Sunday, September 20, 2009

Letter From an Old Goat

posted by Richard Gill

In the September 17 Tribune crossword puzzle, the answer to 42 Down is “Old Goat.” The clue is “Nasty geezer,” which pretty well describes me when I read about Hyde Park residents who regard everything in the neighborhood as community property. It makes me want to take my bent spectacles, my crooked cane, and my jug of hard cider over to Medici and snap at passers by.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about. Remember the dysfunctional clock on the Hyde Park Bank Building? The Bank removed the clock and refinished the wall's surface where it had been attached. And the people said, how dare the evil bankers decide what to do with their own clock on their own building without consulting “the community?”

Then the University of Chicago demolished a vacant building at Harper Court, which it owns. It was known and agreed upon that the building would be demolished. And the Hyde Park Herald said, how dare the evil University begin demolition of its own building without consulting us first.

Now we hear about unhappiness in some quarters that the University repaved an interior driveway deep within the main quadrangle. And the people said, how dare the evil university work on its own infrastructure in a location that is not visible from outside, without getting our permission?

Community relations, civic engagement, good neighboring, or whatever you call it, is a thankless task for businesses and institutions. In Hyde Park, it must be agonizing. Whoever does this work for the Bank, the University, whatever, can’t get paid enough. Every day, they have to deal with Hyde Park, the busybody capital of America. In my opinion, the University of Chicago in particular has been patient to a fault. No wonder they sometimes just go ahead with stuff, as well they should. Otherwise nothing, absolutely nothing would get done.

The University’s board and administrators have a first class school to operate, fund, nurture and protect. Community involvement is one thing, but not the main thing, not by a long shot. In the big picture, it is not necessary for a university to be loved by its neighbors, nor even liked. But at some point, an institution's strident and unreasonable neighbors create a burden and a distraction. If community relations are good, that’s terrific. If not, that’s too bad.

I’m an old goat and a nasty geezer. If I were king of the University of Chicago, I wouldn’t have the patience for this neighborhood’s nonsense. After all, I'd have a great university to run, and I’d tell the neighbors to go to… go and fix their own driveways.


edj said...

I am awaiting the inevitable letter to the editor from Jack Spiver, et al, decrying the university for not negotiating about the site of the community garden. This will come after the university has to either move the soil from the site or just start moving trucks in to the staging area on top of the garden soil.

It makes me wonder whether some Hyde Parkers are willing to mix with people from Woodlawn; just not go too far within its borders.

It's just another tired attempt to try to make the university look bad.

These folks have the reverse midas touch. Everything they touch turns to fool's gold. They talk about their accomplishments by pointing out how bright and shiny their "accomplishments" are, but everyone can tell that it's worthless.

Richard Gill said...

My point is that sometimes "looking bad" can be a big "so what?" If the U is going to "look bad" whatever they do, they might as well do what they need to do. Just be ready to have the University Police unchain gardeners from the tomato vines. On second thought, let the gardeners hug the tomato vines while they're carried off. That would get rid of both the gardeners and the tomatoes. So there will be a picture of this in the Herald. Big deal. It'll just look like more Hyde Park silliness.

The bigger question is: will the gardeners then waste their tomatoes by throwing them at the construction workers and police. It would be sort of like beating their plowshares into paint bombs.

rdb said...

Hyde Parkers should fix their own sidewalks. Some of them are really bad. Oh, they should clear the snow from them during the winter, too, which municipal code requires, but they fail to do. Maybe the city council should have met with the community.

Anonymous said...

Did you notice the little tit for tat PR battle going on in the Herald the past couple weeks? The University kept saying "We actually did give you the demolition timeline" which the Herald kept denying. Last week, a letter to the editor established that they did provide it to the community.

This was hidden amongst all the other letters from community gardeners saying their garden should be left where it is. I love gardening but what part of "NOT AN OPTION" do they not understand? Why won't anyone take the U up on their offer of moving the soil, try to fine a new location (or locations) and make the best of it? That corner of Hyde Park doesn't have any magic growing powers that I'm aware of and there are plenty of vacant lots in the vicinity that could benefit from being cleaned up and used to grow food. Instead of crying, why not be a "good neighbor" and help improve the community at large while making the best of a situation?

They know the garden is going away regardless of what they do. They just want a parting shot, even though it will inevitably result in the garden disappearing completely. It's better to hurt the "enemy" than help onesself.

No, Donny, these men are nihilists. There's nothing to be afraid of.

erith1 said...


Believe it or not, I have to walk North to get to the garden - many of us gardeners are from Woodlawn.

The question is whether us Woodlawners want to mix with you Hyde Parkers... ;)

Elizabeth Fama said...

My grandfather-in-law was introduced to me by his nickname, "Ohgee." I thought it was an exotic name, possibly from a native language, until someone explained that it was an acronym.

erith1 said...


I think the reason the gardeners don't understand "NOT AN OPTION" is because I'm not really sure why it is not an option. Again, they're not building anything on that site, they're just using it for "construction staging". If they told me they had to build something there, I could understand it. But I don't see why it is "not an option" to stage their construction somewhere else.

I realize that the University has no obligation to explain this to me. The only reason would be to stop the grumbling, but A) it might not stop it anyway, and B) the university doesn't really seem to care about the grumbling. Or at least they care a lot less than the people on this blog seem to.

There are people looking for places to move the garden to. If you are only getting your garden news from the Herald, then (this might shock you) you might not be getting the full story. :) While that particular corner may not have magical growing properties, it does have some advantages. In particular, the farmer's market and the Backstory cafe (which, by the way, both also benefit from the location of the garden. I don't know how many times I've ended up at the Backstory without meaning to, in particular so my daughter can use their bathroom, since there are no facilities at the garden).

On my unofficial scouting trips (a.k.a. me walking around), I haven't found a perfect replacement site. Keep in mind I'm talking about a perfect site for me personally. Every site that I've seen has one of two downsides, either A) it is farther from my home and I would probably decide not to get a plot. Driving my car over to do some gardening seems wrong somehow. Or B) the lot is significantly smaller than the current lot. Being only a 2nd year gardener, I might get squeezed out with a smaller lot.

Keep in mind, we're only talking about valuable real estate that someone is willing and able to donate. I know it has been said that the gardeners should come up with money to buy their own land. I don't disagree with that, and it might even be possible. But quite frankly, if I had enough money to donate for something like that, I'd probably get my own little piece of land somewhere and not have to deal with this mess anymore. :)

edj said...

erith1 -

I always look forward to your comments on this blog. I enjoy them very much.

I don't know why you want to have anything to do with us Hyde Parkers either. I live far enough away from the garden that I'd have to drive my car or ride a bike. It's far anough away that I'm like you'd be if they moved the garden far enough from you where you couldn't walk.

I think that the garden is in a spot that will have a new university building on it soon enough. That's the university's right.

One of the problems with the garden issue is that whenever people see Spicer's name associated with any kind of negotiation, they see it as him trying to manufacture someting that is against the community interest.

You're right that someone could probably buy up a few lots to turn them into a community garden. And there are a few near by that could serve that purpose. And probably be of similar size. And the prices are probably right to buy it and not be dependent on the kindness of the university. But that would require the organiazers of the community garden to be responsible for ownership rather than just overseeing a commune of sorts. You can't complain if you're the landlord.

Still, I hope you still have a plot next year - within walking distance. I fear, however, that Spicer, et al, will make sure through their actions that you won't.

Georg said...


Regarding your comments on others having the opportunity to own the land/be a landlord:

Remember always that when the U of C owns the land, it pays zero taxes. It doesn't cost anything for them to own the land.

If a person, group of people, or a company bought the land, they would have to pay taxes just for owning the land. (except if they created a non-profit that had an endowment--good luck with that!)

This is one reason why people raise a stink when the U of C acquires land. It can hold the land forever with zero cost of carry without having to do anything with it, while an entrepreneur will have his feet held to the fire by annual property taxes.

Lots around the city (notably in Washington Park and Woodlawn) stand vacant in the city because the cost of carry is too high for someone who pays taxes.

That is, unless you make nice with Valerie Jarrett or Toni Preckwinkle and get the city to give you the land in some dubious "affordable housing" deal like those of Tony Rezko in North Kenwood circa 1993.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for yet another spot on post.

Yep. I wonder how wonderful this community would be if we all focused on what we could do to improve it -- rather than about what everyone else should do????