Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hyde Park in the Year 1 AC (After Co-Op)

posted by Richard Gill

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 CafĂ© 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.


28 comments:

Elizabeth Fama said...

Ten points for the Star Wars reference!

Richard Gill said...

It's from Star Trek: The Next Generation. But I'll take the ten points anyway, thank you.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Wow, they totally ripped off the Death Star.

Richard Gill said...

No ripoff. I think that IS the Death Star, and it sort of got into this post, as a generic evil space thing. Actually, the Borg ship resembles a Death Star that has gone through a dicer. It's cube-shaped.

chicago pop said...

Yes. The Borg typically voyage about in a cube; makes it easier to assimilate to the collective with the least possible wasted space.

I grabbed this pic cuz it was bigger than the pics of Borg cubes.

Beth, we need to bring you up to speed on Star Trek. A prequel is coming out, Kirk's boyhood. Check it out.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I saw all the William Shatner TV episodes as a kid, and Star Trek I and II, the movies. (Actually, I have most of Ricardo Mantalban's lines memorized.) But there my education stops.

Richard Gill said...

A zit-faced, pubescent, smart-mouthed, over-acting James Kirk? I'm not sure I can stand it.

Well! My post certainly prompted a lot of spirited and meaningful discussion about Hyde Park.

edj said...

Actually, I think the Co-op might have beenbetter served by a fntasy rather than the science fiction reference, but I don't have a good fantasy reference to make about it.

Has anyone noticed that the new Co-op baord members, elected with great hopes of maintaining the Co-op in some fasion have decided that it needs to declare bankruptcy? Officially, that is.

I didn't think so.

Richard Gill said...

EDJ -

A good fantasy analogy to the Co-op might be "Harold and the Purple Crayon", a children's book about a little boy who used a crayon to continuously create his own fantasy world in front of him.

Getting back to the loopy land of Hyde Park, I saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona at DOC Films on Friday night. In one scene along the oceanfront in Spain, is a long stepped-concrete seawall. Holding back the ocean. With people sitting comfortably on it. Somehow, it struck me that in Spain, a land totally conscious of its history, romanticism and aesthetics, was this practical and visually pleasing solution. But the dingdongs of Hyde Park are so self-absorbed that their "requirements" for a limestone revetment are superior beyond anything else.

Greg said...

The sphere is a Borg ship... it's a smallish escape vessel used when a cube is destroyed.

I'm such a nerd.

Ummm.... Fix the Point! (obligatory HPP content). :-)

Greg said...

edj, if we were to use a fantasy analogy to describe the Co-op I'm sure it would have to come from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

rdb said...

Great discussion of the HP food renaissance AND Star Trek, 2 of my favorite things.

It's really worth highlighting how far things have come in the past year. Barely a year ago, HP/Kenwood was a virtual food desert. Now we have a large and lovely HP Produce, a high-quality and rapidly-renovating Treasure Island where the abomination of the Co-Op was, the delightful Z&H, which is just a fantastic shop run by the coolest guys imaginable, great new dining out options, the promise of alcoholic beverage service on 55th Street, and microinnovations like Open Produce.

It's interesting to note that the traditional power brokers and would-be players in HP can only take credit for the Co-Op to TI transformation, and in that case many of the traditional powers tried to block it.

On the Co-Op to TI shift, I really have to hand it to TI management -- they are transforming that previous hellhole into what I think may be the nicest grocery store in the city. I was rather prejudiced against TI coming in, because my experiences with them when I was a North Sider were very disappointing. But the HP TI so far has been nothing but great and only getting greater as it rapidly transforms itself while still functioning as grocery store. It still amazes me to realize just how HORRIBLE the Co-Op space and experience was as I watch the transformation by TI.

Richard Gill said...

Now that I think about it, the Point's limestone blocks are roughly cube shaped. Maybe the Borg placed them there, three million years ago, to be discovered by paleo Establio-nimbys. No wonder they worship at that shrine.

Cue Also Sprach Zarathustra.

Greg said...

Treasure Island IS quite nice and I love what they're doing to the physical store itself. They're still a little pricey for me but I don't mind so much now that the store is beautiful. There just seems to be so much more activity around there now... the loading dock is busy with workers, trucks and crates, they've put the old cruddy Co-op displays out for the trash. They moved the fish counter to a much better location. Everything seems to make much more sense in terms of the layout in there now and they're not even done yet.

Z&H is the best thing to happen to HP/K in the 5-6 years I've now lived here. I adore that place. For all the places down here with the typical lousy "Hyde Park service", they probably have the friendliest, most helpful and cheerful employees in the whole city. Zig and Lou have done a fabulous job, which is why they are thriving in a really rotten economy.

As dismaying as the loss of the White Lodging hotel project and the gridlocked Point revetment are, I do find quite a bit to be optimistic about round here.

I noticed a while back that MAC/Antheus purchased that abandoned property over on Harper in back of Original Pancake House: the one that was always being written up in the Herald for rat infestations. They're another reason I'm optimistic about the future here. They're doing good things.

Richard Gill said...

Greg is right--the Treasure Island store is turning into a gem, and that will prove to be a boost to this neighborhood, especially in moving Hyde Park along to joining the rest of Chicago. The neighborhood will remain a special place, but it cannot remain an island.

The Co-op did much to bring about its own destruction, but I believe it would have folded in the near future anyway. It has always been akin to a neighborhood comissary, and at one time that worked. It would not have worked much longer with the level of high-value commercial competition available within a few miles, and with the mobility that people now have.

bornatreese said...

In Hebrew school they taught us to use CE (for Common Era) and BCE instead of the more common AD and BC, but I'm tempted to drop those dating conventions in favor of AC.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I wonder to what extent the University is helping to fund the renovations at TI? Does anyone know? It may be a relic of my "this is too good for Hyde Park" mentality (from years of disappointment), but I can't believe that the Kamberos's (or rather, any grocers) continue to have the financial security to proceed with such expensive changes. I fully expected them to stop and call it "good enough" when the economy tanked.

Raymond said...

Beth,

I've wondered the same thing. Other groceries are retrenching and TI is doing this big upgrade. I wonder if it's funded by the lessor (owned by the University).

I also wonder about the financial state of La Petite Folie and if the Unviersity is subsidizing it. I'm just skeptical that LPF is making much of a profit margin. Hopefully, I'm wrong on all counts and HP businesses are just thriving naturally.

HPCommunityConcerns said...

Off topic of the Co-op (but important, I think)... I'm sure you all caught the Herald piece on the Harper Court Arts Council. How is it that the Council's board consists of members that are heavily invested in very specific non-profits in Hyde Park, and in some cases employees of? Though these individuals state they "recused" themselves from discussion, their orgs were receipients of rather substantial gifts from Harper Court. It is also interesting that the grant guidelines specified how much organizations could ask for, though the Council awarded significantly more to some of the orgs with employees/board members seated on its own board. Not that those organizations don't deserve the money because they have great missions and are very visible. But, me thinks something is rotten in Denmark...

Richard Gill said...

The U of C grew weary of subsidizing the Co-op, so it doesn't seem to make sense that they'd subsidize the Co-op's successor, nor the other for-profit businesses at the shopping center. The U itself doesn't have a lot of cash to throw at things right now, either.

As for the "it's good enough" philosophy - that doesn't seem to be the way TI's owners think. That's how some diehard Co-op advocates thought. One of them stated that the Co-op was "absolutely good enough for everyone's needs." There's that army-post "neighborhood commissary" mindset again.

chicago pop said...

Well put, Richard. I know it may be hard to believe, but I think there are some merchants, businesspeople, and investors who do think Hyde Park is a promising opportunity.

What's interesting to note, as has been brought out in much of the discussion so far, is that the kind of micro-development we've seen on street level like cafes and new restaurants -- as opposed to big project type stuff -- has mostly come about independently of either the University or of the various organizations that claim to be looking out for HP.

Greg said...

Hyde Park is definitely a worthy investment. We're basically a neighborhood version of a college town. When the economy bombs, college towns still present almost guaranteed rental, entertainment and food income. Antheus knows it, TI knows it. The only wrench in the works are the old-skool NIMBY folks who want HP to be an unmoving monolith and who probably think HP would have been better off if the U had moved out to a new campus after WW2. If not for the deliberate sabotage, HP would be a boomtown.

Richard Gill said...

"If not for the deliberate sabotage, HP would be a boomtown."

Greg's observation here has merit. But how to deal with the saboteurs? Continuing in the Star Trek theme, we might take a cue from The Wrath of Khan. We could donate to the obstructionists and NIMBYs—well maybe not a whole planet—but a far-away square mile of empty land, bordering a limestone quarry, and let them create a whole neighborhood to their liking. Actually...make it two square miles, and fill the second mile with water so they can have a shoreline. They'll be happy, and everyone else will be relieved. PBS could make a documentary about it, and call it The Wrath of Hans."

edj said...

I suddenly realized that we are living on The Island from 'The Prisoner", all given the Number 6, and having a succession of "Number 2s" telling us what we can and can't do. If we try to shop outside the neighborhood, they send the giant white ball to track us down and bring us back.

Raymond said...

Timely reference to the Wrath of Khan with the death of Ricardo Montalban yesterday. He was the classic Star Trek villian.

Greg said...

I am NOT a number... I am a FREE MAN!

(crazy laughter)

The end of that series was completely insane. Sometimes I do feel a bit like Patrick McGoohan though.

Richard Gill said...

What's that you say, Greg? Patrick McGoohan rolling through London in a lion cage is weird?

Who IS Number One?

Benoit said...

I notice you mention opening up 57th street under the tracks. Any news on that? The March 12, 2008 meeting is perilously close to a year ago...

The closing of the coop was one of the key things that convinced me to move to Hyde Park. That, and Istria.