Thursday, August 30, 2007

Gone Fishin' -- Back 09.04

The blog administrator here at HPP (pictured above, aka "Chillmaster") is going to chill for a few days, so no comments will be moderated until Tuesday, September 4, 2007. Backlogged comments will be posted beginning next Tuesday.

Until then, keep the Chicken on the grill.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Herald's Chicken: Herald Balks at Reporting

To judge by this week's edition of the Herald, it's a slow week for non-news, and probably will be next week, too, which makes our job at Herald's Chicken somewhat less entertaining. But we're about to go on vacation too, it's Labor Day after all. So we won't hold it against the crack team of leg men and news hens of the Herald if they've gone on vacation and put the paper on auto-print, or have switched from investigative reporting to serving up public service announcements. This week, for example, we learn that a jazz festival will debut, an African art celebration will commence, a big bike ride will take place, as well as an ice cream social.

Oh, yes, and the Co-op stole a new general manager from the Piggly Wiggly in Sheboygan.

In more prosaic developments, we learn that the University is "balking" at easement protection pertaining to a group of buildings on 56th and Drexel. Let's put the issue of easements aside for a minute, to focus on the balking. There is far too much balking going on in Hyde Park, and most of it perpetrated by the Herald. "University balks at easement protection," runs this week's headline. Just a few weeks ago, it was "Residents balk at park high rise." Would the copy editor please go down to Powell's and get a thesaurus.

Moving on to the op-ed page: we also confess to some disappointment that the letters have been a tad bit less insane these last few weeks. A few local communards seem to be whooping up a movement to storm the Bastille that is Hyde Park Bank, demanding not the keys to the castle, but the return of the missing clock that, well, belongs to the communards, after all.

"Truly," writes the author, expressing the most fundamental contradictions of barbecue Bolshevism, "the building is private property, it lacks landmark status and management can deal with it pretty much as it will."

And so the point is? "We want the HP Bank clock back."

Management replies: "Why yes, and here is your rattle, too, and your stuffed bear. Of course, now which box did we put that in, and what were we thinking? All this will lead to is a scream fest ("community meeting") full of angry old biddies and their husbands yelling at us about our private property and capitalism. Ah hah! There it is; quick, can someone get a ladder and put this back up there?"

Before pulling the chicken off the grill for the week, as folks head to the beach, or to our magnificent Point, basking in its late summer decrepitude, crumbling slowly into the lake like those beautiful nostalgic paintings of mossy and broken Roman arches, we'd like to signal the second in a row of letters from disgruntled seniors upset that 1) it's hard for an old guy in a wheelchair to get down to the water, and 2) darn those cops for busting the swimmers!

We'll leave it to the Point Savers and their Landscaping Consultants to explain to the seniors why 1) they can't use the Point, because it's more important to keep it picturesque and crumbling than accessible to and safe for seniors, and 2) what those "SAVE THE POINT" bumper stickers really mean is "POLICE THE POINT," because the new police state is a direct result of the Point Saving campaign.

Who would have thought that all the efforts of Hyde Park's favorite landscape architect manqué would bring on the bike cops and their totalitarian reign? Ah, the ironies -- when our preservationist and activist community lands grandma in the paddy wagon.

To the Savers, if not the saved: this is what you petitioned for ... now you've got it!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dishing on the Co-op

Discussion on HPP of late has centered on groceries, supermarkets, and how the Hyde Park Co-op got itself into the mess it's currently in on 47th, 53rd, and 55th Streets. A recent meeting of the Co-Op Board (Monday, August 27), which had the electronic rumor-mills of the Golden Rectangle abuzz with speculation about a University-led restructuring, turned out to be only the guilty fantasy of old-time die-hards who know in their heart-of-hearts that it's time to take old Bess out behind the shed. But lo, the University landlord would not perform the mercy-killing, at least not this time. Though the Co-op owes its landlord some $800,000 in back rent, the University would continue to "work with it."

Thinking some background and a few facts were in order, I did a little digging and came up with the following, courtesy of Crain's Chicago Business.

According to a Crain's article of July, 2004 ("Lean times at Hyde Park Co-op," Julie Jargon, August 9, 2004), the decision to go into the 47th St. location was a preemptive move to stave off potential competition.

The non-profit Co-op gave into a decidedly monopolistic impulse, snapping up a nearby store space a few years back to block a potential competitor from entering its turf. Costs went up. And now Hyde Park's only full-service grocery store is struggling to hold onto customers and keep its shelves stocked at both locations — some say because it's competing with itself...

But was there really ever any turf to defend on 47th St. in the first place? And even if so, was it good business sense to block competition by expanding operations into an unproven market, rather than improving the core business? The article cites a former Board member on the rationale for expansion.

When a new shopping center was proposed for East 47th Street in the nearby North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood, [Lake Park Pointe Shopping Center at 47th and Lake Park] "the board and the manager thought that if another grocery store went in there, it would hurt the Co-op, so they felt they had to get a lease," Mr. Orlikoff recalls.

We know what the results were. Instead of two supermarkets in healthy competition, we have one on the verge of death.

Today [2004], the Co-op is working to refinance its debt and lure back shoppers. Co-op staffer Ernie Griffin says that as of June, membership data showed roughly 16,000 members hadn't shopped at the Co-op in the previous six months. Mr. Cooley, the Co-op board member, confirms that customer traffic has dropped, but couldn't provide specific numbers.

That number is roughly half the membership in the Co-op -- and certainly more than the number of professors likely to be on sabbatical at any one time. While the then Board president attributed the drop in sales to competition from local convenience stores selling a few cabbages on the side, a suburban food-retail consultant puts it all in proper perspective. "Consumers are more price-sensitive now, and I wouldn't be surprised if Hyde Park residents are driving long distances to other stores with expanded variety."

When you insist on local business, you're stuck with local talent. In the case of major commercial operations run by committee, that, as we now know, can be a major problem.

Monday, August 27, 2007


It seems like a good time to post the map below, together with a link to an interesting piece from The Chicago Reporter on the city's "Commercial Chasm." It gives cartographic expression to what we all already know, but also attaches a few useful numerical values to familiar commercial trends.

This map represents "leakage," or "the amount of consumer spending that exceeds retail sales for a given market."

The general drift of the Reporter piece is that the dearth of retail on the South Side -- made graphically clear in several other illustrations not reproduced here -- is due in large part to racism. The most evident correlation, after all, is that money flows from black areas on the South Side to white/mixed areas on the North Side. I suspect that racism on some level certainly plays a part, though straight-up demographic factors related to economic class and urban geography, I believe, are more likely to be the root cause nowadays.

Chicago is a centralized city, and always has been. For most of the 20th century, neighborhoods that aspired to host anything more than a local retail district had to face competition with downtown. Then came the suburban malls, adding to the outflow of spending dollars from local neighborhoods.

Even so, proportion of spending over sales in South Side neighborhoods is striking. Between 25 to 50% of all dollars spent by Hyde Parkers go outside the neighborhood. And they're not going to Woodlawn or Oakland. In the ring of community areas around Hyde Park, the proportion of spending to sales is even higher -- 75% or more of local dollars go outside the community. And these shoppers aren't spending their dollars in Hyde Park, either. There are a handful of neighborhoods that appear to be in equilibrium, but almost none of them are on the South Side.

Hyde Park is not economically self-sufficient. While it would be interesting to know how leakage breaks down by all sorts of demographic categories, the fact is that in aggregate, there is not enough gravity in local commerce to capture all local spending. There is not even enough gravity to capture the spending of folks in neighboring community areas.

While racism should not be dismissed, it seems clear that the absence of supermarkets, discount retailers, restaurants, and apparel stores has a lot to do with relatively diffuse purchasing power across the South Side, a much larger area geographically than the North Side. Until purchasing power begins to concentrate more heavily -- through higher incomes, higher populations, or both, this will be the status quo for some time.

Which is why all those proposed condo towers might not be as evil as Hyde Park NIMBY's think they are.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Beauty and the Beast

Photo taken on Friday, August 23, 2007 in a newly-opened store approximately 12 minutes north of Hyde Park by car (I can't mention the name, because the Team Members asked me very politely not to take photos after I snapped this one):

Photo (below) taken on Saturday, August 25, 2007, in the only supermarket in Hyde Park. Their slogan: "A love affair with wonderful foods." Comment: unrequited. Their previous slogan: "Dedicated to outrageous service." Wait...OK, yeah, this one is correct.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Herald's Chicken: Isn't there anything out there to report?

I couldn't resist this little jab.

The August 22, 2007 edition of the Hyde Park Herald features three classic cases of stories that fail to report actual news events.

"Birders, Park no longer at odds" tells that some players in Jackson Park now agree. What is the news here?

"Police scatter August Point Swimmers" can't cite any specific instances of what the headline suggests. We have "reporting" that consists of listening to a few folks who called up the Herald. Certainly, this might be a good way to start on a story, but wouldn't you like to see some details, if indeed this is happening?

The crown jewel - "Clocked" where the Herald reports that the Hyde Park Bank clock has mysteriously disappeared, though the Herald can't confirm anything. Do Herald reporters have working phones?

But here is a piece of news that didn't find its way into the Herald -- it appears that the City is spraying our neighborhood for protection against West Nile Virus. There is something for the Herald to sink its teeth into. Go to it, boys! But it will require that you do something more than field phone calls.

Herald's Chicken: Waxing Eloquent About Nothing

This week's Hyde Park Herald (August 22, 2007) boasts examples of "no news is news," selective omission of relevant facts, and various other directives from the NIMBY corner. It was a tough several minutes finding the worst offender. We hope you will agree that the editorial, "A new day for Dr. Wax," is the winner by a nose.

We return to a tired story about the Dr. Wax used records store, which has run into financial difficulty. Earlier headlines trumpeted that Dr. Wax was being "forced out." This turns out not to be the case, or does it? The editorial hints that "Dr Wax will not be closing down." Dr. Wax will remain in Hyde Park, wink, wink. This sounds a bit more like a news story than an editorial. The reason it is not a news story is that even the Herald would be embarrassed to print such total speculation. The Herald can't cite any sources for their information about the future of Dr. Wax. It refuses to disclose the future location of Dr. Wax (if, indeed, they are moving).

After this half-hearted attempt to coax news from a rumor, the editorial returns to the well-worn conspiracy theory that Dr. Wax is being forced out by an unscrupulous and grasping Harper Court Foundation (HCF). What is the evidence for this? Dr. Wax owner Sam Greenberg decided that he was paying too much rent last year. He sent the HCF a letter suggesting that he be allowed to pay a lower rent. When "he got no reply," he began paying the lower rate. I think I'm going to try out this stratagem myself. My mortgage is really unconscionably high. I'm going to slip a note to GMAC mortgage asking to cut my mortgage payments to $50 per month. I expect that you will be able to buy a nice house in the "Golden Rectangle" in a few months.

The only shocking thing about this is that the HCF took more than a year to present Mr. Greenberg with a bill for back rent of $15,000. The Herald would have you believe that this is more evidence of a shifty and untrustworthy landlord. In fact, this shows that the HCF either a charitable organization or utterly incompetent. If it were my property, I would have evicted the tenant faster than you can say "Championship Vinyl."

The real crime committed by the HCF is their failure to "explain their behavior ... to the community." Here we should read, "to the Herald." Why should a private organization explain themselves to the community? What business is it of the Herald's how the HCF deals with deadbeats?

But yet again, the Herald drags out the conspiracy theory. It seems that the HCF must be preparing to sell off their property to an evil "developer." It is not clear why getting rid of tenants and allowing the property to run down helps maintain its value. But, suppose we accept the proposition that the HCF want to sell off their property to a developer who might build usable retail and residential spaces. Is this so awful? Something has to be done, Harper Court is at best a shell of what wasn't very good to begin with. Isn't that how a neighborhood adapts to changing demand?

The editorial now attempts to call the HCF to its noble past. "The ideas (sic) built into the brick and mortar of the place have a unique purpose." What is that "unique" purpose? According the Herald, it is to "help Hyde Park find businesses and services it needed." It seems that those ideals are engraved in every piece of retail property from McDonalds to the Hyde Park Bank building. What is so special about Harper Court? Again, the Herald weighs in with "to promote inexpensive space for creative entrepreneurs." Isn't everyone who succeeds in building a business in Hyde Park creative?

"We must redouble our vigilance" before the HCF pulls a fast one on us ends the editorial. If you mean, before the HCF foundation sells the run-down property and someone builds something we'd like to patronize, let 'em rip!

Harper Court Was, and Is, A Bad Idea

Harper Court is a failure. By the measures of its own founding mission to "further trade and economic development of the Hyde Park-Kenwood area," or to assist with the "continuation in the community of artisans, craftsmen ... of special cultural or community significance" it has failed from the very beginning. The artists and craftsmen it was intended for didn't move in. It is as much a product --in the very design and layout of the buildings -- of a 60s worldview as the Urban Renewal programs against which is was a response. Those who are attached to Harper Court are in love with its mission, and blind to the empirical fact that the site and the institution have not met their own goals nor met the pressing and changing needs of the community.

Harper Court has failed in its mission to "further trade and economic development." There are now more low-rent, vacant storefronts in Hyde Park than can be filled with tenants, while Hyde Parkers are still unable to shop for essentials in their own neighborhood. In light of the large sums of consumer dollars that are spent outside of the neighborhood, it is clear that Harper Court has not alleviated the drought of retail amenities that afflicts the neighborhood. Subsidizing small business does not economically benefit those who are burdened with frequent and costly voyages outside the neighborhood to procure quality food and clothing. In fact, it ignores this very real problem in the pursuit of an ideological chimera, and aggravates strucutral disadvantages that disproportionately affect the poor and minorities. The object of any redevelopment project or corporation should be to help draw money to our neighborhood, and above all to keep neighborhood money in the neighborhood. That is the best way to preserve the distinctiveness of Hyde Park and pursue social justice.

Harper Court was also intended as a refuge for artisans displaced from land clearance programs under Urban Renewal. Here its failure is even more apparent. Hyde Park currently has a thriving artistic culture, and it has nothing to do with Harper Court. Two self-governing artistic institutions have made Hyde Park their home, the Hyde Park Art Center and the Experimental Station. Evidently, for neither organization was the physical layout, location, or mission of Harper Court attractive. The failure of Harper Court in this respect is a symptom of its top-down, utopian-style approach to community planning. A philanthropist and some well-meaning activists thought they knew what artists and artisans wanted. They were wrong.

Beyond the empirical failures, the approach of Harper Court to commercial revitalization is backwards. Focusing on and subsidizing local businesses in fact guarantees that we have no businesses. The fixation on getting "local" businesses and keeping out "chains" is an aesthetic and ideologically-driven one that is uninformed as to the nature of entrepreneurialism and small-business dynamics. To get "local" businesses, you first of all need local entrepreneurs, and to judge by the number of empty storefronts, Hyde Parkers aren't jumping at the opportunity. Even if such entrepreneurs could be found, allowing their operations to be subsidized would not guarantee that the real -- as opposed to imaginary community in Hyde Park -- gets what it needs.

The preference for "local" businesses typically stands in opposition to a distaste for "chains." This stance quickly becomes problematic. The natural tendency of a good business is to grow. As soon as you have more than one branch, you are technically a chain. Several of Hyde Park's most well-known "local" businesses are now chains: the Medici, Toys Etc., the Seminary Co-Op, Powell's Books. Istria, if it ever manages to open its Cornell Avenue location, will then be a chain, and may expand into the rest of Chicago. Intelligentsia, the much-loved, Chicago-based purveyors of fine coffees, now has branches in the Loop and is opening in Los Angeles.

The fixation on subsidizing "local" business assumes that the best of everything can be found in one very small neighborhood, and that it is therefore justifiable to keep non-local things out. This gets the cause-and-effect of vibrant neighborhoods backwards. Local neighborhoods, the kinds that people love to live in and that others come to visit, don't emerge out of purely local conditions. They have strong economies that draw in outsiders, both to open businesses and to patronize them.

The most distinctive neighborhood shopping districts in Chicago have very few chains: Damen in Bucktown between North and Armitage; Armitage and Halsted in south Lincoln Park; and Central Street in Evanston. All of these shopping districts are full of local businesses. Hyde Park should be trying to replicate these areas, not tinkering with a flawed and obsolete redevelopment concept.

But Harper Court isn't only flawed in terms of its redevelopment track record. It is flawed in the very nature of its layout and buildings. Harper Court looks like a ski lodge in Aspen, not like a part of Hyde Park. More generally, Harper Court embodies the 60s era of urban design, when the whole trend of things was to close oneself off, to look within, to establish buffers between a given site and the "outside." This was the spirit that animated the design of Urban Renewal itself, a spirit that was shared by the design of Harper Court.

Harper Avenue was cut off, making the complex difficult to access, find, or even see. The very idea of a "court" was foreign to Chicago, based as it is on a grid of walkable pedestrian thoroughfares with storefronts coming to and meeting the lot lines. Everything about Harper Court is intended to isolate it -- never a good idea for business. It is of the same vintage as the State Street pedestrian mall, and about as effective. City leaders had the good sense to reopen State Street, and it has flourished. The whole trend of modern urban design is to connect places, not to cut them off.

Harper Avenue should be reopened. The buildings of Harper Court, which should have outraged preservationists when they were first built, did not and still don't fit with the period architecture that surrounds them. They should be torn down and replaced. This site is too small to house the large number of tenants for which it was intended. Modern retail demands larger spaces for fewer tenants. Whatever assets belong to the Foundation should be liquidated and transferred to a Hyde Park Trust for the Arts. These monies could then be used to fund juried, competitive, competitions in the arts, which would sponsor projects in the neighborhood and throughout the City. By being juried and competitive, but based in Hyde Park, it would bring the best of the City and the nation here, instead of making public art the object of public committees devoted to local clients.

We don't need more top-down economic and cultural central-planning posing as community control. Merchants and shoppers are part of the community too, and right now they are not sufficiently represented.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

You Call This Water Access?

The SAVE THE POINT campaign was, I'll grant you, a brilliant marketing strategy. The slogan is so sweet and simple, the cause so pure. Who doesn't want to save the Point? Who doesn't love the look of limestone?

But what got swept under the rug were the details of the Compromise Plan that officials had hammered out with the original community task force (not with the Point Savers, but with the original Community Task Force for Promontory Point).

Just the title, Compromise Plan, tells you that the City, the Park District, and the Army Corps of Engineers made many concessions in the negotiation process.

But this is the only concession that matters to me:

Water Access.

Wait...make that Sanctioned Deep-Water Swimming Access.

Yes, my friend, if something else matters to you, then go ahead and contribute a post to this blog. All I care about is that I can jog to the lake with my family and my dog every available day in the summer and fall, and we can safely swim off the Point in deep water. All I care about is that my 78 year-old water-loving mother-in-law can safely swim off the Point if she wants.

The Compromise Plan had sanctioned deep-water swimming access, off of two, 150-foot-wide steps down into the water, one on the south side, and one on the north side -- the only deep-water access of its kind in the city.

That's 300 feet of step-down access, compared with what we have now, which are three slippery bottlenecks to get in the lake, all of which require the agility of an Olympic gymnast to navigate safely.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Face of Erosion

Change can sometimes be good. That's one of the messages of this blog.
But this sort of change is not good:

South Side of Promontory Point, 1998/99*

August, 2007

And to think: this is the relatively more weather-protected side of the Point that the SAVE THE POINT crew thought needed minimal refurbishing.

Within the span of only about 8 years -- which is equivalent to two nanoseconds on the geological clock -- there's a substantial cave-in on the promenade, with a large crack forming behind it. Notice that the limestone block at which the arrow is pointing has completely collapsed.

I'm no engineer, but I would say that the crack and collapsed blocks indicate that the soil beneath the promenade has eroded away through wave action, and there's nothing supporting it but some rotted wood pilings and wavy steel girders.

*1998/99 photo courtesy of Vasile Jurca, Civil Engineer, Chicago Dept. of Environment, who is not responsible for the content of this post, or the opinions expressed therein.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Is This a Hint?

Promontory Point, South side, Looking West

I dunno. Maybe we're just last in line on the Park District's Weed Whacker duty sheet. But this unkempt scenario has all the earmarks of a mother teaching her rude child some manners. "You don't want me to set foot in your bedroom? Fine. You clean it."

It's a parenting strategy that should work. The child would eventually make concessions, recognizing that negotiating with the person who does his laundry is probably not a bad idea.

But we Hyde Parkers are a stubborn lot. Give me five minutes, and I could probably find a few passionate activists who think the weeds are pretty, the dead tree is historic, and they should all be saved.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


An Open Letter to Hyde Park Progress from Eugene F. Fama

I have been biking the lakefront from Hyde Park and swimming at the Point for about 45 years.

I risk assassination in saying this, but I think the new concrete revetments from the loop to Hyde Park look better than the old limestone -- in its best days.

The concrete is definitely more user friendly -- to sit, walk, or bike on. Returning from the Loop on my bike, I can now ride comfortably around the revetment that leads from the Aquarium to the Planetarium, and then pick up the delightful new path in Northerly Island (formerly Meigs Field). I look longingly at the ladders installed on the revetment between the Planetarium and the 12th Street Beach, to allow easy exit from the water. All the way south from the Loop, there seem to be many more people sitting and walking on the new revetments than in the past. The lakefront in general seems much more attractive and inviting.

The new revetments do, of course, have their downside. For one, they would force out the hordes of rats that live in the gaping cracks in the limestone at the point. (Rats have rights, too, you know.) Concrete revetments would also make it too easy to sit, stretch out on a blanket, or stroll around the point without breaking an ankle. (We don’t want the revetments to actually be used.) And concrete revetments would make breaking beer bottles late at night less fun since there would be no cracks to hide the shards that now get into the feet of unsuspecting walkers and swimmers emerging from the water.

When I go to the Point and look at the revetment, I wonder what it is that the limestone crowd is trying to save. I think I know the answer. I have been stopped several times at the entrance to the Point by SAVE THE POINT petitioners. I never recognize them as frequent users of the revetments. I suspect many people who signed SAVE THE POINT petitions were also not frequent users, but were simply fooled by a good slogan.

To vote on this one, maybe one should be able to show evidence of the cuts and bruises that regular users of the limestone revetments accumulate over the years.

Eugene F. Fama

Herald's Chicken: Keep Vacant Lots Vacant

Another of the Hyde Park Herald's attempts to drum up support against those who seek to build new housing graces the lead spot in this week's issue (August 15, 2007). "Residents balk at park high rise" shouts this Herald's Chicken winner. This singularly uninformative headline (what is the "park" -- Nichols Park?; is an eight story building a high rise?) is referring to the vacant lot on 53rd street and the Mobil station/car wash. A developer (hiss, hiss) who has on option to purchase this property once proposed an eight story condo for this spot.

"Residents" turns out to be only one Hyde Parker, Ms. Jill White, who is "meeting" and circulating a petition for a different option -- a four story mixed retail and residential property. The Herald could not identify any other Hyde Parkers who support Ms. White's position. No evidence was provided by reporter Yvette Presberry that any meetings had actually taken place.

But let us examine the reality of the situation. The current property is a disgrace to Hyde Park, home to a run-down business and a vacant lot. The developer would, horrors of horrors, provide an attractive and useful building on this spot. It is in the interest of any developer to gauge what sort of building would be economically feasible. Given the large number of vacant storefronts on 53rd street, it is not surprising that the developer's proposal did not include retail.

Ms. White assumes that her alternative, a four story mixed use building, is economically feasible. She believes that current residents are entitled to rights over what is built on vacant or underused land. She neglects the benefits that more, reasonably well-heeled residents will bring to 53rd Street corridor. Instead, she proposes that the developer move his plan to another site he owns at 53rd and Cornell. Bascially, she wants to downsize the proposed developments at both sites.

Housing density in the 53rd Street corridor is not very high to begin with. There is nothing wrong with an eight story building on 53rd street or a 17 story building in East Hyde Park. Lincoln Park is full of eight story apartments and yet remains one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Chicago. The South loop is booming with a host of 25 plus story apartments. These developments have already created a retail environment that puts Hyde Park to shame. One can only imagine how South Michigan or Wabash Avenues will be in five years. But we know that they were a wasteland only ten years ago. Is this the future of Hyde Park?

To cement her position, Ms. White brings up the double bug-a-boo of "congestion" and "parking" problems. She obviously has not parked on 53rd street between Kimbark and Dorchester recently. At the height of the Saturday morning shopping activity, there are many vacant parking places in front of the site. Ms. White is unfamiliar with the Chicago Zoning ordinance that requires that buildings of more than four stories provide parking spaces, one for each apartment.

The coup de grace is the notion that the eight story building would block "sunlight" for residents on 52nd street. We wonder where Ms. White lives!

The Herald goes on to report the results of questioning 4th Ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle. Ms. Preckwinkle hasn't heard of these "petitioners" or their complaints. This is an obvious attempt on the part of the Herald to influence the alderman by holding up the specter of community opposition to much needed development.

The Herald reports that developer Leal did not return "repeated calls." Here the reporter is hinting at social irresponsiblity. All we have is an intelligence test. The developer has nothing to gain by talking to the Herald reporter. He knows that information about the development and it's benefits will not reach print. He will be portrayed as an evil profit-monger. What the Herald doesn't understand is that the profit motive incents the developer to build a useful and attractive structure, otherwise he will have no buyers.

It would be a great shame if the Alderman allowed just one person (or even a handful of residents) to block a very positive improvement in our community. Condominium owners at both sites on 53rd would bring foot traffic, pride of ownership, and money to our community. This can only make 53rd Street, in particular, and Hyde Park, in general, a safer and better place to live.

NIMBY's Corner #5

This week, once again, we have a solid vintage of NIMBYism -- not perhaps the finest harvest of recent weeks, from lesser terroirs and uncommon varietals, but recognizable nonetheless as belonging to the Hyde Park appelation.

What's distinctive about this week's pressing is a certain bouquet of incoherence, with peppery notes that finish with an aftertaste of contradiction. Such
unpredictabilities, tho', are part of the joy of NIMBYism. Heretofore, we haven't devoted much time to a noisy little row among the neighbors of Bar Louie, one that has catapulted Sharonjoy A. Jackson to neighborhood fame and has taken up fully half of this week's Op-Ed page. Her arrival as an Establishment figure was this week Heralded when she was interviewed as a "source" in the conflict over Boisterousness and Parking near the controversial restaurant.

It will be remembered that Ms. Jackson, one of the first guests to
NIMBYs corner, is East Hyde Park's promoter of Bucolic lakeside living, full of Tranquility not known in the commercial districts to the north. This week, her plaint is directed mostly to other people not taking her seriously, and though not therefore really related to NIMBYism, she does finish this week's letter with the following:

The only other chain that has entered the Hyde Park community is Borders, which, as predicted, is not doing well. Let us keep and nurture the small businesses, which are assets to our community, rather than those large, commercial entities that add nothing positive to our community -- and which show little, if any, interest in our community, our needs, and our uniqueness. And, yes, this is a community.

Editorial Fact Check: Quite a number of chains are alive and doing well in Hyde Park. I shop at most of them. A few of them are: Starbucks (3 locations that I know of); Potbelly Sandwich Works; Edwardo's Pizza; Jimmy John's; FedEx-Kinkos; Pepe's; Ace Hardware; Office Depot; Harold's Chicken; Leona's; McDonald's; Dunkin' Donuts; Baskin Robbins; Wok-N-Roll; The Great Frame Up; CVS; Walgreens; Boston Market; UPS Store; Radio Shack; Binny's; Domino's Pizza; Edible Arrangements, and Hollywood Video. I've probably missed a few. Borders wants to move out of two other custom-built stores (at Broadway and Lawrence in Uptown, and Clyborn and North in Lincoln Park), so the Hyde Park situation is not unusual, and most likely is related to the same trend to internet commerce that has doomed Dr. Wax.

Upshot: much of Hyde Park commerce ALREADY consists of chain stores, and no one is complaining. We need a lot of what they offer because we can't get it anywhere else. Painting Bar Louie with the brush of failed chain stores in Hyde Park therefore doesn't convince.

A much more curious piece of
NIMBAGE is authored by one William F. Zieske, who actually introduces the term NIMBY into his letter. We only hope he's been reading NIMBY's Corner! But we can't quite figure out what he thinks: is he a NIMBY, or not? At first glance, he seems to be with us in denouncing NIMBYism everywhere:

Hyde Park-Kenwood is an affluent neighborhood, and is blessed with more parkland than ANY other neighborhood in the entire city. Look at a city map -- we are surrounded by vast green spaces and the blue of our beautiful lake. We have the right resources, transportation facilities, a location just minutes from the Loop, and already have the community vitality and prominence to make Hyde Park an attractive destination for Olympic athletes and fans world-wide.

Are we the ones who should be making [a] NIMBY argument, selfishly refusing to share a small fraction of our pristine parks, and
hoving the burdens of hte Olympics on other neighborhoods?

Editorial Comment: All well and good so far, and full of good common sense. But here comes the CAVE to Establishment Orthodoxy.

We in Hyde Park-Kenwood should gladly give up some of our over-abundance of green grass for venues that would attract the world to visit Chicago in 2016, and to spend money here that can help build the much-needed parks, hospitals, and community centers -- not a stadium --in the communities that need them.
Mr. Zieske is therefore on board for doing everything we need to in order to host the Olympics, with the exception of being able to host the Olympics. So use the parkland, bring the people and the cash, but don't build a stadium. Just pass out folding chairs and pretend it's Ravinia. Alas, this letter came a hair's breadth from our Hyde Park Heroes column; instead, it landed in NIMBY's Corner for failing to perceive the anti-stadium argument as textbook NIMBYism.

Lastly is another itemization of complaints against the proposed
Marriott, this one slightly different from that of Hans More-bucks and notably lacking the delightful category of "façadism". Mr. Allan Rechtschaffen notes with almost Victorian disapprobation that the Marriott plan is driven by "the profit motive." This variety of NIMBYism has distinct top-notes of know-it-all-ness given structure by solid anti-capitalism.

Many have questioned why we need a 380 room hotel. Surely it is more than we need for university and community purposes. The answer again was that this size favored profitability.
Editorial Comment: Surely it is more than we need? What neighborhood coffee-clatch did the market study to back this one up?

It is ultimately a matter of taste, but most people I have spoken to think the design is not what we want at the gateway of the university community...My understanding is that it is not Marriott's top-of-the-line model. Costs and profits again!
Editorial Comment: We've already highlighted the high aesthetic bar set by the proposed hotel's neighbor, the Vista Homes. But here it is inferred that what is called for is Marriott top-of-the-line hotel (fully unionized of course). But could low-paid academics and frugal Hyde Parkers really afford Marriott's top-of-the-line model? We need a hotel for conventions, conferences, and private events, but it's unlikely that anyone's tab is going to be underwritten by J. Walter Thompson, Citadel Group, or Aon Corporation. A little more familiarity with "the profit motive" and how it works might help the writer understand what it takes for an academic neighborhood to get a 5-Star, "top-of-the-line" hotel in its backyard.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Can We Green the Food Desert?

Fellow HPP blogger Elizabeth Fama passed along a Tribune article that I missed earlier this spring, detailing the success that is having in inner-city areas known as 'food deserts.'* The dearth of mainline grocery stores otherwise so common elsewhere in the city and suburbs is proving to be a boon for the online delivery service. What the article finds surprising is that Peapod has experienced its biggest growth in pockets of affluence in the South Side, an area usually thought of as mostly poor and therefore not worth servicing.

My guess is that the negative experience of living in a food desert is probably the single biggest shared concern of people living in Hyde Park-Kenwood. What's more, it's probably one of the biggest concerns that Hyde Parkers share with the folks in Woodlawn, Englewood, Bronzeville, and Oakland, and other adjoining South Side neighborhoods. For Hyde Parkers, the lack of accessible and competitive groceries is primarily a hassle. For lower-income folks in Hyde Park and surrounding neighborhoods, the problem can be much more serious. The lack of cheap, fresh food -- especially produce -- has been linked to a host of public health issues that afflict inner-city populations, from skyrocketing rates of obesity, early-onset diabetes, to low birth-weight from inadequate prenatal nutrition.

So the problem of the 'food desert' isn't just a question of middle class inconvenience in Hyde Park and the gentrifying parts of surrounding neighborhoods. It's a public health problem for a big chunk of the City populace, one that will affect us all one way or another, through lost productivity and higher burdens on the health care system as new generations incur all the health problems associated with obesity and poor nutrition.

"Food desertification," as it were, is not a new problem, neither in Hyde Park nor the rest of the City. If you pull out any of the Chicago Community Area Fact Books, starting in the late 40s, you can see that the number of small grocery stores was once far larger than it is now in each of the 77 designated community areas. So was the number of taverns. Both went into precipitous decline after 1960, though the drop was faster and went farther on the South Side. The suburbs were booming, people were leaving the City, and the spatial configuration of commerce was evolving more towards malls, large-format supermarkets, and the "big boxes" of today.

One thing stands out, though: small retail, including groceries, dropped with population. And no parts of Chicago were depopulated in the Post-War era like the South Side. The small retail is notoriously hard to get back -- hence the proliferation of suburban-style big box retail in an urban setting. But even the large-format supermarkets like Dominick's and Jewel will need a certain minimum market area, and in an urban context the only way to get that is to achieve higher residential densities.

So how do we get practical grocery shopping back into the area?

An experiment like the Hyde Park Co-Op only makes sense in the context of urban disinvestment and depopulation, in which an abandoned group seeks to fend for itself. This may have made some sense in the 50s and 60s. But certainly those aren’t the conditions that we’d like to see prevail over the long term. The goal should not be to figure out how to make institutions like the Co-Op work, it should be to establish conditions that make institutions like the Co-Op unnecessary.

In concrete terms, what that means is enlarging the market area by bringing in more people. And only so many of those people are going to fit into new construction in Hyde Park. Ultimately Hyde Park’s market area will have to blend with that of surrounding neighborhoods – as it already does for the restaurants at 53rd and Harper, and for the University's labor pool.

Beyond the economics, however, is the moral issue of fairness: how fair is it that some are able to prepare and eat healthier foods in part because of where they live? The desire to ban grocery chains of any kind from Hyde Park only abets this structural inequality, and is itself a function of social privilege.

*"Delivery is oasis in food 'desert'".
Chicago Tribune - Chicago, Ill.
Author: Johnathon E Briggs
Date: Apr 1, 2007
Start Page: 1
Section: Metro

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Development Beat

Stony Island Tower: Local Establishment types will probably have a tizzy once they get wind of this proposed tower for 64th and Stony Island:

Word-on-the-street has it that a few developers are assessing the viability of high-rise developments on the Lakefront from Bronzeville going south, a market that hasn't been active since before World War II. We're not holding our breath for this one, and recognize that most such deals fail to get farther than a nice computer rendering.

But the fact that such a project has even occurred to someone is a sign of changing times.

Vista Homes, or "The Brick Zebra": This property, of course, is not undergoing any renovation or addition. Seeing as how it is next-door to the proposed Marriott Hotel on the site of the current Doctor's Hospital, and also home to a good number of folks who have strenuously objected to the proposed hotel's utter aesthetic worthlessness, we thought it might be fun to see just how well Vista Homes holds up under aesthetic scrutiny. (Curiously enough, given the insistence of some that the area is not meant for a hotel, it is worth noting that Vista Homes was originally intended to be just that.) Let's look at the Vista Homes in profile:

Like a lot of residential towers built in the 20s and early 30s (Vista Homes was built in 1926), its developers obviously expected it to be sandwiched, Park Avenue style, by neighbors of equal height on both its south and north faces. Developers being a speculative lot and not always the best fortune tellers, this never happened. One result is that Vista Homes presents only one architecturally finished face to the world, that facing east over Jackson Park.

The remaining 3 faces of this building are unfinished and utilitarian, and indeed present the spectacle of something resembling a giant TIC-TAC-TOE board looming above the Midway, akin to the external appearance of the old CHA blocks at Cabrini Green. Several towers of the same vintage in Indian Village were left in a similar, though not quite so comprehensive, state of incompleteness.

How anyone who lives in or near THIS could complain about the proposed Marriott tower next door being architecturally déclasée is beyond me. S/he who lives in a building that looks 3/4 like a housing project should not throw stones at a moderately pleasant proposed commercial building that, at the very least, is finished on all four sides.

Of course, in keeping with the champagne-taste-and-beer-budget of local NIMBYs, neighbors at the 5th Ward community meeting on July 23, 2007 conceded that if the likes of Helmut Jahn, or Rafael Viñoly (of the GSB Building) were doing the proposed Hotel, then it might be OK. Otherwise, they would prefer not to have an off-the-shelf retro-modern building next to their quirky brick zebra. They are ENTITLED to world-class architecture in their back-yard, you see, even though they have had nothing to do with attracting the world-class architecture in the first place.

NIMBY's Corner: Hans "All You Can Squeeze" More-bucks

We told you he'd be back, and he is: a warm round of applause for our first two-time winner of NIMBY-of-the-week, Hans More-bucks. We looked hard for a new face this week, but either the Herald is trying to lower its profile with fluffy "no news is news" stories, or is opening its editorial page to all the reasonable folks who were bumped when they printed More-buck' s massive Encyclical last week. If this keeps up, we may have to give him our Fidel Castro Award for indulging in unreasonably long letters and speeches.

In honor of our guest, we're posting a short letter sent to the Herald on Wednesday, August 1, the very afternoon of the 31st edition. As it was not printed this week, for some odd reason, we share it with our readers here:

Mr. Hans Morsbach's recent, all-too-brief letter of 1,232 words (Hyde Park Herald, August 1, 2007) made many points of principle regarding the proposed redevelopment of the vacant Dr.'s Hospital building.

Not mentioned is the fact that opposition to the hotel, which will include two restaurants for Hyde Parkers to take their families out on Friday and Saturday nights, is being led by the owner of a restaurant where Hyde Parkers take their families out on Friday and Saturday nights.

This might explain the writer's suggestion that the hotel and restaurants be located at 61st and Cottage Grove.

In some places, competition gives neighborhood folks more choice. This sounds more like a plan for "all you can squeeze."

chicago pop

Friday, August 10, 2007

Hyde Park Hero

In the continuing series of HYDE PARK HEROES we present to you...

Neo Gullstrom, Peapod Driver Extraordinaire.

For customer service beyond the call of duty, and for his obvious love of his work, Neo Gullstrom is our Hyde Park Hero this week. Many Hyde Park businesses could learn a lot from Neo and from Peapod about how to keep customers and employees happy.

Hooray for Neo!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Herald's Chicken: No News is News

A common occurrence in the Hyde Park Herald is news stories that report no news. This week's Herald (August 8, 2007) contains a classic example. "Mixed Signals at Harper Court" reports that some Harper Court tenants are leaving and others are signing new leases. The events cited in the article (the closure of Dr. Wax Records and the addition of an office for a state senator) are not news -- they have been reported before in the Herald's pages. Instead of news, we are treated to a great deal of editorializing peppered with quotes from local Establishment types from the Hyde Park- Kenwood Community Conference.

These non-events represent a "reversal in policy" at Harper Court. The reporter provides no evidence to back up this claim. Tenants who can't afford the rent and leave as well as the signing of new tenants is standard operating procedure for any retail operation. Can you imagine the Sun-Times reporting with a straight face that there are ominous goings on at Watertower Place because Abercrombie and Fitch moved out and Gap moved in?

The reporter can't even decide which events are consistent with the conspiracy theory and which are not. For example, the departure of Toys et Cetera is cited as ominous evidence that "local businesses" are being forced out of Harper Court. As reported in the Herald and cited in this blog, Toys et Cetera moved to the Hyde Park Shopping Center and is doing very well. So the evidence is that U.S. Computech is moving in. U.S. Computech is a local business that has been on 53rd Street for many years. The reporter is hoping to confuse the reader into thinking that "U.S." Computech is a national chain store.

Even more absurd than the rehash of old events sprinkled with editorial comments are the quotes from HP-KCC head, George Rumsey, and secretary, Gary Ossewaard. Both lead the charge to retard development in our neighborhood. What gets under the skin of the HP-KCC is that they can't control the decisions made by Harper Court management. They believe they are entitled to interfere in private business transactions simply because they have appointed themselves as community spokesmen.

The only tidbit of "reporting" in this editorial is the "confirmation" by "sources" of the identity of new Harper Court tenants. For reasons that we can only speculate on, the reporter doesn't feel the need to cite these sources. Do they even exist?

The Herald seldom publishes editorials anymore. They don't need to. They masquerade as news stories. What is sad about this is that the Herald has at least 3 reporters who could actually report on issues of concern to our neighborhood. For example, the Tribune has no full time staff devoted to Hyde Park but routinely runs circles around the Herald. Today's Tribune reports on the huge success of the Blue cart program (August 9 edition). This is a story about Hyde Park. The Tribune recently featured stories about the "food desert" on the South Side and how Peapod is serving neighborhoods that don't have a grocery store (HP is one of those neighborhoods). This story could have been done by the Herald. The Herald could report in detail on how much longer the Co-op will keep afloat (this would require a lot of hard work but the Herald has the staff to do it).

It is time for the new editor of the Herald to step up the quality of this publication and insist that his reporters report the news.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Herald's Chicken: Confuse the Point

House bill brings Point preservation step closer” informs the Hyde Park Herald (August 8, 2007). The article trumpets the passage (by the House only) of a rider to water legislation that requests a “third party” study to develop a plan for the Point revetment. The idea is that our representatives are going to bail us out and come to the rescue of the stalled plans for rehabbing the Point. In fact, this legislation still requires Senate approval as well as funding (much legislation has been passed without the appropriations required to give it teeth). So it is a real stretch to claim that this will bring “preservation” a “step closer.”

This is just one more shadow dance in a stalled process. There have already been at least four studies commissioned to design a new revetment for the Point: 1). The original proposal by the city presented in January, 2001; 2) A modified engineering study and proposal presented by the city in May, 2001; 3) “an architectural proposal” created at the direction of the “community” task force in 2002; and 4) a compromise plan proposed by the city in late 2003. This last proposal made by the city calls for the reuse of 100 per cent of the existing limestone and has received approval of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (a state agency whose approval is required on all revetment work). In Spring 2006, Senator Obama called a meeting of the “stakeholders” and promised a resolution within six months. The City and Park District have, understandably, washed their hands of the affair after having spent more than a million dollars on studies, made a number of unprecedented concessions, and gotten nowhere.

It is unrealistic to expect either the Senator or Representative Jackson to solve the problems of the Point revetment controversy for us. We need a plan for replacing the revetment that meets Army Corps of Engineers standards (or they will not give us funding) and is esthetically pleasing. The third party study that is called for will be conducted by Army Corps personnel (albeit from other districts). These personnel must adhere to their own agency’s engineering standards. The only designs that meet Army Corps engineering standards have a concrete and steel core. The best that could be hoped for is a design that is concrete at the core and covered with a layer of limestone blocks. Leaving aside whether this is possible (anchoring the “veneer” of limestone block to the core), it would require at least 30 per cent more limestone block than is currently on site. There has been a lot of talk about how limestone block is cheap. But there is no way this additional material could cost less than several million dollars. This means that Senator Obama and Rep Jackson will have to introduce legislation to appropriate federal funds to supplement the more than $24 million in city and federal funds already earmarked for the Point.

But, in the end, the process has been hijacked by a self-appointed “community” task force who refuse to agree to any plan for the repair of the Point revetment. This group can only disapprove of plans, sneering that they want a “preservation” plan. The rub is that they can’t tell policymakers what preservation means. Thus, any attempt at compromise is doomed to failure. Any viable plan for the Point will involve compromise.

It appears that the article is based on two interviews that the Herald reporter conducted with Hyde Park resident, Jack Spicer, and a member of Senator Obama’s staff. The reporter claims that the last compromise plan was offered by the city “after Jackson and Obama intervened on behalf of the community.” This is unsupported by the facts. If the reporter bothered to read the clippings file (which should include many old Herald stories as well as extensive coverage by the Tribune and Sun-Times), she would have found that the compromise plan was offered in late 2003, before Senator Obama made any public statements on the Point. Representatives from Jackson’s office were attending some meetings but no “intervention” has ever been reported. If the reporter has new evidence that an “intervention” occurred at the behest of Jackson, she should quote directly from her sources. One wonders how this bit of journalistic creativity was inspired.

The story concludes on a note of optimism – “Now, the actual money has to be obtained.” We must understand that this is not money to rebuild the Point, but to conduct yet another study in search for a plan to be presented to a group that can’t define what an acceptable plan is. It is amply clear that what the “task force” really wants is to see nothing done on the Point. This condemns one of our neighborhood’s treasures to a slow death.

Cottage Grove Development

I don't know about you, but it's easy for me to get up to 47th Street and every time I do, I wish there was more there. It's certainly got history going for it, as anyone who knows about Chicago's musical heritage can tell you. And "it's got good bones," as a stroll up or down the nearby mansion districts of Drexel Boulevard, Cottage Grove, or King Drives will convince. Broad boulevards that lead directly to the South Loop, solid public transportation infrastructure, and a spectacular architectural heritage are all tremendous assets for this area.

Which is why recipients of Alderman Toni Preckwinkle's 4th Ward newsletter can't help but be ecstatic over the announcement of the big mixed-use project slated for the corner of 47th and Cottage Grove. If the partnership between the Midwestern regional specialist in mixed-use development, Silken, and the South Side Quad Communities Development Corporation holds up, this could be the biggest reinvestment in the South Side in decades and a spectacular feather in Preckwinkle's cap. It would represent exactly the kind of thing that 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston has been unable to pull off just a few miles to the south, along equally promising Stony Island Avenue, which, admittedly, has not experienced a similar rate of residential infill, nor is starting off from as strong a base in housing stock.

Both Cottage Grove and Stony Island, as well as most of the major east-west thoroughfares (47th, 63rd, 79th) were historically major commercial strips and their geography still favors redevelopment along those lines. This can only benefit the lakefront communities adjoining Hyde Park-Kenwood.

No neighborhood is an island, not even the Ivory Tower community of Hyde Park. Commercial development is much needed in surrounding communities, and this is a win-win for everybody. By bringing services to under-served South-Side communities, we also alleviate some of the stresses that intensive development focused within Hyde Park would generate.

Hyde Parkers would do well, instead of stonewalling the prospect of change and reinvestment, to contemplate the urban landscape surrounding them. Our neighbors are embracing positive, progressive mixed-used developments that are viewed with suspicion just a few blocks south, where the focus is less on improvement of the entire community than in guarding one's own little slice of the urban pie.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Hyde Park Anti-Progress

What is this, and when will it go away?

(location: 55th Street and Harper Ave.)

We all clean our closets once a year -- maybe once every couple of years. Aw, heck, I'm even OK with every three or four years; we lead busy lives after all. So, here's the dilemma when the clutter is "public art": who decides when it has served its useful life?

This wasn't a successful sculpture when it went up. It's disgraceful, now that it has crumbled to bits and is growing tree-sized weeds. Even the steel posts that were installed to protect it are rusting.

If Hyde Park had a metaphorical "husband" somewhere, we'd tell him to drag it out to the alley for garbage pickup.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Hyde Park Heroes: Sylvia Telser, Jonah Roth, & Joseph Samuelson

Since we are only a blog, and not a journalistic enterprise, we thank The Herald for giving us plenty of juicy fat to chew on until the next issue shows up. We're still licking our lips after the latest set of apocalyptic headlines detailing the collapse of various pillars of the Hyde Park Establishment. History is on our side, and a new age is on the horizon! But we must not become complacent, as the struggle continues.

To boost morale, I want to highlight not just one, but three Hyde Park Heroes this week. Three sane and reasonable people who dared to let their voices be heard against the numbing background NIMBY-ism and the platitudes of backyard-barbecue bolshevism.

Let's get straight to the good stuff.

This week, in a pithy note, Sylvia Telser adopted the Socratic method and posed an open question to her readers:

Hyde Parkers want successful stores offering a range of products at reasonable prices. Hyde Parkers do not want high-rise developments built on current empty lots and boarded up buildings.

Go to the South Loop and points north and what does one see? Many successful stores bustling with customers. Whence come these paying customers? From the high-density high-rise developments surrounding the retailers. It takes a critical mass of population to support purveyors of goods profitably.

Will Hyde Parkers ever resolve this dilemma?

Editorial Comment: Probably not, but the University will probably resolve it for them, with a little bit of market assist. But three cheers to Sylvia for uttering the unholy word "density." If Hyde Park wishes to remain an island, it needs to densify within its current borders in order to build a market base sufficient to support to kind of consumer culture that many demand. Although some such densification necessary, much more likely and and perhaps more socially important in the long term is for Hyde Park-Kenwood to link up with and encourage development on its peripheries to the North and South. To lift Hyde Park, we need to lift the South Side.

Moving on: Jonah Roth cuts to the chase on Dr's Hospital.

I regularly walk by the Doctors Hospital on the way to visit my Grandmother in Vista Homes. I should not have to tell you that abandoned buildings are creepy. I would much rather walk by a well-maintained hotel than a shuttered hospital. It's wonderful to talk about the architectural value of the Drs. Hospital, but I urge you to go spend some time in front of it on Stony Island. It's a nasty place right now and it has no value to the neighborhood.

Well said. And with regard to the architectural value of the building, I'll share the wisdom of an archivist I once worked for: just because it's old, doesn't mean it's rare; just because it's rare, doesn't mean it's valuable.

And finally, with a crescendo, we introduce Mr. Joseph Samuelson, who blasted into this week's Op-Ed page with both guns firing. We'd like to meet him and have a beer.

I have had enough of people in this neighborhood trying to prevent Hyde Park from coming out of the Middle Ages. [I wouldn't be quite so harsh: coming out of the 1960s would be fine with me] Of course we need a hotel in Hyde Park...everyone stays downtown. And then we cry when stores and businesses are leaving the neighborhood.

And of course we need a new supermarket. Why on earth do we need a Cooperative? We do not live in the '50s anymore and we are all worse off clinging to this old mismanaged institution that hasn't paid dividends or lowered its prices in years...It's time to bring in a Dominick's or a Jewel that can bring a pleasant shopping experience and decent prices.

All in all, and especially set against the Encyclical of the last of the Medici family Popes, Hans More-bucks, this was an encouraging week for dissenting views.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Herald's Chicken: Handouts for Failing Businesses

"Another Hyde Park Staple Forced Out," proclaims the headline on page one of this week's Hyde Park Herald (Wednesday, August 1, 2007). The reader is encouraged to think that some sort of ominous force or conspiracy has killed off a necessity for life in our neighborhood. It turns out, of course, that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Dr. Wax Records (a used vinyl and CD store in Harper Court) is $15,000 behind in rent payments. Dr. Wax’s landlord, the Harper Court Foundation, has taken the radical position that a lease should be honored and Dr. Wax’s owner should pay up.

This is part of a several themes that run through the Herald’s pages:

  1. There are conspiracies at work (mostly from profit-hungry capitalists) to rob our neighborhood of its distinctive character
  2. The Harper Court Foundation is not transparent in its dealings with the community and, therefore, something must be amiss.
  3. Any thing worth fighting for cannot exist in the marketplace and must be subsidized by government or community intervention.
Let’s take a closer look at Dr. Wax. Record stores are a dying phenomenon (witness the closing of the mother of all stores, the Virgin Mega store, and closer to home Coconuts). The reason is that music lovers buy their songs, one at a time, or steal them off of the internet. This is a trend that we cannot buck. Is this socially undesirable? The Herald would have us believe that stores like Dr. Wax support “underground” music or at least music that is only popular with small (i.e. elite) segments of the population. The Herald has not yet arrived in the 21st century. The wonderful thing about the internet is that it allows artists with small followings to make a living by providing them access to a large market. Niche markets thrive on the internet. Dr. Wax can only tap a very small local market, no wonder it is a model that is obsolete. We might have nostalgic memories of browsing Jimi Hendrix albums in “Spin It Records” as teenagers but now we can simply log on and even listen to the songs!

Dr. Wax records is no longer commercially viable. Does this mean that our value system is shaken to the core? No, it simply says that there aren’t many people who want to buy records there. Should we ask the Harper Court Foundation to cut a special deal for this dying business? Presented this way, this proposition is absurd. But the Herald has taken this position many times regarding Harper Court. For reasons known only to Herald editors, the businesses in Harper Court are viewed as special (what do a state senator office, a vet, a caterer, and a few restaurants have in common?) and deserve to be insulated from the market. We should allow them to run their businesses poorly and fail to attract customers. Isn’t the only purpose of a business to serve customers? If Dr. Wax can’t drum up business, why should we step in?

The headline is carefully crafted to use the phrase “forced out.” The idea here is that there is some wicked conspiracy to kill off the weak sisters. We must protest and tilt against the windmills of power. The only power here is the power of the consumer to choose how he or she buys records. This is a very powerful force but not one we should oppose.

But the farce continues, the Herald proudly reports the progress of a petition drive to “save Dr. Wax records.” Some 500 or so signatures are reported. Are these 500 customers for Dr. Wax records? This is cheap talk. We want the option of going to Dr. Wax but we aren’t willing to actually buy records from the store. Soon blue and white stickers “Save Dr. Wax” will be plastered over the “Save the Point” bumper stickers. Should anyone care?

Harper Court is a failed experiment born of 1960’s liberalism. The idea was to provide a nonprofit foundation to run a cluster of retail spaces for artists and other bohemians forced out by urban renewal. Somehow, lower rents could be charged as the Harper Court Foundation wouldn’t need to turn a profit. Of course, there are few things in business harder than running small retail stores. The most successful tenants soon left and Harper Court became “Huckster’s Court” - a sad collection of anemic businesses. With low rents, the Harper Court Foundation could ill afford to maintain and upgrade what was a poorly designed and constructed set of structures to begin with. We are left with a disgrace to our neighborhood. The wrecker’s ball can’t come too soon. A parking lot, of all things, would do more to help 53rd street than this continued mess.

Stiffs in the Grass: Update

Well, if such can be called good news, the stiff found in the grass on Monday morning is officially being ruled a suicide. This thanks to The Herald, which is apparently capable of occasionally breaking a story, even if the headline still has a bouquet of L'Onion: "Man's body found on Hyde Park Sidewalk." (The Hyde Park Herald, p. 10, August 1, 2007). Even better would be "Local man's body found on Hyde Park sidewalk."

Or course, none of this competes with The Herald's all-time greatest headline, sometime in August of 2006, which went something like: "Electrocuted squirrel causes Co-Op power failure."

Anyway, back at Algonquin, it is a shame that someone felt they had to end things that way. But at least there isn't another psycho roaming the towers of Indian Village.

NIMBY's Corner: Burger-Meister Morsbach

The Selection Committee here at NIMBY's Corner usually has a tough time choosing one from among the pool of qualified applicants to be highlighted with us. This week, there was no contest. Restaurant Mogul and Status Quo SuperHero Hans More-bucks, welcome! We expect this to be only the first of many repeat visits!

Mr. More-bucks is proprietor of a 57th Street restaurant popular with students and known as a good place for Hyde Parkers to take their families. He leads the opposition to a proposed development that would include two restaurants that might be popular with students and a good place for Hyde Parkers to take their families. As he puts it in his Letter to the Editor (The Hyde Park Herald, August 1, 2007), he is among "many...local citizens who have a stake to maintain the amenities in our community."

Editorial Comment: "Maintain amenities?" WHAT amenities? The amenity of a near-monopoly on the 57th St. restaurant business? Ah hah! NIMBY logic!

We had not considered the possibility that for a restauranteur, preserving share in a captive market might be considered "an amenity." But we see his point of view. Two more restaurants would be two too many for the King of 57th Street. This might explain why Mr. More-bucks proposes relocating the Restaurants and Hotel to areas far outside the Golden Rectangle, such as the present location of the ramshackle Ramada at 49th and South Lakeshore, or the charming corner-of-death at 61st and Cottage Grove, both far, far away from 57th Street.

Cottage Grove and 61st St./Corner of Death

Editorial Comment: As we live quite near to the first of his proposed quarantine locations, we would like to thank him for thinking of us, and the possibility that we in the drab northern reaches of Hyde Park-Kenwood might benefit from a location that, as he puts it, "would diffuse the affluence and charm of Hyde Park and create less controversy."

Moving beyond this colonial project to bring uplift to the natives beyond the pale of the Golden Rectangle, Mr. More-bucks' NIMBY-ism is made still more clear in his attitude to parking. We'll quote directly:

I like to park my car near my house on Harper and I do not much care how much more money will be required to provide adequate parking on the site.

Well, now that I think about it, I'd like to park MY car near YOUR house on Harper, too, and seeing as how we both pay the same ridiculously low flat-rate wheel-tax for unlimited use of City Streets as private parking garages, I feel that I have as much right to park a few of my jalopies in front of your house as you do, which I may start doing. Instead of freeloading on the City, perhaps some of those pizza-profits could go towards a bigger garage. Or maybe try walking to work.

So, as expressions of classical NIMBY-ism, we'll add entitlement to subsidized, free, and plentiful parking to entitlement to a big slice of market-share in the pizza-burger business. Entitlement is the key word here and, if I may indulge in a wee smidgen of Marxist sloganeering, is so terribly
petit bourgeois.

But that's why we're here, at NIMBY's Corner! To pull the cover off of barbecue bolshevism, and expose it for what it is -- the voice of a few cranky activists who undemocratically impose a minority voice on a much larger community.