Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Why Hyde Park Progress?

Why Hyde Park Progress?

Simple. Two comments recently overheard in local cafes sum it all up. From a visiting Bay Area academic: "This isn't much of a neighborhood." From a young faculty member of the Social Sciences Division of the University: "It's great for kids, but is basically boring."

I have a home here, am raising a kid here, and went to school here. I occasionally teach for the University. And I think the neighborhood needs to change. I know there are plenty of people who agree. But these are feelings and sentiments that aren't represented by the "establishment voice" of Hyde Park, which is comprised of the Hyde Park Herald, the Hyde Park Historical Society, and various other caretaker community groups. These groups have a demonstrated record of preserving the status quo. They have a poor record of improving on it.

The residents of this neighborhood who feel these institutions do not represent their voice share a few things in common. Above all, they feel that Hyde Park and its surrounding communities need more retail and commercial amenities. This means an openness to change of several sorts: increased street life, which leads to greater neighborhood safety; greater mixture of land uses, together with increased residential densities in newer developments. Many residents agree that the Establishment paranoia regarding change, outsiders, traffic, and congestion are overblown and can be properly managed.

The current Hyde Park Establishment, which sees itself as steward of the neighborhood's essence, is in fact quite removed from it. Hyde Park was not conceived and built as an autarkic community on the model of Chavez's Venezuela or Castro's Cuba. It has been a part of the City and its economy since the development boom of the late 19th century, and was together with the South Side the home to most of the City's wealth and influence. All of this changed after World War II. Racial and social changes, together with Urban Renewal, cut the neighborhood off from its surroundings in an effort to protect it from decline.

This is the status quo that the current Establishment seeks to protect. It was Urban Renewal that drove out the businesses, dead-ended the thoroughfares, and drained the night-life and urbanity from the neighborhood. This is the heritage of which the Establishment is now the steward, and to which they offer no alternatives. The Establishment derides Urban Renewal; but they are the unwitting stewards of its bucolic legacy. Chicago is nowhere near as densely populated as it used to be. Many of its now deserted South Side thoroughfares were bustling with commerce and public transportation as recently as the early 1960s, as much of the North Side is now. The current condition of Hyde Park is a historical aberration by any measure.

Hyde Park Progress thinks there is space for a voice other than that of obstructionism sounded by "community" activism. Hyde Park Progress is a pro-development voice from within the neighborhood which argues that our quality of life is just as dependent on convenient shopping, 24-hour street safety, and urban vitality, as it is upon plentiful parkland and historical architecture, and wants to make the blending of these a priority, not a distant dream.


Irene Sherr said...

This blog is great! Thank you for doing this. Please let me know if I can help, contribute and spread the work.

chicago pop said...

Glad you like it. We welcome your contribution!

City Observer said...

Hi guys, I posted something in the Herald's Chicken post, and it's too long to post again here. :)

Anyhow, it didn't show up, so I'm assuming that it needs to still be moderated.

I direct you all to that comment, which addresses everybody involved with this blog

Michael Bishop said...

If you'd like to involve people new to the area, providing a little more background on the issues you discuss would be helpful.


jdw said...

I just want to mention a couple things about Hyde Park's "establishment".

The first is that the "establishment" in this neighborhood is indeed distrustful of much that might disturb the status quo. Of course, many have lived here a good number of years and like Hyde Park pretty much as it is. It only follows that they'd find change threatening to their peace of mind.

The second thing is that I moved here from Texas six years ago. In my third year in HP I was asked to join the board of the Community Conference. A year later, I was recruited onto the Co-op Board. That's two of your five "establishment" boards in my first four years of living in HP.

Third, the "establishment" is not only open to newcomers; it's also open to new ideas. You may not convince majorities to see things your way, but these folks will listen to what you say and try to judge your ideas on their merits rather than who your parents are or how much money you have or even how long you've been in HP.

I can live with that kind of establishment.

Concerned said...

Concerned about Hyde Park's future?

Sunday, October 14, 2007
Whither Hyde Park? Ask Eli Ungar. He owns much of it.
If you care about the future of Hyde Park, you need to come to this meeting--Tuesday evening October 16 at the HPNC at 7 p.m. Eli Ungar will meet with whoever comes, to explain what his plans are for Hyde Park.

Eli Ungar from New Jersey owns more of Hyde Park than anyone except the University of Chicago. He is the head of Antheus Capital, the Corporation that owns more than 85 properties in Hyde Park, including the Windemere and the Algonquin (6 buildings, 14 stories each), the Windemere West, the Village Center Shopping Center, and all the other buildings that have "Mac Management" written banners out front.

What does he plan to do with all these properties to make money for his investors? Will he "amenitize" them with granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances so that he can raise the rents and remove the middle class tenants? Will he reduce services and let employees go to increase the bottom line? Some questions have already been raised about the decline of service in the Algonquin and the Windemere. What about buildings in your neighborhood with the Mac Management banners outside? What is going on there?

What is going to happen to Hyde Park? Who is going to move in to replace those who can't afford to pay $1500/month rent? North Siders? Where will our friends who can no longer afford to live in Hyde Park move? Will it matter when someone you have known for years has to leave Hyde Park? Will we be priced out of our homes?

Even if we own our homes, we need to come to this important discussion, because if Mr. Ungar intends to upscale our "hot" neighborhood, that means our taxes will go up. We may find ourselves with tax bills that look more like North Side.

Does Mr. Ungar view Hyde Park as a market under-achiever? Coming from New Jersey, is he seeing us as a bargain basement investment that has yet to yield its potential? Do we like feeling like we're owned by someone out of state? Do we want ONE PERSON deciding where we have to move? By all means, come to meet Mr. Ungar, who was kind enough to agree to meet with us. Let us take the opportunity.

Richard Gill said...

Thanks, Hyde Park Progress, for providing this important forum.

A while ago, somebody on the blog stated that the naysayers in Hyde Park (those who are against it, no matter what "it" may be) are old people. Do not count me in that group, even though I am a "senior citizen" and have an RTA reduced-fare card to prove it.

Maybe the loudest anti-development persons happen to be a few older individuals, but they can speak only for themselves, not for the rest of us.

chicago pop said...

Thanks, Richard, and your point is well taken. I know plenty of seniors who would like to see some positive changes in the neighborhood; we'll count you among them.

Todd Schwebel said...

Those you in favor of quality development in Hyde Park, as I am, should contact Kim Webb of Ald. Hairston's office at to support the "Solstice" development that the vocal minority opposes near the Windermere, Todd Schwebel (the guy who put million back in HP-K real estate).

blahbry said...

Hey there Hyde Park Bloggers,

I'm a fellow Chicago web publisher who's looking to connect with other Chicago-centric bloggers/photographers/writers. I'm organizing an advertising network for Chicago-focused sites and would like to discuss the matter with you as I think it could be a great opportunity for local publishers to connect and make some scratch to support their work.

Please drop me a line at: editor at and we can talk about this (and lots of other stuff!)

-brad flora

Tim said...

Marvelous blog. As a critical College student with a long-time interest in urban planning, I enjoy your delving into the same issues I've thought about constantly while living here.

Tim said...

Hey HPP:
Is it possible to give some kind of recap on the situation of "Village Center" which you've mentioned a few times around the site. I can't seem to find much on what has been said / thought / proposed etc. on the spot.

Which connects with a thought of mine: is it possible to change two features of our retail in Hyde Park:

1) So much is single story! One by one, I would love to see just about every single story building razed and replaced with higher density building, including the grocery stores if this is at all possible. Think Kimbark Plaza, etc.

2) Why all these parking lots? Can we get those wastelands of useless underground or in small garages or something? The University's combined retail / office / parking building at 55th and Ellis seems to have done a decent job, for example.

In each of these two topics, what are the most likely prospects... places that have ideas being thrown around or demolition looming in the next decade or so?

chicago pop said...

These are great questions and ideas, and I have to confess that I'm not sure there are easy answers to all this stuff. Re: the Village Center, the most up-to-date person on that, and someone who is keeping an eye on it, is Peter Rossi. I'll forward this note to him and you might have a discussion about it.

I've tossed out the idea a few times that Kimbark Plaza ought to be razed and re-built, and I'm glad to see someone else agrees. I seem to remember that Preckwinkle felt the same about Village Center; the question is finding the right developer at the right time -- there are lots of opaque politics here that are not easily accessible.

Street-facing parking lots -- like the one at Dorchester and 53rd -- were built before that stuff became taboo (thankfully) in the mid-to-late 90s as strip malls proliferated along old industrial strips on the North Side. So we aren't likely to get new ones. And putting them underground is much more expensive than leaving them on top. But I think lots of people would agree that the 55th/Lake Point shopping mall could have been much better designed, including structured parking and multi-story retail that did not make the entire complex a safety hazard for people on foot -- whether on 55th, along the strech of blank wall fronting Harper, or in the parking lot itself.

The single-story retail is in fact common throughout Chicago, and is fine as long as you have sufficient residential density around it. We need more height on top of retail ("mixed use") because we don't have enough people.

I think you're on the right trail re: Village Center. Eli Ungar (of Antheus/the Solstice building) floated a proposal at that site a few years ago, and it was canned by Preckwinkle for undisclosed reasons. If there's one project to focus on that could affect some real change in the neighborhood, that one is a plum. There has been absolutely no movement there for a year or two, and no one knows why.

Gretchen Rings said...

You are my hero! Thank you for this blog. When I first moved here (2005), I thought I was going crazy. Thanks for the sanity check.

Unknown said...

Thank you for doing this. My co-worker sent your blog link to me. I live it South Shore but come to Hyde Park frequently. Even as a teenager I always came to this area. HP has changed so much since the 80s. I am interested in any information you can share, and what I can do to help the neighborhood.

Vin said...

I live in Evanston, and love this site. As you know, we have a serious NIMBY problem up here, too.
Every building in town, even those that are 20 years old, is 'historic'. Any development will ruin our city's 'unique charm'. Retired NIMBY's with plenty of spare time come to every council meeting and pretend to represent the whole community.

Congratulations to Hyde Park on its new supermarket. I hope you guys are able to defeat the NIMBY's and bring in a hotel and more jobs.

Unknown said...

Hi there, I'm a UC student who stumbled on this blog while looking up the dry vote. Nice blog, it fills a real niche.

I posted on the issue at

Kofi Bofah said...

Very well written.

I am originally from DC/MD, went to school at UNC and have been all through the U.S.

NEVER have I seen a major city as segregated as Chicago.

It is an absolute tragedy and I find it difficult to express my sentiments to those that have called Chicago their home for their entire lives.

Things aren't supposed to be like this.

Anonymous said...

This is such a fantastic blog. I have lived in this neighborhood forever, and it is easy to give up on making positive changes. There are so many loud voices against change. Thanks for not giving up and for speaking up!

Unknown said...

I lived in Hyde Park as an undergraduate in the 1980s, and again as a faculty member in the early 2000s. I found the insularity and lack of urban vitality depressing both times. Hyde Park seemed, quite frankly, like an urban neighborhood for people who don't really like cities (and was in fact described by one colleague as "a village with cars instead of cows"). People kept telling me how "special" it was and how important it was for me, as a junior faculty member, to live there. One person who told me that lived on the Gold Coast.

I was very glad to discover that people have this forum to read about and discuss ways to make Hyde Park more vibrant. I wish I'd had that when I was a resident.

Julie JL said...

I really like the blog. Thank you for doing it.

Out of curiosity, do you or does anyone know what is really going on inside of Poppin' Nuts on 53rd St? Surely, the owner isn't making popcorn. I was very excited when it opened 2 years ago, but it is very rarely open. The equipment is shiny and new and popcorn is brought in from garbage bags in the back.

Either the owner is uber-rich and can make rent without selling anything, or something fishy is going on. Interestingly, Hairston takes credit for bringing the business to the area.

Just a curious HP mom who would love new flourishing businesses in my neighborhood...

Adam C. said...

Thanks for keeping up the blog. I really enjoy it and appreciate the perspective.

Bikkuri Blonde said...

I love Hyde Park Progress, and have been missing updates recently. Big hairy deal going down at the Flamingo lately, as they switched owners. Bad news. Tenants furious at some changes. What is happening with Shoreland Dormitory. Picketers outside everyday. And 53rd street redevelopment.. What's new? Hoping for some inside scoop!! Keep up the great coverage HPP!!!

Jerry said...

Wasn't sure how to contact the blog owner. It might be nice to have HP voted one of the best Chicago neighborhoods. Curbed is having a contest. Vote here: