Thursday, November 13, 2008

NIMBY's Corner: Deconstructing Hans

posted by chicago pop

It is characteristic of Hyde Park that the campaigning around Doctors Hospital continues to take place after the vote itself has been decided.

Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston's letter to the Herald urging 39th Precinct residents to vote "no" appeared the day after the election. A week later, a letter from precinct resident Hans Morsbach appeared, making the case for why you should have voted "yes" 8 days before, or should have morally supported those who were able to do so.

The reason for this exercise in chronological acrobatics, however, is fairly obvious: an issue of major import to two wards, two neighborhoods, and an entire section of Chicago was left to the judgment of some 600 people, of which 254 actually decided the matter, voting by a margin of 20 to ban the sale of liquor at the Doctors Hospital site.

Hans Morsbach, therefore, needs to convince the rest of Hyde Park that this was the right thing to do. The odds, however, are pretty good that if put to a vote by anything other than the 39th Precinct of the 5th Ward, the dry referendum would have failed by a large majority.

One again, a vocal and well-organized minority have taken control.

But taking control was the easy part. Convincing everyone outside the 39th Precinct that they were right to do so might be a little bit harder.

Let's have a closer look at Hans Morsbach's apologia pro vita sua of Wednesday, November 12, 2008.


Morsbach: "The opponents of the referendum suggested that we are unreasonable neighbors standing in the way of a much-needed development, and putting a higher value on our own conveniences than on neighborhood interests."

Comment: Agreed.

Morsbach: "A hotel largely designed as an overflow for downtown facilities would not serve Hyde Park well."

Comment: From the beginning of this controversy Morsbach, as well as Allan Rechtschaffen, have assured us all that they were deeply studied in the market dynamics of the hospitality business on the South Side of Chicago and could therefore make recommendations as to the proper scale of any hotel on Stony Island.

The problem is, they've offered no evidence to back up their statements as to the proper scale of a profitable hotel, or what the market in this area could support.

As only the latest example, Morsbach claims without any evidence that Marriott intended this hotel to serve an "overflow" purpose. Yet even if this was indeed the intent, why would this "not serve Hyde Park well"? The presumption is that the economy of Hyde Park ought to be limited to a one square mile area, and that this isolated condition is economically desirable. We've been arguing against this idea from day one.

Morsbach: "A study has shown that there is no reason that the existing limestone-and-brick structure cannot be used."

Comment: Has anyone besides a few activists actually seen this study? Can they tell us how much the design of the preservationist alternative diverges from the parameters presented by White Lodging, and what features of the original Marriott would have been compromised (in terms of size, facilities, construction or operations costs)? Such a weighty pronouncement calls for some public facts, not just Hans Morsbach's say-so.

Morsbach: A hotel would "burden our infrastructure."

Comment: This is classic NIMBY-suburbanite whooey. How would the White Lodging Marriott burden what infrastructure?

Sewer mains? Power grids? Road surfaces? Cellular towers? The CTA? Metra station facilities? The traffic lights on Stony Island? They don't tell us, and it's not clear they have any idea.

City infrastructure in most places is underutilized, especially inner city infrastructure, and has been for generations. An entire school of thought has developed around this idea at Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy. A city like Chicago was built to deal with lots of people.

By arguing that major urban areas can't handle intensive use, Morsbach is rehearsing 70s-era anti-urban romanticism, one that runs counter to well-documented arguments that dense urban areas are in fact the most energy-efficient types of settlement pattern and should therefore be encouraged as a strategy of slowing climate change.

Cities are designed for more burden to infrastructure per unit area than any other type of settlement. There are fewer people living in the 5th ward now than there were 50 years ago,which means that there is less of a burden, if any, on existing infrastructure.

Morsbach: "There should be a place for visitors and students to park their cars without a lot of hassle. Providing adequate parking is imperative."

Comment: Parking is indeed something that needs to be planned carefully. But Hans hasn't always used such high-minded rhetoric; previously he has made it clear that he wants to be able to park his car in front of his house: "I like to park my car near my house on Harper." (Hyde Park Herald reported on August 1, 2007.)

Morsbach, like most of Hyde Park's old guard, is unreflexively automobile-oriented and density-phobic, without realizing that the latter is a partial cure for the former: as we have conveyed on this blog numerous times, urban density in fact diminishes car use. Beyond that, he gives no evidence for his inference that "parking" (in a private lot? a city lot? on the street? in a garage? in front of his house?) would become more difficult on Stony Island or anywhere else.

In fact, Rechtschaffen, who criticized White Lodging for not providing a parking study (which they did, though the University chose not to release it to the public), clearly had already made up his mind that parking and congestion would be "a disaster" without having viewed any analysis of the issue. (Hyde Park Herald, LTE, September 10, 2008)

In a recent article on Hyde Park in Crain's, it was mentioned that Morsbach has been in business in the neighborhood since 1962.

Back before 1962, Hyde Park was a fairly happening place, and strangely enough, it had a lot of hotels. Then things changed, it became not-so-happening, lost its old hotels, and in the aftermath of Urban Renewal and the attempt to make the inner city into a suburb, an entire generation of residents got used to it that way.

Unfortunately, what they got used to was an historical aberration.

Now that things are beginning to revert to the mean, they're fighting the norm with everything they've got. It may keep them busy in the short run, but in the long run, they're going against the tide.


David Farley said...

Reading between the lines of Hans's letter, it's clear that a vacant building is the preferred long-term solution. In most neighborhoods, people do not want vacant buildings and empty lots, because it implies nothing good. But in Hyde Park, people can have their cake and eat it, too, because they can thumb their noses and block anybody's plans, and then bask in the security of round-the-clock protection from UCPD. And it's especially good if the plans they block are the University's - that's sticking it to them. This is just not a normal situation. For most of its life, Doctors Hospital was a working hospital, and all of the parking and infrastructure objections are moot - what is being defended is the abnormal.

I interpret all the various reasons and explanations in that letter as, "So much for that plan. Oh, but we really do want a hotel there - ha-ha. Now suggest something else, and watch us peck it to death with objections, demands for study after study, unworkable alternative plans, and things you can't even imagine. Not interested? Oh, too bad - I guess it will just have to stay the way it is."

Didn't the St. Stephens developer finally give it up when he met every objection to his plans, and then the neighbors started demanding changes to the interior design?

chicago pop said...

For most of its life, Doctors Hospital was a working hospital, and all of the parking and infrastructure objections are moot - what is being defended is the abnormal.

That is a most illuminating point. Maybe one of the most powerful I've come across. The baseline of comparison that a lot of hotel opponents may be working off of is certainly not normal. And no one seems to have noticed anything being different when the hospital was actually in business.

That is telling.

Richard Gill said...

Let's face it, that bunch who pushed for the dry precinct will do anything, say anything to get what they want for themselves, and they don't care who they snooker into going along with them, nor do they care what damage they do to the rest of the neighborhood. Morsbach's self-serving letter in the Herald proves that.

Also, let us not ignore Greg Lane's phony comparison of the dry-precinct promoters to David and the U of C to Goliath (Herald, Nov. 12, p.2). The dry-promoters had the whole Unite Here labor union bankrolling the effort, and threatening the Alderman to boot. The residents didn't pull it off. The union did it by steamrolling it.

chicago pop said...

...let us not ignore Greg Lane's phony comparison of the dry-precinct promoters to David and the U of C to Goliath

Remove the flattering rhetoric, and what you have are two groups of about 250 residents of the 39th Precinct each, both with their own Goliath/Proxy supporting their activities.

You could call it Goliath vs. Goliath. Except one Goliath actually lives in the neighborhood.

Much less glamorous that way.

And of course, plucking Hebraic analogies from the Pentateuch is risky business: Greg Lane may like the flattering comparison with King David, but he might not like to contemplate the destruction of the Second Temple.

David Farley said...

C.Pop said, "And of course, plucking Hebraic analogies from the Pentateuch is risky business..."

And if you look in the Tanakh for your analogies instead of the Pentateuch you find ... the golden hemorrhoids. There for the taking. But I object to all the name-calling, of course.

bornatreese said...

I wonder how the dry-precinct people would have reacted a year ago if someone had sketched out for them what life is like with a future President living in the neighborhood, with all the security entourage that entails-- what kind of referendum would they have sought to have on the ballot?

chicago pop said...

One of my fellow bloggers suggests that the University of Chicago should drop any future catering contracts with Morsbach's restaurant.

I say: Here, here.

chicago pop said...

I wonder how the dry-precinct people would have reacted a year ago if someone had sketched out for them what life is like with a future President living in the neighborhood

I'm sure they would have pushed for a zoning change that would have made it impossible for a President to live in the 4th or 5th Wards, and demanded a full-blown, taxpayer-funded parking study from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the F.B.I., and the State Department, which would of course confirm that that things in Hyde Park would change if Obama were elected, and that you should therefore vote for McCain.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I wonder if everyone who voted to dry up the 39th precinct (that is, who voted for stagnation), voted for Obama for "change."

David Farley said...

Everybody here is aware that Hans runs The Pub at the University, too, right?

I still go there. Fancy Belgian ales are thicker than parking.

Zig and Lou said...

And about that Pub contract with the University... is that forever? How would one go about competing for such a contract? Just wondering...

David Farley said...

The Pub is actually a private club - I dunno how the contract works. And it also closes periodically when the University is on break.

When Hans was publishing broadsides against the University during the "Stay Up 4 Ever" debacle (does anybody remember that?) he as much as claimed he only ran the pub as a charitable cause out of the goodness of his heart. Perhaps he would be eager to turn it over to someone else. The truth may be otherwise.

To my tastes, The Pub has a superior menu to the Med (plus it has ... beer ... lots of beer), but the kitchen is upstairs. Hans periodically decides to close the down the kitchen and serves crap bar food. Anybody who simply promises to keep the kitchen open gets my vote.

Some people think The Pub hasn't been the same since Victor retired.

Zig and Lou said...

I agree with you that the Pub has not ben the same without Victor the Elder. As a "club" the Pub must belong to the University and it would seem that Hans is simply a tenant manager. Perhaps Hans is no longer motivated by offering a quality product and experience and is simply 'phoning it in" at the Pub. It would seem that the patrons of the Pub deserve much more. Maybe he is tired, maybe it is time for a change. Perhaps a new, and more interesting menu would be in order. Wing Night must stay though. Hans is a smart guy, any thought that he is managing the Pub out of any sort of "charity" is nonsense.

Anonymous said...

I have never understood Hans' obsession with bashing the University at every opportunity. Would the Med even exist if it weren't for the steady stream of U students flush with loan and grant money?

I miss the Pub. Haven't been in since I lost contact with my last alumnus-friend. They used to be pretty slack about checking people for Uni IDs but last I heard that was all over.

David Farley said...

Zig and Lou said... Hans is a smart guy, any thought that he is managing the Pub out of any sort of "charity" is nonsense.

Hans may be a smart guy, but he apparently thinks everybody else is kind of dumb, if he expects them to accept his epistles to the little people of HP as the received truth.

Zig and Lou said...

'smart guy' was in air quotes. Hans is coasting in Hyde Park. He has taken his toys and decided that it is better to invest elsewhere (downstate) rather than to reinvest it in this community. Making beds and lying in them is a decision that we all must make. Sometimes the decisions made are head scratchers.

Amerikame said...

Re: the Pub

I got my new annual membership in Sept. for $5, but the price has since gone up to $10. Worse, though, is that the one-time cover charge fees have risen from $1 to $3! Anyone know the who made this change and why? (obviously for more money, but...) Though I love the beer selection at the Pub, when I go out with non-pub member friends it'll probably be to Jimmy's, since they won't have to spend the price of a drink on admission...