Sunday, April 27, 2008

Park 52 Review

posted by Elizabeth Fama

Kleiner's signature: stenciled walls and copious red velvet.

Note: If you can't slog through a long blog entry, feel free to scroll to the bottom for the QUICKIE REVIEW.

Here is the...

You should go to Park 52. All of you. You'll have a good time, and then we can talk about what you liked and didn't like. It turns out that it's not my style place, but I can tell that many people will love it, and (hooray!) that's progress.

Park 52 feels like some of Jerry Kleiner's other restaurants in many ways (Red Light, Opera, and Room 21). I don't care if it's a little formulaic, though. The fact is, Hyde Park deserves a Red Light. Hyde Park deserves a Room 21. The interior is trendy but not off-putting. The food is upscale, but rich and hearty, with large portions. Maybe too large. (If any restaurateur asked me, "What's the one thing the average Hyde Parker wants in a dining experience?" I'd have to say with a discouraged sigh, "Large portions.")

When you enter, the space is open with long sight lines, a bar on the south wall, and stairs on the east wall that lead enticingly to what must be private dining rooms. Without a foyer I'm not sure the revolving door will be defense against the cold when we're having a sub-zero, gusty night, but maybe they'll hoist up even more of the ubiquitous red velvet in the entryway during winter months. There are colorful light fixtures with gigantic fabric shades. The velvet upholstery on the chairs makes them look like Pee Wee Herman dominoes, with large, multi-colored buttons. The walls are ragged, stenciled, stippled, name it, the faux finisher has done it. There are celebrity photos on the walls -- not my favorite art, but like everything at Park 52, the aim is not for "unique" but rather "highly serviceable."

The menu is simple, with few choices, which is better than too many. I've heard people describe the genre as American Bistro, which must mean high-class bar food. There are honkin' sized cuts of beef with enormous cottage fries, chicken, salmon, and a pile of short ribs slathered in BBQ sauce (with a few apologetic strands of carrot slaw). The only vegetable sold a la carte is succotash, which I count as a starch. I'm not a wine expert, but the list seems respectable -- decent choices in what might be considered a mid-range price. I had a margarita, and it was unfortunately a mix.

Our waitress, Nia H., was top notch. In contrast to Peter Rossi's waiter a week ago, Nia did everything she was supposed to do, in the right order, with grace and relaxed charm.

I ordered the seared tuna with apple crisp salad as my appetizer, and my husband and I shared the spinach salad with dried cherries and jicama. The tuna was perfectly cooked, with a thin crust of breading on the outside. The apple crisps were not crispy in the least, but they were cute, and the dressing on their little bed of endive was fresh and nice. The cherries were a sweet addition to an otherwise unremarkable spinach salad. For my main course I ordered the roasted whitefish because Nia said it was one of the lighter things on the menu. It was beautiful to look at, but overcooked, and the presentation didn't make it seem light. For one thing, the bed of curly fries was too tough to break into along with a forkful of fish, so I hacked away at it separately. I think you can see in the photo that the curly fries are sort of a "block" under the fish. Perhaps it was fried and shaped ahead of time. The spinach between the fish and fries was salty.

My husband ordered the special: a grilled lamb loin with an eggplant-wrapped pillow of goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. Now, I'm a sucker for anything with eggplant, goat cheese, or sun-dried tomatoes, and the combination was wonderful (and of course rich). The lamb was exactly medium-rare, as he ordered it, and it was a nice cut of meat, too. That's a dish that could survive on the regular menu.

Our kids ordered the NY strip with cottage fries, the lone vegetarian offering (fettuccine with wild mushrooms and asparagus -- richer than it sounds and a near-miss "meh" sort of dish), and that huge blob of short rib Hot Mess.

We were so full we didn't even contemplate dessert. But given that Istria Cafe is almost on our way home, we broke down and got a couple of gelati, sat in the outdoor seating, and enjoyed the rest of a warm spring evening together.

I was so intrigued that Kleiner decided to put pictures of Audrey Hepburn in the women's room of two of his restaurants that I asked my husband, "Did you notice if the photos in the men's room were the same as the ones in Room 21?" He said, "No, here they were softer core, not full frontal nudity." My fourteen year-old son immediately agreed. Yes, readers, it turns out Jerry thinks that women want to see high class images of Audrey Hepburn while they pee, and men (and boys) want nameless females in lingerie spreading their legs for the camera.

Park 52 is a very nice addition to the neighborhood, and well done overall, but not my style. The menu is upscale enough to count as trendy, but the food is hearty, not fussy. The interior design is nouveau bordello. The food was presented well, the ingredients were good, the waitress and busboys were helpful. The downside is that other than the salads, the dishes are almost uniformly heavy, salty, and rich -- not something I want to eat often. The prices are high ($7 for a salad, $12-14 for an appetizer, up to $28 for a main) but no higher than this experience would be anywhere in the south loop or north side. If you're like me, you'll be quite happy with a salad, an appetizer, and a glass of wine. And next time, if the coast is clear, I'm ducking into the men's room to take a gander at the art.

Friday, April 25, 2008

It's Friday and Istria/Cornell is OPEN

posted by chicago pop

Why is this day different from all other days? asks the child of his father.

Because on this day, Istria Cafe opened its branch on Cornell, the father replies.

Yay, and though they were held in bondage by Pharoah's armies of permit inspectors -- some 19 years old and unqualified, others qualified for corruption, the rest caught up in Pharoah's Mother of All Bureaucracies -- today the coffee-makers are free to brew espresso for commuters.

And for this we are thankful, and dip our biscotti in honey.

And on this day, we will only drink Red Bull, to remember the 2+ years we waited for coffee at this location. And though we hold no grudges against Pharoah, because Istria was once in bondage, we see now all the other small businesses that still are.

Woe to cheap landlords and to other harassers! May the stones of their neglected and overpriced buildings crumble upon their heads.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Report From 53rd & Cornell Community Meeting

posted by Richard Gill

The developer, L3, is seeking a zoning change, which requires approval of a Planned Development (PD). The April 23 public meeting was among the requirements for the PD process, which is expected to take about 12 months.

John Roberson represented L3; he is a former Chicago Buildings Commissioner. Joe Antunovich represented Antunovich Associates, the project architect. The new Catholic Theological Union building, on Cornell at 54th, is one of their recent projects.

The 53rd & Cornell project proposal has changed somewhat since the original proposal. It is now a rental building, instead of condominium--a change driven by the current market. The "affordable-housing" units (15% of the total 206 apartments) are in the building, instead of off-site. The building is 20 stories tall (to incorporate the affordable units), instead of 17. Off-street parking will be provided for the ground-level retail establishments. (There was some light-hearted banter about bringing back the Tiki Lounge.) The parking entrance is on Cornell, and there are 1.19 parking spaces per apartment. A small section of property is to be transferred to the adjacent town homes. The PD now includes the Akiba Schecter parking lot across Cornell (which will remain a parking lot) instead of the commercial building across 53rd Street.

The proposed L3 building is adjacent to the Metra 53rd Street station, and is considered a Transit Oriented Development.

L3 says it anticipates debt-equity financing for the whole project--no government money.

Some other details: Pets allowed, laundry machines in units, roof garden above garage. Affordable-Housing units to be scattered throughout the building; same size as market-rate units, but maybe with different finishes.

About 80 to 100 people attended this meeting, which was civilized on an absolute basis (not just civilized by comparison with Hyde Park meetings).

The next step will be a meeting of the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council, Monday May 12, 7PM at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club. That meeting, too, will be open to the public.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Upcoming Events: Cornell & 53rd Development / 53rd Street Vision Workshop Part II

posted by chicago pop

Two things coming up that readers may be interested in:

53rd & Cornell Development
Alderman Preckwinkle will be hosting a meeting Wednesday evening to discuss plans for possible development at this location. Time, date, and location are --

7:00 PM, Wednesday, April 23
Congregation Rodfei Zedek, 5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd.
Info about meeting and parking at Alderman's office: 773-536-8103

53rd Street Visioning Workshop Part II
See flyer above. Details are --

Saturday, May 3
Kenwood Academy 5015 S. Blackstone
RSVP to: 773-536-8103 or

Monday, April 21, 2008

What Servers Need To Know - a HP Primer

I wince every time I go into a restaurant in HP. I expect incompetent service and I usually get my way. Last night's experience at Park 52 was no exception. Beth Fama is planning a full review post soon, but the service was not up to snuff. It wasn't a matter of delays which one might expect in a new restaurant (which has been open 2 weeks); it was a matter of gaffes. It seemed to me as though no one had bothered to train the wait staff in the fundamentals.

I hope things get better as HP deserves a restaurant that is well-run.

In hopes of promoting better service, below is a primer on the basic flow of events in any quality restaurant:

1. Host/Hostess seats party
2. Busboy asks water preferences, serves water
3. Waiter drops by for drink order
4. Waiter brings drinks, ask "do you want to hear the specials?"
5. Waiter asks if you are ready to order, if not comes back in a few
6. Waiter takes order, asks for refills on drinks
7. Waiter/other servers bring courses
8. Busboy/waiter clears entree plates
9. Busboy asks if you would like coffee/tea
10. Waiter drops by after c/t served and asks if you would like to see the dessert menu
11. After a discrete interval, the waiter drops by and asks "is there anything else?"
12 . Check is delivered

Park 52's untrained wait staff left off many of the above and muffed the others.

Can someone explain why Jerry Kleiner can pull this off at 21st and Wabash (Room 21) and not at 52nd and Harper?

Some will say -- give them a break, they just opened. Come on, people! This is a simple matter. Our waiter apologized profusely for his incompetence (this reminded me of a U of C undergrad waiter apologizing to me at the Court restaurant, years ago).

Stay tuned for Beth's review.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Visit to Morsbach's Downstate Medici Location

posted by chicago pop

A little while ago, we had the opportunity to visit Hans Morsbach's new Medici in downstate Normal, Illinois, home of Illinois State University. Readers may recall that we posted on this development last October. About a month ago, we decided to check it out in person.

The food was pretty good, as was the selection of locally brewed beer, served from the capacious bar that Morsbach can't have on 57th Street. But the most delicious thing of all was the irony that less than 100 yards from the new Normal Medici, co-owned by one of the most vocal opponents of a proposed Hyde Park Marriott Hotel, is ongoing construction on a 9 story, 229 room Marriott Hotel, with attached 43,000 square foot conference center and 500 spot parking deck.

Not in Mors-Bach Yard: Normal's Marriott and Convention Center

This complex is being built on land that was acquired through various means by the Town of Normal, and is intended to be an engine of commerce and activity in the city's older central area, literally right across the street from Morsbach's new Medici.

Normal's "Big Dig"

The new Medici, in addition to offering profitable alcoholic beverages, will most certainly also benefit from the new hotel and convention traffic across the street, all of which has been partially subsidized by the local municipality. Which, as we pointed out in our original post, includes the nice historical recreation of the storefront that originally stood at the site of the Normal Medici.

The good people of the Town of Normal are under no illusion as to what's going on. They are much less conflicted than Hyde Parkers about what they want. It is urban renewal. It involves the use of eminent domain. It has required the displacement of some long-established businesses, the willing relocation of others, and the inclusion of major corporate businesses into the plan. There's an office on the main street that oversees it all.

As we posted back in October 2007,

While this particular project [the Normal Medici] involved no use of eminent domain and condemnation, the Town of Normal agreed to subsidize the Morsbach-Steinman redevelopment project to the tune of "up to 30 percent or $350,000 of the annual interest costs on their first mortgage, provide a $100,000 grant for life/safety work and a $15,000 facade improvement grant." (Bloomington-Normal Pantagraph, September 7, 2005).
Now, none of this would be as interesting as it is if Morsbach hadn't been one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed Marriott Hotel as the site of the current Drs Hospital in Hyde Park, or someone who felt that the threat of redevelopment at Harper Court was an ominous sign of a "second coming" of Urban Renewal.

But let's step inside.

That's a tree from Morsbach's Wisconsin tree farm, inside the restaurant. It's a nice space, with lots of the unique hand-crafted wooden stuff, and there's a helluva lot more light and room than in the Hyde Park location. Plus, there's booze.

To close out, we'll leave you with this tasty little excerpt from the menu at the Normal Medici, which offers an interesting perspective on the restaurant's storied history:

If only the Medici-Hyde Park were as happy to be part of the "refurbishing of this district" -- the one on the South Side of Chicago.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gentrification, From a Woodlawn Perspective

posted by chicago pop

Very Nice Map of Woodlawn

Woodlawn Wonder, one of our happy band of local South Side bloggers, shares an interesting take on gentrification in Woodlawn from the perspective of a black "urban pioneer" in a largely black neighborhood, in conversation with mostly young folks, some white, affiliated with the University of Chicago, who feel guilty about it.

Fascinating, Captain. It scrambles a lot of the usual categories we use to think about this issue.

Here's an excerpt, since I'm lazy, and it's a good read. Or just check out the blog it comes from, where you'll also get the latest skinny on the 3 new farmer's markets (see the Tribune's article also) opening up on the south side food desert.

Woodlawn Wonder reflects on the gentrification panel:

Naturally I was curious about one’s role in gentrification since it’s a much discussed and vilified topic these days. Since I’m a condo owner and by definition a gentrifier in Woodlawn, I had to stick my head in and see what all of this was about.

Perhaps I was slightly disappointed because of the un-preparedness of the panel.

Perhaps I was slightly disappointed because of the sparse turnout.

But one thing struck me as the discussion progressed, I’d bet you a million dollars that you’d never see a group of educated successful Black people beat themselves up over gentrifying a neighborhood.

Some say gentrifying, I say improving.

The panel was in the process of developing a brochure about responsible gentrifying. There seemed to be a lot of hand wringing by some people about gentrification in general.

People in attendance and the panel realized that good intentions and your personal budget often collide. As a result of finances and due to some people’s personal living preferences they have to (or choose to) live in “emerging neighborhoods.”

That’s a nice way of saying minority neighborhoods

I think it’s awfully conscious of the people at the forum to be concerned about being responsible gentrifiers.

But as far as I’m concerned, it’s called being a good neighbor.

And as we all know, you can’t teach consideration, manners or good taste.

Well maybe you can try.

What I think the young people in that room may not have considered that change is a constant in Chicago neighborhoods.

Humbolt Park wasn’t always Hispanic. Woodlawn wasn’t always Black. Some parts of Old Town and River North used to be the “red light district.”

Obviously block busting, redlining, overt racism and down right ignorance played a huge role in the changing of the guard in the residential areas.

As those of us in the Chicagoland area know, it’s not the neighborhood but who lives in it that drives how it’s perceived and the services it receives.

Hey that rhymed.

In a sort of neighborhood circle of life, older neglected neighborhoods are bound to be rediscovered by those seeking beautiful, architecturally interesting buildings.

Not to mention accessibility to public transportation and green spaces.

Older neighborhoods in the city are experiencing a renaissance. Naturally, gentrification will follow.

And while many opinions will continued to be expressed about the re-emergence of urban neighborhoods, a few things continue to ring true.

People who want affordable accessible homes aren’t the problem. They shouldn’t be treated as such.

If you don’t want the flavor of your neighborhood to change, purchase it. Short of eminent domain or a federal injunction, not much can be done to take it away from you.


And to my fellow forum attendees that happen to be white a small aside:

You don’t need a manual on how to be a good neighbor. In fact, I think it’s somewhat ridiculous to feel guilty or apologize for simply being who you are.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Who are the Real Preservationists?

posted by Peter Rossi

"Preservation" is a much used and much abused term. To my way of thinking, preservation of man-made objects such as buildings or engineering structures requires repair and/or restoration. One can preserve a river or forest simply by leaving it alone, but to abandon a man-made structure is not to preserve it.

The Faux Preservationists

Hyde Park is home to self-anointed "preservationists" who believe that it is only necessary to stop the bulldozers. After spooking local officials into halting change, these folks walk away to leave the structures abandoned and decaying. Examples of this breed include members of the preservation committees of the Hyde Park Historical Society and the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference.

Here are some prime examples of what these folks have "achieved."

Doctor's Hospital is an eyesore created by those who don't have any criteria as to constitutes a worthwhile building and who lack the perseverance and wherewithal to preserve the structure by finding another use for it.

Abandoned Doctor's Hospital

Shuttered Out Patient Entrance

Over several years, a major effort was made by a small group, the "Community Task Force," to stop all proposals for fixing the Point and restoring the Caldwell Landscaping. They boast of having raised more than $90,000 but have nothing to show for it.

Crumbling South Side of Point (photo by Beth Fama)

Local "preservationists" lobbied for the "preservation" of St. Stephens Church on Blackstone near 57th. They succeeded (with some help from an incompetent developer and intrusive neighbors) in creating another abandoned eyesore. Once a month or so, the dome gets daubed with a new coat of graffiti.

New Graffiti on St. Stephens

The First Unitarian Church of Hyde Park at 57th and University faced the problem of preserving the spire extending above its Gothic tower. Strapped for funds, the church was forced to tear it down which was cheaper than repairing it. Less than one half of the $90,000 raised to keep the Point from being fixed could have preserved a Hyde Park landmark.

Where's My Hat? Missing Spire on First Unitarian

The Accidental Preservationist

Hyde Park is home to one of the largest collection of theological seminaries in the nation. Seminary training is not a growth industry and many seminaries are struggling to maintain their historic quarters. Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) is one such institution. In 2006, a storm blew off limestone blocks from atop its beautiful brick and limestone tower. As luck would have it, this afforded the strapped institution the opportunity to fix their tower, thanks, in part, to an obliging insurance company.

CTS Tower Renovations

The Real Preservationist

The real preservationists in Hyde Park cannot be found in the empty street car station on Lake Park Avenue or in the back rooms of Cosimo's restaurant. The real preservationists are ensconced in the administration building at the University of Chicago.

We may all be aware of the major building program under way at the U, but few know about the huge set of preservation projects.

I provide a partial listing and some illustrations.

Rockefeller Chapel is undergoing a $21 million restoration. This sum does not include the new organ and restoration of the carillion.

Rockefeller Chapel Restoration

One of the oldest and most beautiful buildings at U of C is Ida Noyes Hall. The roof and tudor-like wooden details of this building had fallen into severe disrepair. The university is in the midst of a major effort to restore the building facade and roof.

Ida Noyes Roofing Restoration Detail

Construction of the Caesar Pelli-designed Ratner athletic center rendered the women's swimming pool at Ida Noyes obsolete. The Graduate School of Business just completed at $2.5 million reworking of this space to a study center. Preservation of buildings requires making changes in the use of the buildings without changing their character.

GSB Study Space in Old Ida Noyes Women's Swimming Pool

NIMBYs in our neighborhood frequently accuse the U of having designs on the old houses it owns along Woodlawn Avenue. Some would like to declare this an historical corridor, further frustrating any attempt to preserve these buildings.

The University has taken over 5710 S. Woodlawn and put on an addition to house the office of diversity. The NIMBYs would make this sort of change impossible and doom these houses to neglect.

Addition to 5710 S. Woodlawn Ave.

To compete against other top institutions, the Law School needed to upgrade student facilities. The Eero Saarinen Library tower posed a difficult problem - how to renovate in a manner consistent with the needs of the law school and the style of architecture? $25 million later, the Law School has created a gorgeous new space.

Law School Library Staircase

The fountain in front of the school is a distinctive landmark but also a barrier to pedestrians and contributes to a isolated feeling. The School is spending approximately $2 million to create a new zero-depth fountain that will convert into a pedestrian plaza in the winter months. In front of the fountain, a new winter garden is under construction on the Midway. Along with the new dorms at 61st and Ellis, this will go a long way to making a real South campus.

Law School Fountain Repair

This is only a partial list of the projects completed or planned by the University. The Mies van der Rohe designed SSA building will get all new windows in the summer of 2008. A $51 million gut rehab of the Searle (Chemistry) building will retain gothic symmetry on the quads but with a new interior. The University has poured over $27 million into renovations of International House. Burton-Judson is undergoing a multi-year facade and roof restoration at a cost of over $13 million.

Miesian SSA Facade

"You are being unfair, yet again," I can hear the NIMBYs chanting while carefully reading this post. The U of C is a wealthy institution, we can't possibly match the resources of a major university with a 6 billion+ endowment. The only thing we can do is scream "no."

You are wrong. First off, many local NIMBYs have the view that the University's interests are not aligned with the community, particularly on preservation. I think the facts speak otherwise. It is in the University's interest, perhaps more than any other institution in our neighborhood, to preserve their historical buildings and find ways of blending the new with the old.

Secondly, many NIMBYs actively discourage the University's preservation efforts by opposing all change and failing to recognize that there has to be a balance between preservation and change. We must be able to build great buildings, if only to have something that future generations fight to preserve.

Finally, some of our local NIMBYs have shown a remarkable commitment to the political process of opposing change. They are not much for the harder work of raising money and designing new structures to complement the old, though. Is this because they are naive and misguided or because the later is hard work that doesn't put you in the limelight?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Inside the Mind of A Chicago Alderman

posted by chicago pop

Skulls of Notable Aldermen
(Chicago History Museum Collection)

For folks who were wondering what in the world 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston could have been thinking when she decided to remove a heavily used bus stop near the University of Chicago, there was apparently no need for psychoanalysis. It was all about Chicago-style ward politics. You, big University, do things without asking, I take away your bus stop.

So the 171 bus stop at University and 57th is back. And so is the Editor's Blog. And thanks to the Maroon, we have a more nuanced sense of just what this bizarre little episode was all about.

Here at the vast underground complex of caves that is HPP headquarters, the emerging consensus seems to be that 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, who had initially made the broadly unpopular and sudden decision to remove the stop, with some shifting of rationale along the way, was engaged in a little tit-for-tat with the University for not following due-process in its transportation planning.

When the elephants fight, so the saying goes, the grass gets trampled; the grass in this case came close to being the riders of the 171 route, which might have made a point, but would have been asinine public policy.

Thanks in part to solid Maroon coverage letting us know what was going on, that didn't happen. So perhaps Hairston, as HPP analyst Elizabeth Fama has suggested, was "flexing her muscle," in anticipation of what the U of C's transportation guy Brian Shaw suggests might have been a wake-up call for the University as its South Campus projects come on line adjacent to Woodlawn.

Gunboat diplomacy, neighborhood style. Lessons learned all around, I suppose.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bus Stop #171 Meeting -- WAS YESTERDAY

posted by Elizabeth Fama

The four parking spaces Ald. Hairston is restoring are neatly pictured at the bottom of this February, 1982 photo of the west side of the Quadrangle Club. (Archival Photofiles [apf2-06083], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.)

Yesterday, Wednesday April 9th*, Alderman Leslie Hairston held a public meeting to talk about her removal of bus stop #171 from the corner of 57th and University. The meeting will be in Hutch Commons at 6:30 PM (5706 S. University Ave.).

*I'm so sorry I got the day wrong when I posted yesterday. Don't go to Hutch Commons tonight!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Harper Court Survey: Women Under 40 Say 'Yes' to Everything

posted by chicago pop

Preferred Performance Activity at the New Harper Court
(Ashley Dupré Spring Break 2005)

Who would have thought that the stodgy HPKCC would produce a survey that conformed to every frat boy's fantasy? Or the legal script being used by defense lawyers for Girls Gone Wild producer Joe Francis?

Truth can be stranger than fiction, gentle reader. The results of the "Community Priorities for Harper Court Redevelopment" survey are in and the biggest news is this: almost twice as many survey respondents were female as male. Most of them were between 19 and 39. And they said "yes" to virtually everything.

While this may certainly be fantasy material for the geezer types who write letters to the Herald, it also has the less arousing effect of draining the survey results of much useful meaning. Especially when we know that in our frigid little corner of lakefront reality, let alone in any healthy relationship, the headline statement on this post rarely holds.

No one says "yes" to everything, as much as we might like them to. So something must be up.

For survey results to be meaningful, they have to indicate relative preferences, and be designed to do what survey-makers call "force discrimination." This has nothing to do with national guardsmen or Brown vs. the Board of Education. It's about making people think about trade-offs, and forcing them to establish hierarchies among what may be competing or conflicting desires. You do it by giving them a choice between two or more options.

Lake Park between 52nd and 53rd, ca. 1956
(before the HPKCC helped tear it down)
Archival Photofiles [apf2-04028], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Basically, the way the survey was set up, people were not asked to choose between one package of goods, and a second package of goods that may not "fit" with the first. Say, for example, making Harper Court a space port for luxury moon shots, or a floating casino. Can't be both at once, even if people might want both when asked about either option separately.

Take the first 4 questions of the survey. Survey respondents were given 4 possible goals for Harper Court and asked to rank them from 5-1, very important to not important. Respondents ranked 3 out of 4 of the goals as very important, with the majority chosing "important" for the fourth goal.

The same thing happens with urban design. Everyone wants to "make the landscaping welcoming, with trees, seating, and flowers." Everyone also wants to "strengthen the pedestrian character of 53rd Street." Everyone even more wants to "provide well-lit ambiance at night."

It keeps going. Everyone and their mother wants a "multilevel parking garage to serve Harper Court and the Hyde Park business district." Everyone and their activist granola neighbor with the 6-foot vermiculture tower wants HC to be "accessible day and night, with improved transit and handicapped access." People only started to get a little apathetic when asked about "planned and separated access for service vehicles and delivery," and I don't blame them.

The most telling product of this flaw emerges in the most interesting data: "Development Components," or, what kinds of stuff do people want to see in a new Harper Court? The big categories are, by a long shot, restaurants (61% very important), public space (51% very important), a movie theater (39% very important), followed by retail amenities. All of this fits with the overwhelming preference for making Harper Court a "destination," which it currently is not.

Here's the rub. No one expressed preference for any of the other things you need to make a successful urban development with restaurants, retail, and a movie theater. Those other things are what give you density, and density, as the sponsors of the December 2007 53rd Street worskhop and Aaron Cook are both aware, is absolutely fundamental to any successful commercial redevelopment of Harper Court.

The things that would get you density -- a hotel, office space, new housing, were all ranked by a majority as "not important."

That's a problem. Because you can't get the good stuff without all the boring gray stuff like condos and offices. It won't wash, no one will build it. If anything, preferences like these might suggest to a builder that this community doesn't really want change after all; they want to keep their public space, a handful of restaurants, and a few languishing curio shops.

That's clearly not the case, but this survey didn't manage to bring it out. Its primary failing, by not forcing discrimination, was to fail to hold the issue of density front and center and make people connect the dots between what they want, and what they need to get it.

In that respect, the survey was a failure, and certainly did less to make the connection between the realities or urban economics, and the unconstrained wanderings of consumer desire.

Ashley Dupré Does Pro-Bono Gig For HPKCC Board Meeting

Sunday, April 6, 2008

On the Pavement: Istria/Cornell and Park 52 Coming Soon

posted by chicago pop

Wow. We needed that little break. So now we're back, and ready to raise a little more ruckus.

So let's start the new quarter with some uplifting news. Word is out that Jerry Kleiner will be opening Park 52 -- for real -- on April 8. That's this Tuesday.

Let's hope that competition from the new arrival gives Chant, with its good-looking decor but still-struggling menu, the kick in the pants it needs to break out of the bland pan-Asian cul-de-sac that left us somewhat disappointed last fall.

The savory irony of Kleiner's arrival, hopefully no less savory than the dishes we soon hope to sample at Park 52, is that while the hoary Hyde Park talking shops have been spinning their wheels about Harper Court, a local entrepreneur walked in and did something about it.

Right next door. In fact, this seems to be a trend with the most interesting things going on in the neighborhood: where there's less talking going on, more things are happening. Did we need a survey to get Park 52? Zaleski & Horvath Market? Hyde Park Produce?

But that's not all. Anyone who walks down Cornell weekday mornings has surely noticed the activity behind the shredded window papering at Istria's north Hyde Park location. The windows have been etched with the offerings soon to be had, and the coffee machines have been spotted against the wall.

Once the hardware's in, there's no going back. I'm already looking forward to my first morning café au lait at a sun-dappled table, beside the broad windows of the new Istria.