Friday, February 29, 2008

Mulberry on Why Some People Are Created More Equal Than Others

posted by Peter Rossi

You can almost hear our local NIMBYs saying --

"Ah, remember the good old days. We could assemble a handful of folks at the Hyde Park NIMBY Club and agitate against any proposed development in Hyde Park. The Herald would print whatever we wrote for them and write editorials to support us.

"No More" sayeth the residents of Hyde Park. New groups and new voices have stolen our thunder. The members of the Co-Op voted it out of existence in spite of our screams. The 53rd Street Vision workshop voted for mixed development and mid-rises. Even the ideas of our charismatic leaders are regularly lampooned in fearsome blogs. Now we have to come up with alternative plans and pretend we are in favor of progress.

Like Hillary, let's not abandon the ship yet. All we have to do is gum up the works and scare away any sensible developer by throwing up a smokescreen and increasing costs.

We can stand by our tried and true tactics. Our leaders will smile in the Herald and applaud the devils- 'we thought the workshop was very good, very enthusiastic, a good discussion.' But be careful not to cite or endorse any specifics. In the background, we will get our henchmen to spread conspiracy theories, mis-represent the facts, and invoke association with the evil University where necessary.

There are only a chosen few who should lead our community. Let's face it, we are wiser and more important than anyone else."

There Rossi goes again, you think. He's ranting. After all, our local NIMBYs are just hardworking and earnest altruists. Are they not? You can disagree with them, but they are entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

I beg to differ.

Below I reproduce an email from the remarkable Mr. Jay Mulberry to the NIMBY faithful (well, not all of them!) who he calls the "Good Neighbors." The purpose of Mr. Mulberry's email is to wage guerrilla warfare against the 53rd Street Vision Workshop and spread rose petals in the path of his NIMBY hero.

According to Mr. Mulberry, the 53rd Street workshop was a clever manipulation of the "people" by the wily Irene Sherr and the dictatorial Toni Preckwinkle. Lured by the prospect of free food, the workshop participants were bamboozled by slick tricks. The alderman "surprised" the gathering with a vote on mid-rises. Dazed by a myriad of issues and drunk on Pizza Capri swill, those lovable but dumb residents voted for development.

Who is Mr. Mulberry kidding? His own rag has been fear-mongering about looming high rises on 53rd Street for years. It turns out that those folks, God love 'em, actually want more housing and retail and would be happy to have another mid-rise building join the many others in Hyde Park.

Mr. Mulberry would have Toni tied down and forced to read ten issues worth of Letters to the Editor in the Herald. This will keep her hand on the pulse of the community. The idea of educating citizens about alternatives and having an actual vote is too radical for him.

Wait, Mr. Mulberry's friend and leader has a better way! Let's convene a group of half a dozen or so of the really important intellectual leaders at Valois. Even better, let's high-jack the discussion by proposing absurd "design concepts" which should send any self-respecting developer back to the north side. We don't even need an architect, we can just say that we have one.*

Does Mr. Mulberry seriously think Harper Court can be designed without considering the economics of retail, parking, and housing or consulting the would-be owner of the property? Some might argue that Mr. Mulberry is just charmingly naive. But, as Mr. Mulberry himself admits, there is a deep cynicism here. This is all about getting nothing done.

Mr. Mulberry calls his teacher - "frighteningly devoted to change." He is right, frightening is the word. Let's consider the record:

1. Seven years of opposition to repair of the Point and restoration of the historic landscaping.
2. Opposition to the development of St. Stephens
3. Opposition to the hotel proposal on the site of the abandoned Doctor's Hospital
4. Opposition to a mid-rise on the McMobil site.

Mr. Mulberry concludes on a chilling note: "the concept need not stop with Harper Court but can and should be used in planning throughout the neighborhood." We might as well drop a war surplus Ukrainian H bomb on our neighborhood.

*It has been pointed out in this blog, that the "architect" Mr. Mulberry refers to is not actually a licensed architect.

From: "Jay F. Mulberry"
Date: February 28, 2008 6:57:24 AM CST
To: "Good Neighbors"
Subject: [Good Neighbors] Community Development


In December there was a meeting a "Vision for 53rd Street" organized mainly by Alderman Preckwinkle's office. It was successful from the point of view of attendance (large) and lunch (good, provided by Pizza Capri.) And it was extremely well organized by the SECC's remarkable Irene Sherr . Otherwise, I think it was unsuccessful -- though it is being touted a great breakthrough into the future and a tremendous example of democracy in action.

It was fated, even willed, to be unsuccessful. Groups at tables who didn't know what they were in for were asked to discuss issues for short periods of time and then throw out suggestions "Vision of 53rd Street." "Wider sidewalks" one would say; "more bars" would throw in another; "better stores", "better restaurants", "invisible parking", "mixed use", "clean", "mixture of historical and modern". . .. You name it, you got it. And you also got the Alderman's opening salvo pushing for greater density and her ending surprise asking for a vote on building a mid-range high rise somewhere in the area.

The result was a hodge-podge with no basis in theory or economics and no sense of the need for overall planning vs. random improvement. My guess, biased, unfair and cynical, is that the effort gives Alderman Preckwinkle a chance to do anything she already wants to do and say the community asked for it.

There is a better way and it is well represented by the group formed to come up with proposals for Harper Court. It is the brain child of Jack Spicer who got a rather marvelous young architect to work with community in drawing plans for a new Harper Court. I have been attending the meetings and am just thrilled by them ; They represent the best approach to community growth I have seen -- using real, not rigged, community input; real, not staged, professional advice; and no self-interest, political interest or developer interest in sight. The concept need not stop with Harper Court but can and should be used in planning throughout the neighborhood.
[Jack Spicer is frighteningly devoted to change in Hyde Park, but he knows how to do it right!]

The next meeting of the group is on Wednesday, March 5 at the Neighborhood Club at 7:00 p.m. I think many Good Neighbors would love it. So come if you can.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Obstruction without Representation - Part I: How Jack Spicer is Blowing His Social Capital

posted by chicago pop

There are two things going on in recent events surrounding Harper Court, and they're not necessarily related: we've got this survey, conducted by the HP-K CC, to gather input as to preferences regarding possible development at the site of Harper Court. A lot of people sat around and hemmed and hawed about how to design it back in early February. Now it's live, and people are responding.

Very good.

But then, we've also got a second group, nominally a committee of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, the fleet-footed and un-bureaucratic-sounding Development, Preservation, and Zoning Committee, but it's clearly taking it's own line. This committee is spoken for, of course, by Jack Spicer, described by the Herald as "a member of the working group" (February 20, 2008) of the above committee.

Somewhere along the line, Spicer's working group of the above-mentioned committee decided to do its own thing, to bring in an urban planning consultant, and on the basis of a workshop of 20 people, build a castle in the sky and splash it on the front page of the Herald last week.

Meanwhile the HP-K CC waits for the results of its community survey. Spicer's group has already decided what it wants, on the basis of an extremely small focus group, and is now lobbying for acceptance of this design, "hoping to drum up support for its vision" (February 20, 2008) -- all before the HP-K CC survey is even completed.

If I were one of the survey-drafters, I'd say that's not quite cricket.

So what's going on here? Different arms of an organization working at cross purposes? A sneaky power-play on the part of an aspiring Daniel Burnham? Talking up "community input" while making sure to get your stamp on the process as early as possible, so that community input equals your input?

All of the above, and then some. If the encouragement of this kind of factionalism and behind-the-scenes maneuvering reminds folks of how deliberations were derailed over the Point, then you're right on the money. No sooner is there a consensus on canvassing Hyde Park residents about their preferences, then the Committee for Development, Preservation and Zoning has gotten its own designs on the front page of the Herald.

Pat Wilcoxen's indignant letter to the editor this week (February 27, 2008), nicely captures the irony of this fact, but diplomatically pins it all on the Herald's headline:

"To give the impression that there is a preliminary design is a disservice to the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference...This is one idea, and the emphasis should be on drumming up support for more participation, not for or against this particular design."

Is the Herald's headline really at fault here, or is it Spicer's Committee?

Go back and re-read last week's issue and you'll see that, the headline aside, Spicer's group was already pitching its redevelopment plan, and hoping to "shop it around," well before any survey input had been gathered. The Herald, as sometimes happens, duly reported that fact.

If Pat Wilcoxen has an issue with pitching a design before community input is tabulated, she should take it up with Jack Spicer, not the Herald.

Episodes like this could easily give one the impression that Spicer is burning through whatever social capital he has managed to retain after a series of spectacularly obstructionist displays that have cast doubt on his role as a community representative.

As the Point continues to decay, the millenarian hopes in a Salvation-by-Obama -- in which the unholy engineering demands of the Army Corps of Engineers are smitten with a thunderbolt like the armies of the Antichrist -- seem more and more hollow.

Strike one.

certainly didn't win any points with the University over the Drs Hospital escapade.

Strike two.

And now he's undermining one of the neighborhood institutions that claims, perhaps with the most justification, to represent "the community," the HP-K CC.

Strike three?

Hyde Park certainly seems full of aspiring successors to Daniel Burnham, each one of them painting different castles in the air, and maneuvering to get their castle up front. If this goes on long enough, we may witness the spectacle of Establishment big-wigs duking it out amongst themselves over height limitations and parking lots. Reserve your seats now!

Meanwhile, what the community really thinks -- and just as importantly, what a developer is capable of accomplishing -- may eventually provide a reality check to whatever splinter-group the Herald chooses to lobby for in future issues.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Retire and Rotate, Part I

posted by Elizabeth Fama

This is a sculpture called Judith and Holofernes:

It moved around a few times after Donatello created it, sometime between 1455 and 1460. In 1495 it was placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, as a symbol of the freedom of Florence from the tyrrany of the Medici. But by 1504 it had been moved inside the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio, and another sculpture took its place:

Not too shabby. You see, for the longest time the Italians were not afraid of moving their public art around, or retiring it and replacing it with something else. Sure, the pace of rotation and retirement may have slowed, now that sculptors aren't making pieces of the quality of The David, and now that Florence is almost exclusively a tourist town. All those visitors need to be able to find the attractions, after all.

But Hyde Park is not a tourist town. We're not pleasing anyone but ourselves with public art. We should feel free to retire and rotate.

Take the mural, Under City Stone, for example (on which I have previously ranted here). Jon Pounds of the Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG) is raising funds to refurbish it. The rubric used to judge the merit of murals, according to Pounds, is "connection with the community, historic importance, and impact on other muralists." But this neglects what I believe are the more important standards of aesthetic beauty, artistic training, and current fondness by the community. (The historic importance he refers to is the fact that Caryl Yasko was one of the founders of the outdoor mural movement.)

Under City Stone (painted in 1973), and the artist, Caryl Yasko, with her recent indoor mural in the Manitowoc Public Library (photo credit [right]: Patrick J. Young, for the City of Manitowoc).

Here's the thing about murals, historic or not: they decompose. Paintings have to be inside buildings with a controlled climate to last for decades or centuries. Does Jon Pounds hope we'll refurbish Under City Stone every 35 years ad infinitum? I'd be in favor of letting someone else have a shot at it right now. That would be more in the spirit of the "outdoor art" movement, anyway.

If anyone is feeling sentimental about these installations, maybe the Hyde Park Historical Society and the CPAG can be persuaded to document them in photographs and paperwork, and display them in a small exhibit.

Another of our eyesores, the sculpture called Orisha Wall (1986) on the 55th Street median, was especially fragile to the elements and started deteriorating immediately after it was installed. By 1992 it was already listed in the category "treatment urgent" by a committee called Save Outdoor Sculpture. And here's why: the darned thing is made of glazed, kiln-fired tiles, attached to a concrete base with tile wall cement, and then grouted. Another sculpture installed at the very same time (Matt Freedman's Watching People, in Harper Court) is made out of a more traditional outdoor material -- bronze -- and has withstood the elements.

Orisha Wall (erected in 1986), and its artist, Muneer Bahauddeen (photo of Mr. Bahauddeen [right] reproduced with permission of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.)

This is a close-up of Orisha Wall -- a portion on which the glazed tiles are completely missing:

And here are some glazed ceramic tiles that Mr. Bahauddeen recently installed on the Marquette Interchange in Wisconsin:

(reproduced with permission of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation)

I sure hope the tiles are covered from the elements, or the sponsors of the Interchange beautification project will have a crumbling mess on their hands as well.

That is, unless they understand and embrace the Hyde Park Progress principle of "retire and rotate."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Village Center: Poised for Development?

posted by Peter Rossi

At the corner of 51st and Lake Park Avenue, Village Center stands as one of Hyde Park's numerous monuments to poor design.

Village Center

Home to a rag-tag collection of buildings and dominated by a dirty parking lot, Village Center's only redeeming feature is the Original Pancake House. OPH exists almost to spite the other anemic tenants.

It obvious that this location is perfect for a mixed-use development. For example, a development that extends over the entire property (including the parking lot) with lower floors of retail, upper floors of apartments, and interior parking would make a great deal of sense.

The Village Center properties have been owned by Antheus Capital for more than two years. It is no secret that Antheus Capital would like develop this plot. Exact details on what might be proposed are difficult to come by (the Herald, in one of its brief moments as a real newspaper, printed a design prototype last year).

MAC Properties Sign

The wheels of development grind exceedingly slowly here in Hyde Park. Other developments such as the McMobil and Cornell and 53rd sites are dead in the water. The developer for these properties is clearly not up to the task.

This means that Village Center is the only real option for development in Hyde Park (note that Harper Court is many years in the making and probably will be hampered by law suits and community interference).

The economy in general, and the commercial real estate sector in particular, shows signs of slowing down if not a true recession. I worry that all of the fumbling of the ball on Village Center will mean that, by the time something is ready to be built, no funding will be available.

In the meantime, Village Center remains a depressing sight and an embarrassment as one of the "gateways" to Hyde Park-Kenwood.

Eye Candy at Village Center

Saturday, February 23, 2008

On the Pavement: It's All About Harper Court

posted by chicago pop

Harper Court Survey Released

The HP-K CC survey seeking neighborhood input on Harper Court redevelopment is online.

Check it out, take the survey, and send the link to all your friends.

52nd & Harper Redevelopment Process Meeting Tuesday February 26

Get the download on how development happens before it happens.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Dead Grocers' Society, 20 People Envision Harper Court, and Other Local Curiosities

posted by chicago pop

Howard Hughes Mulls New Vision of Harper Court
"I can help get this bird off the ground," he tells community group.

I. The Dead Grocers' Society

Seeing as how Hyde Park's version of crazy millionaire Howard Hughes, Herald publisher Bruce Sagan, has dialed down the paper's editorial wackiness since the death of the Co-Op, we've been forced to forage more widely than before for satirical inspiration, plowing through the articles themselves in search of more modest specimens of neighborhood lunacy.

Predictably, we have not been disappointed.

This week, for example (February 20, 2008), we learn that the Hyde Park Co-Op Society is holding elections for its Board of Directors. That's right. And on a related note, it should be added that someone still claims to be the King of France, and is rumored to be sharing a flat in Palm Beach with the Emperor of China and the last Romanov. Like many ageing boomers, they're probably all looking for something to do and someplace to do it, and this is the perfect opportunity to keep them out of counterrevolutionary trouble.

Rulers of non-existent nations might feel comfortable running for an equally defunct community organization. The nominating committee might want to seek out this demographic.

Anyone wishing to hold a position in an organization that is coming to resemble a spooky fraternity without a house on campus, need only gather the signatures "of 20 or more other members of the cooperative." There may be precedents for this sort of thing: maybe it will turn out like the Elks, or the Shriners, and provide us with an entertaining contingent in the 4th of July parade.

II. 20 People Envision Harper Court

At least the Co-Op claims to have 25,000 (ghost) members. It turns out that in Hyde Park, far fewer numbers of people are much more effective at accomplishing things, or at least attracting attention. Need "community input" for a grandiose redevelopment project? Get 20 people in a room with a Big Local Dude and you can make sure your ideas are the ones that count.

Take the recent hubub over Harper Court. We've had our say on the subject here at HPP, way back in fall of 2007. In fact, the Tribune wrote us up. Tear it down and build something new, we said, and this seems to be the direction things are going, so we haven't been raising too much fuss.

But it is curious the way a few Big Local Dudes, with lots of ideas about "bottom-up" community input, nonetheless seem to have a lot of firm ideas of their own, and manage to get their own modest paws over just about every plan in the works.

Whereas the 53rd St. Visioning meeting of late November 2007 pulled in over 150 people and produced statistically significant data pertaining to neighborhood preferences, the latest splashy vision for Harper Court is the product of two meetings, the first with 17 people, the second with 20, with an architectural designer/planner thrown in.

Rendering of Harper Court Redevelopment.
(Source: Romero Cook Design Studio)

Looks A Lot Like This: Lakeside Press Building
(Formerly home to R.R. Donnelly Books)

That doesn't include the input from any developer, nor any nuts-and-bolts feasibility study as to the economics of the thing.

Finding someone to finance all-new construction of a cluster of 6-ish story buildings, probably requiring significant structured parking and use of high-quality exterior finishings (translation = very expensive!) rented out to poor artists, curio shops, and non-chain, local retail -- all in keeping with the magical realist "original mission" of Harper Court -- is a small difficulty that this 20 person pow-wow hasn't addressed.

For it to work, there's a good chance that Hyde Park would have to transform itself the way downtown Evanston has: with high-rises full of millionaires. And not just confined to 53rd east of Harper.

To their credit, those involved admit that the plan is "purely hypothetical," and "something that can't stand on its own." The HP-K CC website argues that the new Harper Court should also remain true to its original mission of housing small, local, non-franchised businesses. That last statement, it should be noted, doesn't contradict the first two.

The good news is that no sensible folks are arguing for keeping the old buildings. And it's nice to have some pretty pictures. As for the real community input, we're still waiting: the HP-K CC assures us that it's on its way, in the form of a high-tech online survey. Based on the user-friendliness and clever organization of the current HP-K CC website, it should be impressive.

Since we have a little collective experience dealing with survey methodology here at HPP, we'll be keeping you posted on just how reliably the Big Local Dudes live up to their interest in seeking out real "community input."

Whether anyone will be able to find a developer who can pay for the stipulations that result, is another matter.

Where You Should Be: Summer Tennis at the Quadrangle Club!

posted by elizabeth fama

Ahhh. The idyllic har-tru tennis courts at the Quadrangle Club, 1155 East 57th Street.

Once in a while on this blog we like to celebrate progress, not just push for it, and the new summer tennis programs at the Quadrangle Club are something to celebrate. It won't be freezing forever, you know, so listen up:

The Quadrangle Club has been around since 1893. It has been at its current location on the corner of 57th Street and University Avenue since 1922. The grounds of the building include three, gorgeous, clay-like har-tru tennis courts.

Until now, the Quad Club has been known mainly as a faculty club for the University, even though non-University-affiliated members can join -- and it has been burdened by a slightly stodgy, jacket-and-tie sort of reputation. But all that is changing. The Quad Club is shaking the dust off its image with a little PR foray that means real progress for the neighborhood: tennis programs that are open to the public. (Other than these programs, you must be a member to use the tennis courts.)

Here's what the Quad Club is offering us this summer:

1) A children's tennis camp for ages 8 - 12*:
-Monday through Friday from 10 AM - noon
-June 16 through August 1.
-Cost: $150 per week (you must buy in increments of a week).

2) Adult clinics:
-Beginner/intermediate clinics: Saturdays from 2 PM - 4 PM, from June 21 through August 23.
-Intermediate/advanced clinics: Mondays from 6 PM - 8 PM, from June 16 through August 25.
-Cost: 4 clinics for $120 (you must buy in packages of 4 clinics).
-*Teenagers are welcome to sign up for adult clinics according to their ability level.

3) Fitness Tennis for Adults:
-A high-intensity, invigorating, aerobic workout using tennis skills and group drills. Cardio-vascular exercise (rather than instruction) is the focus of this activity.
-Every Saturday from June 21 through August 23, 4 PM - 5 PM.
-Advanced Beginner minimum.
-5-10 minute warm-up, 40-50 minute cardio workout, and a 5-10 minute cool-down.
-Cost: 4 sessions for $60 ($15 each session, but you must buy in packages of 4).

The instructor for all of these programs is Julijana Lazarevich, Assistant Tennis Coach at U-High, former UIC college player, certified PTR professional.

For more information or a sign-up form, you can e-mail me, or pick up a form at the Quadrangle Club's front desk, 1155 East 57th Street.

Play tennnis in Hyde Park this summer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Notes From Undergrads: Hooked on Hookahs?

posted by Jason Finkes

One of an occasional series at Hyde Park Progress exploring things from an undergraduate perspective.

As has already been discussed (and at great lengths in the comment field of my last post), Hyde Park lacks in late night locations for cups of tea, conversation and general hang-outs. This time around, I want to examine one of the places that I was excited and surprised to see make it in to Hyde Park: the Noon Hookah Lounge.

The first thing to clear up is that it is not the best hookah lounge in the city. That prize goes to one up on the Northside, whose name I can't recall, that really cultivates a unique "oriental" experience complete with floor cushions and low tables, bellydancers and Turkish coffee. For those who want to give it a shot as a one time experience, I heartily recommend making the trek with a group of friends.

However, for the more quotidian experience, Hyde Park's Noon Hookah Lounge does deliver. I've been three times, twice with people who have been to real hookah lounges in the middle-east and the most recent when I conversed with a new friend. The only real complaint that can be offered by my cosmopolitan friends as to the inauthenticity of the experience was the lounge's failure to provide an ashing tool to move around the coal and keep it burning hot. And admitedly, this is mitigated by the Lounge's relatively constant attention towards providing new coals.

The actual experience of the lounge, each time, was stellar. There is little that can compare with spending 3 hours at a time (how the time flew!) chatting about the state of medicine, educational philosophy and a combination of literature, philosophy and politics. The lounge reminds me of the salons and cafes of nascent modernity, an area in which people sit down and have intimate conversation at a broad range of topics, sharing well-reasoned opinions and developing new ones.

I cannot in good conscience ignore the aspect of the smoke, though. There are as many opinions about the healthiness of hookah smoking as there are opinions shared while smoking it. Some say it's worse than smoking a pack of cigarettes due to the length of time spent breathing the smoke, others say that the water filters the smoke well and that it burns at a lower temperature, generating less of the obnoxious noxious elements of cigarette smoking. This is in addition to the issues of cigarette stink, where hookah excels in flavor and residual smell. You come out reeking of mint or fruit scented smoke instead of stale tobacco and additives. So while it can be unpleasant for many, it is a valid if infrequent option for a niche market.

If Hyde Park is to maintain its current small shop feel and mentality (with "like 3 shoe shops" and lamp shops), the Hookah Lounge is of the quality and character that I would expect. A niche market, but a decent iteration; small, but interesting, and due to the health concerns, a place that one would go like to go to with some regularity, if infrequently. It would be even better if there were a few other places to put in to a late night weekend entertainment rotation.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Herald's Chicken: NIMBYs Discover the Internet

posted by Peter Rossi

Chastened by the results of the 53rd Street Vision Workshop, local NIMBYs and members of the HP-KFC are planning their own web survey on the development of Harper Court.

"We were disturbed by the broad cross-section of Hyde Parkers who participated in the Vision Workshop. We saw families and people of color who are not normally at our meetings held at the Hyde Park NIMBY Club," explained A. Robin, a group spokesperson.

"We want to have our say on the future of Harper Court. Normally, we would try to pack 'community meetings' with people sympathetic to our cause, but our alderman is trying to dis-enfranchise us by using other means of obtaining community sentiment," complained Jack B. Nimby, chair of the HP-KFC committee on historical irrelevance.

"Two can play at this game. We are going to administer a survey on our own terms," continued Mr. Nimby.

"We plan on careful screening of respondents to insure that only properly 'qualified' people have a chance to participate," explained Geof Rum, conference president. Screening criteria are under development but will include a requirement that the respondent have voted for Leon Despres in 1955 . Respondents must also be members of either the HP-KFC or the Hyde Park Hysterical Society.

The survey questionnaire will be designed by Leading Question, a graduate student in the Committee for Anarchist Thought at Chicago University. The Herald obtained a draft of the survey and we present a sampling of questions below:
  1. Don't you want to carry forward the original and noble purpose of Harper Court?

  2. Wouldn't you prefer local merchants who give back to our neighborhood to large, impersonal chain stores who carryout cash?

  3. Isn't it generally true that developers are only interested in lining their own pockets?

  4. Are you against the high-handed way Alderman Preckwinkle has tried to block community input?

  5. Don't you want to keep rich Northsiders out of Hyde Park?

Respondents will also be asked to rate the importance of various attributes such as "space for impromptu meetings" and "banning chain stores" on a scale from "I will chain myself to a tree" to "I will toss a Molotov cocktail."

The web address for the survey is a closely held secret. To allow only "right-minded" NIMBYs to respond, the web address will be published in the Herald and posted in the East View Park laundry room. In addition, if you give the password, "swordfish," at the secret meeting room at Cosimo's restaurant, you can complete the survey on the Hans Memorial Mac.

This post is based on "Harper Court Survey plans near completion" published in the February 13, 2008 edition of the Herald.

Friday, February 15, 2008

How Not to Market Hyde Park

posted by chicago pop

A little while ago, I was part of a focus group sponsored by the University of Chicago. I was curious just how this was going to work. I've been in focus groups where I was asked to imagine myself as a certain brand of nasal spray and then describe the car I'd drive, or asked, "If you were a disposable baby wipe, which L stop would you get off at?"

In this case, we were spared the application of method acting to consumer products. It was just nice (free!) dinner conversation among strangers. The ostensible purpose of the meeting was to help put together a little brochure promoting Hyde Park living to prospective faculty and staff. We were asked what we liked about the neighborhood, and I agreed with most of it.

The University claims that "more than 60%" of faculty currently live in the neighborhood, which is apparently a lot compared to peer institutions, so I'm not quite sure what the problem is. But if the University even feels the need to do more to attract professors, that's telling you something right there.

Going into this, I knew that if you actually get out and talk to professors across the disciplines, it's clear that a lot of them would be living on the North Side if it weren't for the very powerful attraction of living close to work. Or getting their kids more conveniently to and from the Lab School. A lot of grad students take their stipends and scoot over to Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, or Logan Square.

That, in fact, is the essence of an observation reported in the opening salvo of this blog, Why Hyde Park Progress? "It's great for kids, but is basically boring."

Although the company was pleasant, the way the focus group itself shaped up, I must say, did not give me confidence in the prowess of the University to sell Hyde Park to potential hires. In fact, the little meeting managed to elicit a lot of the attitudes that make other Chicagoans want to throw rotten organic tomatoes at them. So I can only wonder how effective any promotional material will be that parrots the opinions of people already living here who just luuuuuuuuuv the place for their special quirky reasons.

They're already here, after all. The point is to woo the ones who aren't. Not to scare them off, which I'm afraid is what may happen.

It seems that the shrewdest thing to do would be to go find those people who could have lived here but don't, and ask them why they decided not to. Then you could really isolate and tackle your PR problem.

Enough generalities. I'll share with you the following (paraphrased) comments elicited in our conversation, statements that seem guaranteed to spook all sorts of potential recruits. I can't wait to see how the University uses these nuggets of stodginess:

"I like Hyde Park because it's not commercialized. I don't want a Home Depot on my block. I don't want a GAP. There are lots of little shoe repair places that have been here forever."

"I like Hyde Park because other people don't come here. I don't want to share my neighborhood with everybody else."

"I don't need much night life, because I'd rather stay in, or have dinner with friends."

"The Point controversy showed how the community is involved and really comes together about what it cares about."

So, if I were in the marketing laboratory and had these focus group transcripts dropped in my lap, what kind of advertising magic would I cook up for my client? Well, going strictly on this input, I'd have to tell my boss that if we want to sell Hyde Park based on the things people like about it, we need to hit these points: Hyde Park is reclusive bordering on anti-social, thread-bare bordering on tightwad, boring at night, and stubbornly resistant to change even when it's needed.

There's your promotional brochure right there. Can't wait to see it!

PS: I have to confess, as I did at dinner that night, that I do want a GAP. A big one, with cashiers in their headsets dancing to canned music, right over in the old Harper Theater building. I'll be waiting in line outside the day they open.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

NIMBY's Corner: Learning to Count with Hans Morsbach

posted by chicago pop

An Instructor of the NIMBY-Gripes School of Numeracy

Occasionally I try to figure out some way to re-use my copy of the Herald. This happens after its utility as a newspaper has expired, which is usually something like 95 seconds. But I don't have a bird cage to line, and my dogs are house broken. So what do I do with it?

Then today, the answer flew straight at me like a NIMBY out of Harper Avenue. I can teach children to count! How? By using Medici owner Hans Morsbach's itemized lists of NIMBY gripes.

This week's letter from Mr. Morsbach, which quite incidentally deals with a railroad clearing brush off its right-of-way -- to the great surprise of neighbors who were suddenly reminded that they lived next to a railroad embankment [*] -- has 6 items, so it will be part of our beginner's module.

To get to the number 7, we can resurrect Hans' letter of August 1, 2007, which happened to contain a grab bag of 7 gripes about Drs Hospital.

At some point, of course, we'll have to get up to the very important number 10, and then beyond. I'm not sure if Hans has this many gripes left, but I won't write off the possibility. This is Hyde Park, after all, and people tend to have boxes of gripes stored up in their attics.

In the meantime, we may turn to the issue of Harper Court to get us up to and past 10: a Mr. William Knack offered up a 14-point plan for fixing Harper Court back in September 2007, but that will still only get us so far.

We need Hyde Park citizens to roll out their gripes and demands, count them up, and send them in to the Herald. The future of our children's numeracy depends on it.

*[For readers who may actually be interested in the NIMBY content of this letter, in which Hans Morsbach questions the validity of Metra's need to remove trees and brush from its embankment for safety reasons, the author helpfully sums things up in the following sentence: "I have no qualification to assess the danger of mechanical damage to a steel wheel by a wet leaf..."

Click here for the opinion of someone who is qualified to assess such a danger.]

Monday, February 11, 2008

Public Art and its Artists

posted by Elizabeth Fama

I harp a lot about, um, disappointing public art. So you can imagine how fun it was to find these photos in the University's Archival Photographs collection.

[apf2-04065 and apf2-04064]

There are no dates on these photos, but the clothing looks like it's from the early 1960s to me. Above you can see Gary Wojcik with what is labeled his "prize winning" fountain sculpture for the park at 55th Street and Kimbark Avenue (Nichols Park). You'll recall that Chicago Pop was merciless in a previous post, nicknaming it Medusa at Rest. The photo on the left above was taken at the "Garden Show," so I assume that's a non-functioning prototype of the winner.

[apf2-04071 and apf2-04067]

This is Jerome Skuba with his entry for the park on 54th and Blackstone Avenue (Spruce Park). I remember this sculpture from my childhood. So I walked by Spruce Park the other day to visit it (OK, I really wanted to snap an unflattering photograph of it), and lo and behold, it's gone. Now how do you suppose that happened in our Nothing-Must-Ever-Change neighborhood? It gives me hope that another little eyesore might disappear soon, too.

[apf2-04062 and apf2-04061]
And last, but not least, here is Yvonne R. Hobbs with what must have been a runner-up in the contest. The archives indicate she proposed it for Nichols Park, but I presume she lost out to the dynamic Medusa. Her creation would have been six feet tall; a nice, sharp, rusted steel climbing object for generations of children. But I have to admit: I want her glasses.

All photos: Archival Photofiles, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago. Archive number appears below each photograph in brackets.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Preservation Con Game and the Point

posted by Peter Rossi

Are you in favor of preservation? "You bet."

Do you want to preserve the Point? "Of course, I do; this is a beautiful and absolutely unique place on Chicago's lakefront."

Does it follow then that you want to preserve the Point revetment? A few self-appointed community "activists" want you to jump to this conclusion and blindly follow their lead.

For seven years, this group has done everything in their power to table all plans to fix the Point revetment. There is no end in sight.

It is possible to preserve our beloved Point. We can also preserve and even improve our access to the lake. We can restore the Caldwell landscaping. We cannot preserve the Point revetment. It must be rebuilt.

The revetment has been irreparably damaged along its entire 6000 foot length. In some places, the original revetment has become nothing but a jumbled pile of limestone blocks. In others, the original revetment has been replaced with a hideous "pill box" or coffin stretch of concrete. In still others, the substructure of crushed stone is gone and the blocks are hanging, unsupported, waiting to fall in. These photos tell the tale of woe (check out Beth Fama's excellent post for more details and pics):

Collapse of Revetment "Steps"

Failed Promenade
(photos by E. Fama)

In order to fix the Point revetment, you have to remove the existing limestone blocks and build a new substructure. Extensive Army Corp of Engineers studies have shown that the only substructure that can work is a steel piling wall backed by a concrete base. The limestone blocks can then be returned and added both above and below a concrete base promenade.

The Save the Pointers and their fellow travelers would have you believe that they want a "preservation plan" for the revetment. They cannot define what they mean by "preservation." To define preservation would expose the basic fallacy and open up the possibility that some plan might actually be acceptable. "I know it when I see it" seems to be the definition of preservation that applies here.

Those who argue for the excellent Compromise Plan can be conveniently labelled as anti-preservation while those whose real agenda is to do nothing can disguise themselves as "preservation" advocates.

While all of this obfuscation goes on, the revetment crumbles into the lake and the land behind the revetment is ignored. The beautiful landscaping that this revetment once protected has been allowed to decline to little more than a patch of grass and some spindly trees.

Behind this preservation con game is the cyncial belief that the users of the Point can be tricked into supporting vague proposals for "preservation." No progress can be portrayed as a "success." "Success" is achieved simply by rejecting plans to fix the revetment.

The stark truth is that the outcome of the preservation con game will be no progress for more than ten years.*

It is time enough to demand progress. FIX THE POINT!

*It has already been seven years since the first proposal was advanced to fix the Point. The Save the Pointers are waiting on a review by an Army Corps official that by their own estimate will take at least 1.5 more years. We still don't know what this review will achieve. Will a new plan be developed that is acceptable to all parties? Is there any grounds for optimism? I think not. In the end, final plans must be drawn, bids let, and construction must start. There is no way this could happen any sooner than four years from now even assuming that the Save the Pointers execute a complete about-face.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

"Yes, we're saving the Point, honey, now go back to bed."

posted by Elizabeth Fama

The Point Savers inspect their recent "save."

There was a letter from the supposed Community Task Force for Promontory Point in this week's Hyde Park Herald. I say "supposed" because I didn't elect them, and I don't believe they speak for the community. Regular readers of this blog know that I call them the Point Savers, or the SAVE THE POINT group.

The letter reminded me of a mother trying to calm an upset child. It was soothing. It was lilting. It repeated the words "slow and steady" like ocean waves lapping the shore. We are supposed to feel lulled into ignoring the fact that (a) the Point Savers squashed reasonable negotiations with the City, and (b) nothing -- repeat nothing -- is happening to repair the Point at all right now. Yes, the real community is a giant the supposed "community" task force prefers would remain asleep.

The main lullaby of the letter is the "news" that Obama's coalition to study alternative plans for the Point will be funded "hopefully in early spring," that it will take about a year for the "stakeholders" to draw up a preservation plan, and that Obama's staff "meets regularly" with the Point Savers. Let's deconstruct that bit by bit:

1) How can the funds can be appropriated this spring if the 2008 fiscal budget has already passed Congress?

2) Only someone very inexperienced with architectural projects could believe that it would take a year to come up with a new plan for the Point. And remember, this is supposed to be a collaborative architectural project with seven players (the City, the Park District, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Obama's staff, the alderman, and the Point Savers).

3) The "stakeholders" with the worst reputation for rejecting any and all plans are part of the process. Heaven help us.

4) Frankly (if I believed it in the first place, which I don't) I object to the idea that Obama's staff might meet regularly with the Point Savers outside of the larger coalition, which will include sane members of the Great Lakes Army Corps of Engineers. But, as I said, I just don't believe it: Obama's staff -- right down to the college students who cold-call voters -- aren't even sleeping lately, let alone thinking about the Point.

5) Who are these Point Savers anyway, and why are they representing us? The letter was placatingly condescending -- "none of this could have been accomplished without the support and patience of the community." Um, did I ask you to mess this up?

Wake up, you sleeping giants out there! Since the Point debate started seven years ago we've had the 53rd Street Vision Meeting. We no longer believe that the group with the shrillest voice or the most memorable bumper sticker gets to speak for us.

Rub your eyes! The Point is in a serious state of disrepair, and it has only gotten worse over this tough winter. The City would be just as happy to shut it down, and frankly, when you look at the photos in my last post, you wonder why its lawyers haven't already done it. I personally can't live several years without the Point, how about you?

Get out of bed! The Point hasn't been saved. It's time for the rest of us to have a say. Let's fix the Point.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Notes from Undergrads: Where Fun Comes to Die

Introducing the first of an occasional series at Hyde Park Progress exploring things from an undergraduate perspective.

posted by Jason Finkes

Anyone associated with the University knows this fated phrase. It slips from our tongues, ironically self-describing our love of the ascetic lifestyle, slaving away for the sake of truth and beauty in our gothic monastery. But more and more, I begin to wonder which came first: the deprivation of doing things or the lack of things to do in Hyde Park.

Now before I get jumped all over in the comments section, I do appreciate all the wonderful things Hyde Park does have to offer: the decaying and rodent-infested Point, the generally overpriced Museum of Science and Industry, the gamut of high culture (the Court Theatre, the Oriental, Institute, the SMART museum) and the nice oddities, few and far between (Hyde Park Art Center, Doc Films sometimes, the new Hookah lounge). As far as I can tell, aside from the great wealth of entertainment for stereotypical academic and/or cultivated individuals, Hyde Park is a dead zone.

Now I love a good classical concert, or a great art exhibit, or the amazing opportunity to educate myself and see real artifacts stolen from real ancient civilizations. But sometimes, to get away from rigorous academic bootcamp, you don't want stereotypical academic pasttimes. And when you don't want to do those things, you're hopping on a bus and traveling god-knows-how-long on CTA or Metra to a neighborhood that actually DOES have some night life.

Now some may say that we don't have night life because the neighborhood can't support it or that all neighborhoods can't be the center of night life. Furthermore, they may argue that Hyde Park is uniquely situated so as NOT to have night life, due to unsafe streets at night.

But then again, there isn't a whole lot to do on the southside in the first place. Something really would be better than nothing. And as far as I can tell, responsible and well-conceived development comes before low crime. I'm not arguing for gentrification, I'm arguing for some real development that could develop into a functional neighborhood that could support some night life, in a community chock full of young people who desperately need to be entertained and begin to interact with the community they've been isolated from.

What really irks me is that one of the best additions to the neighborhood, a blues/music club/venue in the form of the Checkboard Lounge that was brought here with much urging from the University is a 21+ venue. Now this wouldn't be upsetting if any of neighborhoods other night life activities weren't impossible to get people to go to for fear of their respiratory health (hookah lounge) or bars (does any know how many there are or does everyone else lose count when they try to total them?). We didn't need another 21+ venue.

What we needed were places for a larger portion of the University and the Hyde Park community to mix. The Checkerboard could have been such a place. But by bringing in a 21+, you create a place that Undergrads will never attend, because they simply can't until their 3rd or even 4th year, by which point they won't go because it wasn't an option early in their career. They're stuck in a rut, thinking Hyde Park is dead.

This lack of a night life and prevalence of 21+ venues like bars and the Checkerboard certainly makes it more understandable when one hears that some younger students lament the passing of the Co-Op (not as a bastion of the community and a defunct organization that used to be SOMETHING that activists desperately try and preserve and remind us of) but as a place to go to get booze and not get carded, so they too can do something or anything on those cold, lonely, boring Hyde Park winter nights.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

NIMBY's Corner: Anonymous NIMBY Protests METRA Landscaping

posted by richard gill

Reacting to Metra's tree-cutting on the railroad right-of-way between 57th and 59th Streets (not in anyone's back yard), some Not-In-Our-Back-Yards residents of Harper Avenue whose back yards face the tracks, became angry because the railroad was clearing trees that were Not In The Residents' Back Yards.

As reported in the Jan. 30, 2008 Hyde Park Herald, one Harper Avenue resident anonymously said, "Looking at this makes me want to scream, cry, get sick or something." Well, Anonymous Person, have you ever seen a train wreck, with dead and injured people? There's something that will really make you scream, cry, get sick or something. The objective of tree and brush clearance is to prevent this.

Metra's Joseph E. Riley told the Herald that the trees, which were on Metra property, posed a potential hazard to trains and the thousands of commuters who ride them. Trees too close to the tracks can foul the contact arms and overhead wires that provide power for the trains, obstruct the engineers' view of track and signals, break windows, and get caught in the trains' running gear. Root systems can distort the track alignment. Autumn leaves under the wheels can cause trains to literally slide past station platforms.

Heavy weeds and brush also pose hazards; good railroads--and I count Metra among them--spend great amounts of money to control vegetation. (The alert commuter will note signs along the tracks instructing maintenance crews not to use weed spray too close to homes, uh, back yards.)

So, once again, some residents of Hyde Park have exhibited their total inability, or refusal, to see beyond their own eyeballs. "What's that," they seem to say, "You mean our personal sensibilities should take a back seat to public safety?"

This sorry episode is not the first of its kind. Recall a few years back, when Hyde Parkers helped to delay the construction of a median barrier on Lake Shore Drive, south of 57th Street. A number of head-on crossover collisions prompted the City to propose the barrier. People went ballistic, because it meant widening the roadway a couple of feet. The project was delayed. It got done after people kept dying on Lake Shore Drive.

And don't forget all the objections to the Lake Shore Drive curb cut at 53rd Street, that allows turning cars to decelerate for the exit without having to merge back into a high-speed lane. It's a good thing that finally got built, too.

Getting back to the tree thing, I want to thank Sue Purrington of Alderman Hairston's office, and Joseph E. Riley of Metra for their sensible and helpful response in the Herald article. Two suggestions they made were that Harper residents consider planting trees on their own property, and get together and talk things out instead of wailing that the sky is falling. Anonymous Person et al, you might take heed. But if you feel you must scream, cry, get sick or something, try not to do it in someone else's back yard.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Herald's Chicken: Tree Removal Irks Rainey Ave Homeowners

posted by Peter Rossi

Residents of Rainey Avenue are up in arms over removal of trees on the Illinois Central-owned embankment visible from their backyards.

"Not In My BackYard, they don't" declared Robin Krank of 5720 S. Rainey Ave. Ms. Krank admitted that the work was not actually done in her backyard but that of her neighbor across the street, Doris White-Nimby.

Ms. Krank maintains that falling debris from the tree removal threatens the ramshackle frame houses on the block. "One small branch could easily knock over my house," she said, noting that strict adherence to Preservation Guidelines means that few on the block repair the exterior of their homes.

Other residents chimed in that the large trees removed by IC crews shielded their view of the tracks. "For the past forty years, I was unaware that trains used the embankment. Now passengers on the train can spy on me and report to the House Committee on Un-American Activities," a concerned resident was heard to say.

Block spokesman, Leon T. Lame, accused the IC of using "clear-cut" tactics. "We know the ways of these evil corporations. They would just as soon slash and burn-out our whole block. We will stand together on this."

Mr. Lame contends that many are afraid to identify themselves to the press for fear of IC reprisals. "IC conductors will toss pea gravel down on us if we dare to speak out."

Nervous Nimby, a block resident for more than 50 years, claims that the railroad hoodwinked homeowners. "They sent a letter stating that 'only minor trimming will be done'." When asked by a Herald reporter to produce the notice, Mr. Nimby pointed at an envelope on his fireplace mantel. Further investigation revealed that this envelope contained a past-due gas bill.

Others cited the tree removal as environmentally dangerous. "In these days of global warming, we should keep our green canopy of trees," screamed a resident, backing an Expedition out of her driveway.

Still others questioned the methods of IC crews. "Instead of using chainsaws, the IC should use a natural means of removing trees. A few beavers could be relocated from Jackson Park."

Longtime resident, Hans Christian Forester, lamented the tree removal. "These were great trees," he said, likening the trees to California coastal redwoods. "These fools are replacing our beautiful trees with an invasive species -- highway grass."

When informed that the trees removed were an invasive species known as the Tree of Heaven or Ailanthus, Mr. Forester barked at this reporter, "are you on the IC payroll now, you stooge?"

The Hyde Park-Kenwood Forestry Conference convened a fact-finding meeting on the IC tracks. Before the meeting was broken up by the 5:10 to Flossmoor, residents counted two pigeons, four crows, and two rabid squirrels made homeless by the needless clear-cut. The HP-KFC will consider proposals to raise funds to provide shelter for these displaced animals.

IC forester, Smokeless Da Bear, took exception to the complaints of residents. "These people are never satisfied. Let these cranks buy their own trees. I can't decide whether to use Agent Orange or napalm next year. "

When questioned about claims that highway grass is an invasive species, Mr. Bear stated "what are you talking about? This is grass that grows near highways. Apparently, Mr. Forester hasn't read much about invasive species, which are often found in highway corridors but are not called highway grass."
This post was inspired by "Metra riles Harper Ave with clearcutting move" in the 1/30/08 edition of the HPH.