Hyde Park Co-Op ca. 2007
It’s been a whole year since the Hyde Park Co-op finally did the neighborhood a good turn by going out of business. That finale occurred amidst Co-op adherents’ cries that its closure would destroy “the character” and the “uniqueness” of the neighborhood. You’d have thought the Co-op, moribund and dysfunctional as it was, constituted some sort of essence without which Hyde Park would wither and die. Well, the Co-op closed its doors January 20, 2008, making way for Treasure Island. And look—Hyde Park is alive and well in 2009.
The “character” of the neighborhood is none the worse without the Co-op. Unfortunately, the characters of the neighborhood are still working hard to prevent other changes that would break with their misty-eyed regard for the “good old days”, whatever that represented. Other characters merely want to retain specific privileges for themselves at the expense of everyone else.
The Good Old Days
The Co-op was simply doomed by money problems and a dose of hubris. The controversy that raged around the Co-op in its final days had little impact on the store’s actual closing. Nonetheless, that noisy and angry finale did serve as a rude awakening for what this blog has termed the Hyde Park Establishment. There is change afoot in Hyde Park. More and more people recognize the folly of a community mired in the past, and they’re not going to allow the Hyde Park Establishment—a dwindling lot—to control life in the neighborhood.
Hyde Park has seen a number of favorable additions and deletions in the past year. Co-op closure/Treasure Island opening. Zaleski and Horvath MarketCafe. The removal of Orisha Wall. Park 52. The Sit Down. Bike shop, Homemade Pizza and a new US Post Office making for a fully-occupied Hyde Park Shopping Center. Expanded Hyde Park Produce. Open Produce. U of C library expansion under construction. Istria Café more popular than ever. Chant. Parker’s Pets.
Admittedly, the Hyde Park Establishment did, for the moment at least, stop development of a much-needed hotel at Doctors Hospital. But look what they had to go through to win that self-serving, extremely narrow victory.
On the other hand, the Solstice development was approved and, the economy notwithstanding, it will be built. Density along 53rd Street will increase, to everyone’s benefit, whether or not the Hyde Park Establishment wants it. The Point will be rebuilt largely along the guidelines of the Compromise Plan. The dark hulk of St. Stephen’s church will not remain, even if the neighbors like it because it gives them a semi-private block. 57th Street will open to two-way traffic at Stony Island, even though some neighbors don’t want to lose their semi-private public street.
When these changes ultimately do occur, the Hyde Park Establishment and the NIMBYs among them probably won’t admit that the “character” of the neighborhood will not have been degraded. Whether they like it or not, that character—cultural, intellectual, social—is largely a function of the presence of The University of Chicago. The University is imperfect and has stumbled at times with regard to neighborhood relations and development. But the University, warts and all, is at the core of what is Hyde Park. And the University isn’t going away.
Here’s a closing note to the Hyde Park Establishment and its NIMBY subset: Nobody elected you the guardians of Hyde Park’s inner juices. What’s worthwhile saving will be saved, but the neighborhood will progress around you, for the better.
In the words of the Borg Collective: resistance is futile.