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."
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.