- than for everyday retail amenities. The food desert is the classic example of this, and there is no question that it is a function of low household densities, with direct, adverse consequences to low-income, often minority households.

The same can be said of all sorts of other bread-and-butter market categories that urbanites depend on: in addition to grocery stores, hardware stores are another classic example. Historically, both categories declined after WWII in direct relation to declining household density in Chicago. They have not recovered.

It's true that certain categories of commerce can thrive in hollowed out low-income communities, or communities with great income disparities: liquor stores, cobblers, dollar shops, laundromats, fast food chains, etc. These tend not to be highly valued by local residents.

So while certain specialty shops may indeed be able to prosper in HP/K/Oakland, as I hope Z&H does (and as books stores, Toys Etc. already do, to say nothing of Ace Hardware) there is no question that the overall retail environment for all categories, including staple consumer goods, would be greatly enhanced by higher residential density throughout HP and the South Side.

bornatreese said...

It would be a great service if you would post/continue to post meetings that more un-cranks should try to attend?

chicago pop said...

There will be a meeting of the Planning and Development Committee of the 53rd Street Council on:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

6:30 PM

Hyde Park Art Center

5020 S. Cornell

The purpose of this meeting is to review the proposed redevelopment guidelines for Harper Court. These guidelines are available for review from:

http://www.vision53.org/12.html

Zig & Lou said...

This is a excellent thread. I think that the unique business proposition that Hyde Park offers all retailers is an interesting one. On one hand, how many quality, locally based retailers can there be in the core retail categories? Further, It will be challenging for national retailers (with concepts that will/can work in HP) to justify coming to HP with the way the demographic numbers will continue to be over the coming years (short-term). If the UofC can/will offer development incentives (as they did for the 55th Street Starbucks) they will be able to lure these types of national retailers, but it does change the natural competitive market, and tilts it to such a degrees that good retail locations will be out of reach (financially and otherwise) for any independent in HP. The long standing issues that inhibit the kind of development that we would all like to to see on 53rd Street will not be overcome any time soon. Soup and too many cooks come to mind.

ScottM said...

I wonder what role the local Aldermen have played in slowing retail development.

Preckwinkle seems unable to foster any real new business development and Hairston's focus seems to be the Stony Island/South Shore corridor.

At least it would be nice to see the 53rd Street TIF funds used to help generate more new retail and dining rather than helping to upgrade the laundramat at Kimbark Plaza.

Either way it be nice to see if either of them had a real long-term plan for retail development support.

ps-Zig & Lou how much longer till the grand opening?

SR said...

However, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the whole idea of developing the Theater site is flawed. 53rd street is not Damen Ave. It can barely support a collection of marginal shops (HPP and Freehling Pot and Pan, notwithstanding). Where are the customers going to come from to browse the cute boutiques this development was to feature? The immediate central Hyde Park neighborhood doesn't have enough customers, with enough income to support specialty shops. Either you have to attract customers from elsewhere (but you need to provide parking) or you have to increase the number of residents.

Perhaps, the U fired the HP Theater developer in order to coordinate with the development of nearby HC. However, this does not explain why they chose to start this process with Brinshore and Baum in the first place. Local NIMBYs have been effusive in their praise of the HP Theater development "process." The fact that it proved to be another dead end keeps up their dismal track record.


Huh? I thought you guys were all excited about this project before (see comments here. It seemed to be the U of C’s stab at creating some destination retail near pub trans, which given the neighborhood’s current density issues is not a terrible idea, nor a particularly NIMBY one, given the general NIMBY allergy to having outsiders in the neighborhood. And I’m not sure parking was really that much of an issue, if they were going for the urban hipster market with unique designers and all (which was what they seemed to be saying at the meeting); boutique areas like that on the North Side don’t have much in the way of parking either, presumably because the target demographic is comfy with pub trans.

It struck me as risky and pretty dependent on getting some retailers that really were unique enough to get people to come all the way down here (like Hot Doug’s, but for clothes), but not completely impossible. And certainly not NIMBY; it’s a terrifying new idea completely at odds with the collective urban renewal hangover around here, trying to attract outsiders rather than repel them at all costs.

Unless “NIMBY” is now just a catch-all term for some shadowy but all-powerful entity responsible for everything that goes wrong in Hyde Park (much like the U of C is to NIMBYs, come to think of it), even if we’re not exactly sure how or why? If it’s not that they were responsible for the project falling through by imposing unreasonable costs (the discussion of renovation costs at the TIF meeting is briefly summarized here) as C-pop argued earlier, then it must have been their nefarious influence in the “process?” Does anyone actually know why the project fell apart, or is all of this just guessing?

Raymond said...

While slightly off topic, I haven't seen it noted anywhere that Hyde Park Mortgage left their 51st & Lake Park home. This leaves the Pancake House and Village Foods as the only tenants left there, I believe.

chicago pop said...

Does anyone actually know why the project fell apart, or is all of this just guessing?

That's a really good question. My own argument is based on reading between the lines; but I haven't seen anything documenting exactly why this plan fell through. Certainly the Herald didn't really push the question in the article that Peter refers to.

Zig & Lou said...

'scottm' - a couple of comments. Firstly, our City Hall is right out of a Kafka novel. I would like to share more details but we are still in a sort of permit limbo and I do not want to do or say anything that could work against us. We are doing what we can and are still hopeful for a late June/early July opening. Everything that we need to be open (less our inventory, of course) is ready to move forward. Now we are waiting on the City). About your comment about the Alderman's office and retail development. The 4th Ward office and the QCDC (which has space in the Alderman's office) is doing a terrific job of promoting local retail opportunities to national, regional, and local businesses. THe QCDC's development work does not include the historic Hyde Park retail corridors. It is my experience that the Alderman Preckwinkle's office is doing an excellent job of with retail development (I do not have any exposure to Alderman Harriston's office, but she comes from a family background that includes retail business); In my experience, it is the current commercial landlords have made retail development so difficult for businesses looking for quality retail space in the last seven years (as that is the time frame of my firsthand experience in this matter).

chicago pop said...

ScottM writes: Preckwinkle seems unable to foster any real new business development and Hairston's focus seems to be the Stony Island/South Shore corridor.

I would echoe Z&L's comments on this point, which I think are fair. Preckwinkle has some big gambles playing out up on 47th, which shouldn't be ignored. I'd also emphasize that the fate of Stony Island should not be of indifference to Hyde Parkers, in the same way that we're tied in to what's going on up on Cottage Grove. I think Preckwinkle has a sense that HP can't be looked at in isolation. If anybody wants big box discount retailers (or much anything else) closer than they already are, then they need be concerned about what happens to Stony Island and Cottage Grove.

J/tati said...

For what it's worth, I've had a really interesting response to my shop's relocation. Now located on a little stretch of dated HP retail (currency exchange, cobbler, hair salon, quarter water store, barber, me, deli) I've had really interesting reactions as I set up new new space. There are a few more poor folks down this way as compared to east HP, so so it follows that neighbors kind of gripe to me about the rumors that the space was originally going to be a dollar store, and that would have been really preferable to a bike shop. In fact, I've heard the same comment from at least a couple dozen folks.

In fact, I feel kind of bad about the fact that my shop represents the face of gentrification in this little corner of HP... that my cheapest bike costs 10X what many are looking to spend doesn't help matters. Oh, well.

It has made me think quite a bit about complementary adjacent retail... things seemed to flow a lot better without my store here, but then again, in terms of actual retail revenue, that flow had ebbed to a dribble in recent years, so we'll see how things change...

Zig & Lou said...

j/tati - If only your shop were Z&H's retail neighbor...

Elizabeth Fama said...

J/Tati, please tell us your new address.

EdJ said...

And here I thought Kwame Raoul had started a bike shop in that spot (It's his old local office which moved to Harper Court, strangely enough).

That's an interesting little retail strip. It's not often that there's a vacancy in that strip. In fact, the last time I remember one was the time between there was a vacancy after there was a candy shop there and when it became Barack Obama's local office. The hot dogs at the littl deli there are a pretty good bargain. It looks like the little convenience shop is looking to sell though. It'll be interesting to see what replaces it.

chicago pop said...

j/tati - If only your shop were Z&H's retail neighbor...

...then we would be able to truly hear the harmony of the spheres.

J/tati said...

The space is at 1013 E. 53rd. Formerly Kwame Raoul's office, before that Barack Obama's. In fact, I still receive junk mail for both esteemed politicians. My retail neighbors are some of the friendliest, coolest merchants I've met in Chicago. Hunter, the barber next door, introduced himself by recounting his five decades on the block. An hour later, I'd learned about the history of several waves of developers, the hospital-to-condo converstion, various iterations of Hyde Park/Kenwood gangs, and the half dozen shoot outs on the block in recent years. In other news, there is apparently a VIP and/or judicial witness on the block because we have a 24/7 CPD cruiser parked (idling!) directly in front of my shop, so maybe I won't invest in that security system after all.

chicago pop said...

there is apparently a VIP and/or judicial witness on the block because we have a 24/7 CPD cruiser parked (idling!) directly in front of my shop, so maybe I won't invest in that security system after all.

That thing must have been there for a while -- he almost backed into me around lunch time.

Ben said...

A couple of comments:1) to J/Tati - welcome to the NW corner of HP. As a resident of this little slice of heaven, we're not as destitute as you might initially think. Just to the east you have the blocks of Greenwood and University, hardly the poor folk of the neighborhood. Farther west, one just needs to look at the amount of conversions centered around Drexel taking place. I know, I know, many of these are going at a snail's pace or are stagnant, but hey, it's a tough market.

2) Peter, I would be interested in hearing what you would define to be a "critical mass". How much population growth would be required? My contention, which was touched on earlier by CP, would be that HP is not an island, nor can it be. Very few neighborhoods stand on their own in this city, and most feed off of their proximity to other prosperous neighborhoods. Here, the surrounding communities feed off of HP while providing little in return. This, of course, is an evolving situation, and with the surrounding communities coming in to their own (e.g. Cottage, Stoney, S. State corridors), this should only get better with time. I would be interested in hearing your take (and anyone else's) on this stance.

EdJ said...

Being a recovering north sider, I ee the south side like I used to see the north side. Up there, we never talked about the fact that we didn't have everything in north Center or Uptown. We went to Lakeview, Wrigleyville, and all these other neighborhoods. I see my retail options as being between the South Loop and South Shore. That's where the Home Depot and Best Buy (soon) are as well as the Target. The Roosevelt corridor is more accessible to me living in Hyde Park than a lot of those comparable places were when I lived on the north side. The only difference I see i Hyde PArk from what I witnessed in Roscoe Village North Center is that no one got in the way of good development ideas when they were proposed there. Uptown was probably more comparable. There was a lot of opposition to some retail, but eventually, enough people who wanted to have development moved in and now it's really thriving.

J/tati said...

Ben -- it's not that the new neighborhood is destitute... the difference I think it really in the nature of my new retail neighbors. Most owners explain that their long time customers have loved away and that the new condo residents don't much frequent the little block. Windy's Deli next door is busy all day long... it does bang-up business from folks who cash checks at the currency exchange on one end of the block, and walk down to drop $50 on lottery tickets. Try walking into Lundy's and buy anything that's not loaded with preservatives and sugar. What I mean is that these businesses sadly have not evolved with the demographics of the neighborhood. Most of my friends who live within a few blocks of the stretch admit that they've never frequented any of these businesses. Maybe the dry cleaner's, but that's it. On the other hand, as a fan of dollar stores myself, I'm really not sure what would work best down here :)

Zig & Lou said...

I will not comment on corn syrup, preservatives, "convenience foods", and the problem of food choice as it relates to income in this thread but whenever that topic comes up on HPP I will have my soap box out in a jiffy. Eating quality food is not a function of income, it is a function of food education. Also, many people do not know how to cook from ingredients (or don't think they have the time), or understand how delicious food prepared from scratch actually is. Sorry, the soap box slipped out a little...

chicago pop said...

To bring things back a little to the original thrust of the post: we've recently learned at HPP that the University has made a key strategic decision to move its office of Real Estate operations out of Community Affairs (Hank Webber's old domain). Real Estate now reports directly to the new CFO of the University. The latter, apparently, is looking to build up the real estate staff with experienced, outside expertise.

Again, this follows the example that more and more urban universities such as Penn are setting in providing patient capital for partners with direct experience in various lines of business.

This seems like a promising move, and one that recognizes the importance of working with other market actors in the development process, and in making sure that flops like the Co-Op lease extension or the Brinshore and Baum fiasco don't repeat themselves indefinitely.

EdJ said...

Driving back from Comiskey Park recently, my wife and I talked about how we see the IIT and U of C Police crusers almost passing each other. Development from the two extended university communities are starting to meet up round about 39th St. There's a different density and demogrpahic coming together. There's not a lot of retail around IIT, but the question is whether there is going to be a critical mass among IIT-land, Bronzeville, Bridgeport, Kenwood, Hyde Park, and Woodlawn where we go to each other's neighborhoods to shop.

I rememer back to that one posting that led to the record breaking number of comments that was about where to go to be entertained outside of Hyde Park. The same issues apply here. Where do we fit relative to the rest of the south side?

chicago pop said...

Edj, I think you describe it pretty well yourself: Development from the two extended university communities are starting to meet up round about 39th St.

We were just up on Halsted and 35th Sunday night for dinner; it's getting to be routine for us to cruise up King Drive or get off LSD at 35th.

Thinking about change as if everything has to happen in the quadrant between Cottage Grove, 47th, the Midway and the Lake actually reinforces the problem down here, which is isolation and depopulation -- for everybody. This is something the old time "community" folks don't talk much about.

On that note, I want to flag another piece of excellent journalism from the folks at Chicago Weekly -- this one addressing development and the University in Woodlawn. We've blogged about it on HPP here and, featuring Woodlawn Wonder, here.

Check it out.

EdJ said...

If you look at public transportation south of Hyde Park, it seems like most of the buses go express at 47th, bypassing the neighborhoods we shoud be linkng to. Maybe it's because I live in west Hyde Park and can take the number 4 or even the green line to these areas that I think about the links between neighborhoods more (or I'm closer to King Drive and can go get Chicken AND waffles at Chicago Roscoe's or whatever it's called at 39th and King.

In east Hyde Park it's not so simple to take public transit to our connecting neighborhoods.

dead reformer said...

Howdy, nice blog, and thanks for the tip on Woodlawn Wonder. We've started the GlobalServe Co-op, a volunteer service/student housing alternative that seeks to be more in tune with the nearby neighborhoods. Would love to meet y'all for coffee sometime if you like!

Otto said...

Eating quality food is not a function of income, it is a function of food education. Also, many people do not know how to cook from ingredients (or don't think they have the time), or understand how delicious food prepared from scratch actually is.

I can scarcely choose among the vile imprecations that spring to mind after reading this quadruple salvo of condescending insults.

Have you ever tried living in a studio kitchenette with $150 a month for everything after rent? "Soylent Green is people" has more than one vernacular interpretation.

So, by all means, let's have the menu for the uneducated, ignorant, and perception- and palate-challenged. You have $20 a week to feed one person for a month. The sink and stove are half-sized, the water pressure is unpredictable (it takes at least an hour to wash a mess o' greens), the gaskets on the oven are crumbling to the point that it won't get above 350, and one of the burners is scary because it throws a high yellow flame (I hope this latter isn't insufficiently "uneducated").

Time is at the same premium as it is everywhere. The cookware is flimsy aside from a cast-iron pan rescued from the dumpster. All seasonings and oils are of the least-expensive variety available, and the latter have very likely been around for too long.

What's cooking, Seattle?

Zig & Lou said...

Wow, So very angry, do you have low blood sugar?

"You have $20 a week to feed one person for a month." Yes, you do seem to have some food challenges. And after reading your post, I think you are correct, you should continue to eat as you do, and don't try to think about creative alternatives that might change your paradigm.

"vile imprecations" tickles me.

Greg said...

$80 a month (based on an average of $20 a week with 4 weeks in a month) isn't bad. You have many options and fresh produce is almost always much cheaper than processed, prepared food.

For example, at my grocery store this week:

- Sweet peaches were 10 cents a pound.
- A whole fresh chicken was 79 cents a pound.

Additionally:
- I bought a massive sack of rice almost 2 years ago that I'm STILL eating. It cost $30.
- Sacks of potatos are incredibly cheap.

You're complaining about a malfunctioning stove. You should complain to your landlord and make them replace it, since it's clearly not safe.

As Zig & Lou said, you can do a lot with small amounts of money if you're creative, selective about what you buy, and willing to go outside your comfort zone. I should know. I spent nearly 2 years in college eating mostly ramen, cheap frozen pizza and 99 cent bologna before I figured out that I could get twice the amount of food if I was willing to think about it a little and take time to plan my meals. My health and happiness improved one-hundredfold.

John Thompson said...

great post. for realz.

Alec Brandon said...

I've always wondered what ex U of C professor meant by this post on his blog:

http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/002324.html

For those uninterested in clicking, the post is back from when Istria first opened and he says:

"Oh, and ask the manager about the myriad hoops City Hall requires people to jump through in order to open up such an establishment -- it's quite a tale."

We can talk about U of C forced development or bringing in this or that type of shop, but if the city or neighborhood is going to repeatedly set up huge entry costs I don't see how Hyde Park is going to develop any sort of retail options.

SR said...

- Sweet peaches were 10 cents a pound.
- A whole fresh chicken was 79 cents a pound.

Additionally:
- I bought a massive sack of rice almost 2 years ago that I'm STILL eating. It cost $30.
- Sacks of potatos are incredibly cheap.


Okay, so what’s for breakfast? What are you taking with you for lunch at work? What did you eat for the week and half when you blew that much of otto’s theoretical food budget on a sack of rice?

Low-income people can’t always take advantage of sales or the economies of scale involved in bulk buying. Produce is incredibly expensive if it goes bad in a day or two (which was one of the reasons the Coop was an ongoing crime against the poor for years and years). Herbs and spices are right out; if you’ve only got $20 a week for food you’re not blowing $4 on a jar of rosemary. And landlords of crappy buildings don’t always fix everything right away (that’s why they’re crappy buildings with low rent), so yes, there can be all kinds of equipment & food storage problems to deal with.

Eating quality food is not a function of income, it is a function of food education.

This statement would be true if it were “Eating quality food is not entirely a function of income, it is also partly a function of food education.”

As it stands, though, I’m with otto. Let’s see the menu for three meals a day for seven days for one adult that would make a foodie happy. Preferably using real prices from Treasure Island and not neglecting to include the cost of all herbs & spices as well as cooking oil, etc. If I could be saving that much on food (and we do cook most of our own meals from scratch), I'd love to know how.

Otto said...

You have many options and fresh produce is almost always much cheaper than processed, prepared food.

Are you sure about that?

chicago pop said...

Zig and Lou has stirred up a storm (that's what we do here). The following comment seems to be the most controversial:

Eating quality food is not a function of income, it is a function of food education. Also, many people do not know how to cook from ingredients (or don't think they have the time), or understand how delicious food prepared from scratch actually is.

I think we can safely agree that most of us readers want to eat quality food, and would also wish our neighbors to be able to enjoy the same, no matter what their conditions in life. With 3 new farmers' markets showing up on the South Side this year, we're taking small steps in that direction. With the prospect of more people moving to the South Side, we may eventually see other supermarkets follow, perhaps even outfits like Stanley's, that will cater to these growing markets for fresh and affordable meats and produce.

But as it is, we and our neighbors on the South Side, like folks in many inner cities, live in food deserts, and there are real structural constraints on the ability to eat healthily. This has been documented extensively: inner city, low-income, and minority households are more prone to obesity,various forms of heart disease, and diabetes, expend a higher proportion of their family incomes on food, and and are generally confronted with a lack of affordable and healthy food choices.

In food deserts, constraints on mobility (no car, distant supply, expensive gas), time (transportation and shopping and prep time in margin of time not working), and supply (lack of larger, lower-priced supermarkets, predominance of high-priced corner stores with restricted selection)make eating a healthy diet comparatively difficult, and contribute to the attraction of fast food and packed, processed foods (like Twinkies) which are comparatively cheap.

Z&L is right that food education plays a role in a healthy diet. Many inner-city residents are simply unaware of the health risks of a high-fat, fast food diet. One way to correct this is the make it convenient and pleasurable to shop for fresh food at local farmers' markets. It's great that we now have 4 on the south side.

However, there are real structural constraints that make it more challenging economically, in the context of a food desert, for households at the lower end of the income scale to get the healthy food that makes for a good diet.

Some amount of ingenuity and willpower can make up for these obstacles, but the constraints are real and have documented effects.

That said, I'm still damn excited about Zalevsky and Horvath coming to town, and can't wait to get my slow-foodie ass up in their grill.

Zig & Lou said...

Well said Chicago Pop. Sorry about the storm. You will always be welcome in the Z&H "grill" (nice foodie double entendre, by the by), though we will also have non-cooked sandwiches as well.

Elizabeth Fama said...

But to defend Zig&Lou's soap-box point just a little: not counting the very important and real food desert issue, I would agree that many people of all income levels (who are not in food deserts) no longer place as much social, personal, or familial value on shopping, cooking, and eating together as they used to. Not having enough time or money to cook well is sometimes (now Otto, I'm not saying always, especially regarding money) really a matter of placing priority on other activities and consumption items rather on than cooking and food, and to me it's a mark of how far our American society has gotten away from food preparation as a valued, productive activity. Educating people, to use Zig&Lou's term, might actually require an enormous cultural shift, I think.

It's great that as a species we're not hunting and gathering full time now. But we Americans have taken it to the opposite extreme, where what we put in our mouth is an afterthought, or gobbled on the run, or eaten in shifts rather than eaten together, or processed to death.