So join us as we re-run some of the classics from the first 6 months of Hyde Park Progress, from The Beginning up through the Death of the Co-Op. It was a Golden Age, a mythic epoch, an era of giant battles and glorious victories, when sacred cows were spooked, and light was shed on the group-think so often spread by our journalistic shamans.
Most of all, we ate a lot of chicken. They just keep sending it our way. And we're still hungry.
The Hyde Park Herald (Wed. July 25, 2007), the Establishment's leading organ of the press, led off this week's edition with the headline "Residents reject Drs. Hospital Swap", meaning that there was a consensus against the U of C's plans to tear down the 1914 structure and replace it with a mid-market Marriott hotel. Now, headlines are a matter of journalistic art, and no one is holding the Herald up to, say Washington Post standards, but this is not quite accurate.
The Herald claims there were 250 people in attendance. The population of Hyde Park is, according to the South East Chicago Commission, 44,700 people. That means a minute fraction of the neighborhood's population (0.006%) bothered to show up. Although I got the gut sense a majority of people in the room didn't like the University's plan, I have no way of telling if all of them were opposed to it. Nothing in the Herald's article provides any sort of objective basis for determining if the project is popular or not in the neighborhood at large.
So, with just a back-of-the-envelope calculation, we can see how The Establishment is taking the voice of a small group of people and projecting it as the General Will. This happens with nearly every case of proposed development.
This is not to say that attendees failed to raise legitimate issues. Of all the complaints I heard, two were reasonable. The first was the fear of parking congestion, which is a fear among single-family homeowners throughout the universe. A truly righteous response to this complaint, as an urban-planner friend of mine put it, would be to tell people that they shouldn't be driving cars in a city anyway. Hans Morsbach laments the prospect of not being able to park his car "in front of his house," as if he didn't live in one of the densest cities in the United States, in which millions of people use mass transit every day, and more transit infrastructure is desperately needed. This problem should be shut down with proper design of a parking structure.
Aesthetics are a more substantial concern. Although the Herald did not mention this in its "Rejection" story, a number of the most compelling comments made acknowledged that sometimes you have to tear down an old building; but if and when you do, why not put up something even better? Even some preservationists at the meeting were willing to trade, if the new building were a contribution to architectural excellence. The Inland Steel building was cited as one example of a case in which no one regrets the loss of the building that was there before.
Truth be told, the Doctors' Hospital is nothing to look at. It is significant in an academic way, which is enough for the Hyde Park Antiquarian Society to insist that it remain unaltered, meaning vacant and deteriorating like a dozen other Hyde Park properties. Tear it down and build something better. We could use the restaurants, the cafes, and the foot traffic into the neighborhood.