What a study in contrasts: the guy in the big house down the block gets elected president on a stirring platform of "Yes, we can", while the folks on Stony Island win a referendum on a platform of "No, you can't."
While the national electorate delivered a sweeping referendum in favor of change, a few hundred people in one corner of Hyde Park want to keep things as they are, throwing a monkey wrench in plans that might require adaptation and adjustment.
While the president-elect symbolizes the possibilities of racial reconciliation and equality, Hyde Park's own representatives of Liberal activism, almost entirely white, do their best to chase away employment in a predominantly black and low-income ward, one with unemployment rates significantly higher than the national or even metropolitan average.
The concrete results of these grass-roots escapades are that things don't really change much in Mr. Obama's neighborhood, that nothing gets fixed, and that we get to watch buildings fall apart even faster than NIMBY cadres get older. Or rather, like the astronomical costs of CTA maintenance, things simply get deferred, and the folks on Stony Island and Harper Avenue get to live the way they have grown accustomed to living for the last 40 years.
Shabby gentility, Hyde Park style: you can fix it after I'm dead. Après moi, le déluge.
We've said from the beginning that NIMBY-ism is simply the language of self-interest clothed in the rhetoric of "community" consensus. The movement for a dry-vote challenges even this definition, for the following reason: even its strongest proponents made no attempt to speak on behalf of the "community" interest, or the greater good of the neighborhood. Cited as an example of "direct democracy," some dry-vote supporters insisted that those living outside the 39th Precinct simply butt out.
Very well. Residents of the 39th, and their mujahideen, now have 4 some years -- at the very least -- to savor the solitude of their reinforced survivalist bastion.
Meanwhile, things are already changing in the rest of the neighborhood. A few general thoughts on the entire episode and its meaning for the future.
The locus of NIMBY activism is clearly within the 39th Precinct, with a few conspicuous exceptions. The bulk of the action going forward, however -- should capitalism manage to revive at some point -- is going to be north of 55th Street. The major and very minor NIMBY figures have had much less success influencing anything in this area, and they now have much less legitimacy for doing so.
Part of the reason for this is that much of Hyde Park's development drama to-date (including the death of the Co-Op) has been about a dance-of-death, in which the University of Chicago wrestles in a pit of burning sand with the aging folk-heroes and horseless Lawrence of Arabias who are our local activists. The latter thrive on settling scores with the University, and undoubtedly feel that they have scored one here.
But the University is no longer the only player in the neighborhood, and to the extent that our local Robin Hoods continue to taunt the bumbling giant, they will exhaust themselves fruitlessly while truly desirable changes -- both small and large -- occur without their involvement. Indeed, they already are and already have.
These changes offer a striking contrast to the singular record of NIMBY non-accomplishments racked up at The Point, Doctors Hospital, and various smaller sites. William F. Buckley would have been proud of our obstructionists, for in all of these instances, they have managed to "stand athwart history and yell "Stop!"
We can't necessarily blame the 39ers for "putting Precinct first." We just have to remind them that by doing so, it's going to be a bit harder to convince anyone that they can also speak for the "community", or for the greater good of Hyde Park, Kenwood, and the South Side. The laws on our books allow property owners to put self-interest ahead of things like local unemployment, racial equality, public safety, and commercial prosperity. These laws have been taken full advantage of.