Thursday, May 29, 2008

Farmers' Markets and Big MACs

61st Street Farmers Market: Saturdays, 9AM-2PM

The 61st Street Farmers Market is finally here! From Saturday, May 17 through October 25 (9AM-2PM), the 61st Street Farmers Market will bring sustainably and regionally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses, bakery items, and more to all residents of Woodlawn, Hyde Park, and the surrounding neighborhoods! Each week, we will provide an update on our website about market happenings.

We will be welcoming new vendors and additional produce in the next weeks, as we move into summer and fruits and vegetables ripen and become available. Farmer Ron Bruno, a new vendor, will be bringing pasture-raised chicken, beef, pork, rabbit, and goat, Amish cheese, noodles, eggs, baked goods, jams and jellies.

We accept LINK cards.

Please support this community endeavor by becoming a regular market patron. The market is located on 61st Street, between Dorchester and Blackstone Avenues.


got something to say to MAC?'s your chance!


Wednesday, June 4 at 6:00 p.m.
McCormick Lounge
Reynolds Club, 5706 S. University Avenue

MAC residents, interested students, and neighbors are invited to join MAC Principals and Managers for a conversation about apartment conditions and resident concerns

dinner will be served

event is free and open to the public • sponsored by Student Government, the Southside Solidarity Network, and the Student Retail Committee • for more information contact Hallie at or (773) 896-6533

Sunday, May 25, 2008

U of C: Guardian Angel, Despot, or Sucker?

posted by Peter Rossi

In recent years, our favorite (and only) neighborhood university has gone on a buying binge. First, Doctor's Hospital and the Hyde Park Theatre and related buildings at 53rd and Harper. Then a multi-million dollar bail-out of the Co-Op. This was followed by the purchase of the radioactive Harper Court. Most recently, another transfer payment to take over the Chicago Theological Seminary.

All told, these various purchases and subsidies are close to topping the $75 million mark. We haven't seen this kind of activity since the old Urban Renewal days. It mirrors work that other universities are doing.

The Guardian Angel

There has always been a sense in which the U has been the buyer of last resort for HP, somewhat like the Federal Reserve. If things get bad, we can always count on the U to bail out the neighborhood. The Hyde Park Theater building is a case in point. Neighborhood theaters are a thing of the past (why settle for one screen when you can have your choice of 15 at AMC with parking too!). It was clear no one would buy this abandoned building. So along comes the U, patiently plunking down its millions and engaging a top notch developer to make something of the old Cinema Paradiso.

The same story was played out with Doctor's Hospital. Who is going to spend $50,000 a year to send the kiddies to the U and feel good about it when you can't even stay near the campus? The various units of the U spend millions each year to feed and house visiting faculty and speakers in downtown hotels. It seems very logical to build a hotel on the site of this eyesore. An auction was held and guess who suffered from winner's curse? This whole deal has gone sour as local NIMBYs hid behind preservation and labor issues to stop the U dead in its tracks.

Harper Court has suffered from NIMBY attention. The HP-KCC (in the person of its "preservation task force") rushed in to control this development under the assumption that there would be a long list of suitors willing to develop under the most intrusive conditions. No one was stepping up to the plate, so again our white knight reached into his wallet.

We have been over the Co-Op many times here in this blog. But the bottom line is that the University forgave past due rent and satisfied the Co-Op's creditors with bushels of cash. Again, one could argue that this was absolutely critical for the neighborhood and the U. Who would live in a neighborhood without a functioning supermarket, however great Peapod is?

The latest and largest (more than $40 million) investment is the take-over of the Chicago Theological Seminary at 58th and University. These buildings will house the new Milton Friedman Institute (there is even a chapel to worship the free market!). It is easy to make the argument that this is a great deal for the university. The CTS buildings are right in the middle of the campus and are also very striking. The Milton Friedman Institute is a smart move to attract donors who want to honor Milton and the economic principles that, as the Wall Street Journal put it, let the University of Chicago win the Cold War.

The Despot

This flurry of activity and huge investment is sure to stir up our local conspiracy theorists. The U is an evil empire that reveals an arrogance that makes Bill Clinton look bashful. The U will only pay lip service to community input. The U and its wealthy donors will build academic temples inlaid with gold and tony shops to satisfy the temporary residents (students) and fussy faculty.

The problem with this theory is that it presupposes that the incentives of the University are different from that of the community. This is clearly false. It is very much in the interest of the University to have a vibrant neighborhood. Those who think that the University only wants luxury condos and expensive shops are woefully ignorant of the U payroll. Thousands of staff members and graduate students pull down modest pay and want to live in our neighborhood.

Never Give a Sucker An Even Break

My biggest worry about this latest spending spree is that the U won't pull it off. The U has an spotty track record in managing and developing commercial real estate.

A review of a few recent episodes is in order. A prime example is the Hyde Park Theater mess. As the Herald reported this week (yes, friends, once is a blue moon reporting can be found there), the U has just fired the developer for this parcel. This is worth thinking about as this developer (Brinshore and Baum) has an excellent reputation. However, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the whole idea of developing the Theater site is flawed. 53rd street is not Damen Ave. It can barely support a collection of marginal shops (HPP and Freehling Pot and Pan, notwithstanding). Where are the customers going to come from to browse the cute boutiques this development was to feature? The immediate central Hyde Park neighborhood doesn't have enough customers, with enough income to support specialty shops. Either you have to attract customers from elsewhere (but you need to provide parking) or you have to increase the number of residents.

Perhaps, the U fired the HP Theater developer in order to coordinate with the development of nearby HC. However, this does not explain why they chose to start this process with Brinshore and Baum in the first place. Local NIMBYs have been effusive in their praise of the HP Theater development "process." The fact that it proved to be another dead end keeps up their dismal track record.

The Co-Op fiasco is a lesson in commercial real estate management as well. In 1999, the Hyde Park Shopping Center (owned by U of C) was renovated and Co-Op signed to a long-term lease. The plans for renovation were singularly lacking in ambition and mass. There just aren't enough stores in the center to attract customers. The Co-Op footprint is way too small to attract the interest of major chains. Finally, we all know how Whole Foods was shown the door!

There are other examples. There have been all sorts of failures in attracting restaurants to the "golden rectangle." Any one can see the reason (even Hans Moresbach gets it) -- the precinct is dry. This needs changing before you start subsidizing restaurants.

There is also a real concern that the U is not very savvy in negotiating real estate deals. Harper Court and the Shoreland are cases in point. The U paid 6.6 million for HC and sold the Shoreland for a song. The 6.6 million is more than other developers have offered for HC. And these other offers were made in heady times of inflated real estate values. A search of Cook County records tells the tale of the Shoreland. The U sold the property to a developer in 12/04 for $3,750,000 (based on tax stamps). The developer flipped the Shoreland for $10,000,000 in 9/06.

In the end, the success of the U in bringing about a change in our neighborhood is critical for us all. I hope President Zimmer is thinking long and hard about bringing more expertise in commercial real estate to bear on these critical developments. But this is not all, there has to be a concerted effort to increase the density and population of Hyde Park. This means supporting large scale residential development in East Hyde Park and elsewhere.

We can't afford to develop the reputation as the only prime area in Chicago that actively discourages development. We all need to do a better job of selling our local officials on change and making the case that the 50 cranks who show up at "community meetings" don't speak for us all. The U needs to step up and be counted on this one.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hyde Park Herald Profiles Local Tomatoes

posted by chicago pop

"Mr. Stripey"

I love tomatoes. I can't stand having to go 8 to 9 months between growing seasons for fresh ones. I'm also a FREAK about heirlooms. I eat them like apples.

Which is why I was delighted to read the Herald's discussion of the tomato attraction at the 49th Annual Hyde Park Garden Fair.

It's such a charming piece of journalism, I'd like to share it with you:

Tomatoes were a major attraction. There were indeterminate types, for those with large back yards. Indeterminate tomatoes grow in vines and generally need staking or cages. The determinate, or compact pot-grown varieties, were available for apartment or condo dwellers.

Tomato varieties ranged from the basic Early Girl to another early variety, the Soldaki, which yields a meaty, 14-ounce fruit. Another usual suspect was the ever popular Roma, or plum tomato, with the bold flavor needed for sauces and canning.

Some unusual heirloom tomatoes were especially enticing in displayed photos, helping customers look forward toward summer. "Mr. Stripey," a low-acid fruit with a mild flavor is actually striped orange and red.
In other news, Charlotte Des Jardins made it clear in a letter to the editor that she still doesn't get that no one cares about Harper Court not being an artists' colony.

Which is funny, because there's a lot of art going on in Hyde Park, just not at Ms. Des Jardins' shelter for wayward dinosaurs: the Hyde Park Art Center, the Experimental Station, the Little Black Pearl, the Renaissance Society, and the Smart Gallery.

But Ms. Des Jardins wants an art colony right there, because that's what they meant to do 45 years ago, so it must have been a good idea, and it's still not too late to try to make it work.

Sort of the way they meant to dock blimps on the Empire State Building.

Anyone know how that worked out?

And finally, and most newsworthy of all, the name of Sharonjoy A. Jackson made no appearance whatsoever in a letter from newly-formed East Hyde Park Action Committee, which apparently is distinct from the Lake Front Task Force of Super Hero fame, and seems to be making a point of conducting itself in a rational manner that does not involve being persecuted by the Alderman. This is, of course, to be commended, even if the letter informs the readers of a meeting that took place one month ago.

That's another week of local news, folks. So, in the spirit of the low-acid Mr. Stripey, we'll leave you with a photo of the man who brings you low-acid news, every week.

"Mr. Stripey"

Sunday, May 18, 2008

And Speaking of "Luxury Condos for the Super-Rich!"...

posted by Elizabeth Fama

Even though the Solstice building currently looks like a paper cut-out...

...on Thursday I attended the Grand Opening, to view a "furnished model." The model is a mock-up, built inside some trailers on the northeast corner of the Solstice property.

This is the reception area, with a looping video showing computer-generated views of the interior and exterior of the building (complete with live-action actors), a scale replica of the building, and interactive computer screens I forgot to look at (I think they show the view from all the units in the building). I did remember to get a glass of white wine, however.

Here's the living room (and dining area) of the 3-bedroom model -- obviously with south views. The terrace is nice (note the grill), but those slanted windows made me dizzy. I'm not kidding. I didn't expect it from the architectural drawings, but in real life they disoriented me for a while until I got used to them, especially in juxtaposition with the straight steel posts of the guard rail on the terrace.

This is the kitchen, and that Sicilian guy is my brother.

The master bedroom mimics a northwest corner apartment. (The windows of the model have backlit digital images of the views, which, if you squint, are quite convincing.) My husband and I agreed that the north side of this building would be most desirable: no slanting windows, and no southern exposure to heat you up and to turn your brown Crate and Barrel sofa pink. In fact, the prices vary depending not just on size (two, three, or four bedrooms), but on elevation and view.

Bedroom One (side of building)

Bedroom Two (front of building)

Typical second bathroom (not master)

Amenities include a pool, a BBQ area, a sun-deck, and a garden on top of the garage structure. The pool is unfortunately not shaped to allow lap swimming, which is a mistake (Jeanne Gang, take note!), given the segment of the market that Solstice will be courting. There will also be a well-equipped health club and a fancy party room.

The price ranges are:

Two bedrooms: (1550 - 2300 sq. ft.) $480k - 1.1 mil
Three bedrooms: (2300 - 2800 sq. ft.) $940k - 1.5 mil
Four bedrooms: (3400 - 4200 sq. ft) $1.7 mil - 2.55 mil

My brother (the Sicilian one) and I disagreed on whether it's realistic to expect that people with that sort of money will choose to move to Hyde Park. I think that compared with what you get on the north side, these apartments may be a better value, and the proximity to the lake and Metra can't be beat. There are several north-side Lab School families waiting to move to the neighborhood, and discouraged by the lack of available houses close to school. I also wouldn't underestimate how much the presence of a Treasure Island in the neighborhood has removed at least one mental hurdle for high-end buyers. He thinks the price for a similar unit in the 1700 E. 56th building right down the block is less than half of that, so no one will pony up that kind of cash.

Word is that three units and two penthouses have already sold. I may be winning this argument.

Friday, May 16, 2008

NIMBY Chatter: Conspiracies Everywhere!

posted by chicago pop

HPP NIMBY Listening Station (Mobile Field Deployment -- Location Undisclosed)

Feel like something is missing in your life? Not getting the belly laughs you're used to from the Herald these days? Wonder if maybe things really have gotten less insane?

Well relax, because it's still pretty wacky out in the Nimboshpere, and our multiple HPP NIMBY Listening Stations can prove it. They are picking up all the chatter that doesn't rise to the level of Herald comic quality.

So without further ado, we'll give you what we in the trade call the "raw intel" and let you sort it out. Maybe you'll be scared. Maybe you'll cry. Maybe you'll wonder if the NIMBY-Establishment has finally run out of steam.

You can hash through all the misinformation yourself (yes, St. Stephens really is 7 stories tall at the top of the dome), the hysteria (they're taking away everything we love!), and the glorious, expansive paranoia (Preckwinkle + U of C + The City = SATAN!) and come to your own conclusions. All typos and such are from the original.

Date: May 7, 2008 9:31:52 PM CDT
Subject: [Good Neighbors] old church

Yikes!!! I just read today's Herald article about plans for
building a 7 story luxury condo building on the site of the
old church on Blackstone. The article said the developer had
been in contact with neighbors, but I live directly across
the street, and this is the first I or any one in my
building has heard of it. Had I been asked, I would have
strenuously opposed the plan. A seven story buiding would
dwarf other buildings on the block and cut off sunlight.
(What happened to the idea that new construction would be no
higher than the dome of the existing structure?) And the
condos start at $1.7 million!! What will that do to our
property taxes? What we need in this neighborhood is
affordable housing, not luxury condos for the super-rich! I
think we need to organize to oppose this plan. Maybe if
there is enough outcry from the neighborhood, we can stop it.
Date: May 9, 2008 1:35:26 PM CDT
Subject: [Good Neighbors] Re: old church

I agree with everything you say here and wonder if anything can be done to stop this. The issue has been "dormant" too long and perhaps people are apathetic. But it is wrong in every way you state - not to mention the parking ussues inherent with such a structure.
Date: May 14, 2008 3:55:42 PM CDT
Subject: [Good Neighbors] Re: Two big things this weekend
I agree wholeheartedly, and I wonder - How to things we value in our Community be saved? How do you plan to do this? The City, Preckwinkle, and the University constitute (if the Co-Op demise instructs us) and unbeatable combined force. I've heard rumors that plans to bring the Olympics to Chicago has plenty to do with these changes.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

U of C Buys Harper Court

posted by chicago pop

See both the internal University circular and the press release that follow:


To: Members of the University Community
From: David Greene, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives
Re: Harper Court announcement

I am pleased to report that the University has purchased Harper Court from the Harper Court Arts Council. The $6.5 million purchase is part of a joint project of the University and the City of Chicago to revitalize the retail environment on 53rd Street.

As President Zimmer indicated in his letter to the University community in March, at a time when the University is preparing for significant investments in academic programs and support for faculty and students, we also recognize the need to continue strengthening our surrounding communities. We are committed as part of this process to supporting economic development, including retail and commercial development in Hyde Park.

The Harper Court project, which was announced by Alderman Preckwinkle at yesterday’s meeting of the Advisory Council for the 53rd Street TIF (Tax-Increment Financing) District, will link Harper Court and the adjacent City Parking Lot as the site of a significant new commercial and retail development. We are grateful for Alderman Preckwinkle’s leadership in making this project a reality.

The University and the City have agreed that a comprehensive plan for this property represents a positive step toward creating a vibrant commercial corridor for Hyde Park that has been the subject of ongoing community discussions and surveys.

Going forward, we will pursue a City-mandated process designed to attract good ideas, high-quality developers, and active community input. The process will encourage developers to propose the best mix of uses for the site.

More information about the purchase and development of this property is available on the University’s website at

I look forward to updating you on the Harper Court project and encourage your engagement in the public input process.


May 13, 2008

The University of Chicago has purchased Harper Court from the Harper Court Arts Council for $6.5 million as part of a community planning process to revitalize the retail environment on 53rd Street.

Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th Ward) announced the joint project between the University and the City of Chicago at the May 12 meeting of the Advisory Council for the 53rd Street TIF (Tax-Increment Financing) District. It is the result of agreements between the City, Harper Court Arts Council and the University. The University of Chicago will lead the City-mandated development process, which will be designed to attract good ideas, high-quality developers and ongoing community input.

The first step of the development process will be to seek qualified development teams, who will submit detailed proposals for the best mix of uses for Harper Court and the City Parking Lot.

“I have brought together the parties—the City, the Harper Court Arts Council and the University—to facilitate this purchase and partnership. The project is part of an ongoing effort to explore redevelopment in the TIF district, which has already had much success, including bringing high-quality retail and entertainment businesses to the area,” Preckwinkle said.

University President Robert Zimmer described the University’s goals in the project: “The University has interest in fostering a lively and positive environment for residents and businesses in Hyde Park and beyond. Redeveloping 53rd Street is a priority identified by both campus and neighborhood communities. This project is representative of the University’s continuing efforts—in education, employment, health care and safety—to contribute to a vibrant and livable community.

“Ideally, this project will be reflective of the distinctive nature of Hyde Park and represent the best of Chicago’s mid-South Side.”

The Harper Court Arts Council will use funds from the purchase to continue its efforts in support of the arts and business development in Hyde Park and neighboring communities. The Harper Court Arts Council is the successor organization to the Harper Court Foundation, which opened the first shops in Harper Court in 1965. At the time, music and arts-related businesses dominated the commercial space, but a different mix of retailers gradually became tenants.

The shopping center now has 23 stores and restaurants, as well as a veterinary clinic. Current renters have received notification, and discussions have been held about timeline and available resources to help with relocation. Most Harper Court shops have month-to-month leases; these tenants have been assured that their leases will extend at least through 2008.

The University and the City have agreed that a comprehensive plan for developing Harper Court and the adjacent City Parking Lot represents a positive step toward creating the commercial corridor for Hyde Park, which has been the subject of ongoing community discussions and surveys.

Susan Campbell, the University’s Associate Vice President for Community and Government Affairs, described recent community efforts to re-imagine 53rd Street: “There has been a lot of good work done by a number of organizations. The 53rd Street Vision Workshop, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, the TIF Council, the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference and others have all made valuable contributions. Surveys and discussions have helped to build a shared vision.

“Going forward, we seek a productive dialogue that helps to anticipate and address outstanding issues and potential community priorities and needs.”

The public will be engaged through the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council. Prior to selection of a developer, the University and the City would present the preferred proposals to the public through the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council.

“Community discussions and surveys have generated a set of broad guidelines for 53rd Street development,” said University Chief Financial Officer Nimalan Chinniah. “We want to encourage more outdoor activity, greater diversity in dining and retail, and an environment that has more trees and landscaping. Parking and easy access will also be important considerations, and the development should carry forward, in some manner, the original purpose of Harper Court.”

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Celebrate! Orisha Wall is Coming Down.

posted by Elizabeth Fama

Thank goodness -- no, thank Irene Sherr -- the dilapidated sculpture on the 55th Street median just west of Harper Avenue is finally going to be removed.

Orisha Wall by Muneer Bahauddeen, 1986
Soon to be demolished.

There's no date set for its removal yet, but it's official. The City of Chicago Department of Transportation has sent a letter to the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce requiring its removal.

How did this happen? I'm glad you asked.

1) Irene Sherr's interest was piqued because the bloggers at Hyde Park Progress were foaming at the mouth about this sculpture, and about the fact that, since it straddles the line of the 4th and the 5th ward, neither alderman seemed willing or able to tear it down.

2) Because she's a woman of action, Irene contacted a lawyer specializing in art and artists, and dug around for documentation on the sculptures.

3) Here's what she found:

a) The City of Chicago received funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1986 for "Community Development Block Grant activities."

b) The Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce requested money for public art, and specifically for two sculptures -- the one that's coming down, and another created by Matt Freedman, that sits in Harper Court:

People Watching by Matthew Freedman, 1986.
(Interesting aside: Matt was paid less than half of what Muneer was paid. In fact, Matt was paid less than the amount it will take to remove Muneer's sculpture.)

c) As part of the 1986 grant agreement, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce was to keep at minimum $2,300 in escrow for the maintenance of the sculptures, or for their removal if the City requested it for any reason in the future.

4) Irene spoke with Jim Poueymirou at the Chamber of Commerce and with Robert Mason, at the Southeast Chicago Commission (SECC). Everyone agreed that something needed to be done, although another source told me that the Chamber initially thought maybe the sculpture should be saved and moved to an inside location (oy vay).

5) The SECC wrote a letter to the 4th and 5th ward aldermen, who both asked the Department of Transportation to check the condition of the sculpture.

6) The DOT wrote a letter to the Chamber saying "Due to the deteriorated state of the statue, the City requests that the Chamber either repair the statue or remove it from the property and restore the site." In that letter, the DOT estimated that the cost of removing the sculpture and restoring the median (which DOT will do) will come to $18,600.

7) Out of politeness (not a legal requirement), someone notified Mr. Bahauddeen that Orisha Wall was slated to be removed. He was disappointed. Apparently he has decided the decay is part of the artistic statement.

8) The Chamber of Commerce checked its coffers, and discovered -- oops -- there's only $1,200 in the escrow account.

9) Alderman Preckwinkle and Hairston offered to pay $9,000 each from their 2008 menu money.

10) The DOT says that removal and restoration of the median should occur this spring, this fall, or at the latest, next spring.

Post Script: in taking the second photo, I noticed that Matt Freedman's bronze sculpture, which is doing far better than Orisha Wall, is nonetheless in need of maintenance, or it too will begin to fall apart.

Um, Irene,...are you up for Round Two?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Chant and Repeat: 6 Months Later

posted by chicago pop

The photo of Chant's interior above -- which doesn't do justice to its calming charm -- is stolen from Time Out magazine, since by the time we had eaten our meals, my dining partner and I realized we hadn't smuggled a camera in to bootleg the whole experience. Next time, we promise, it will be on YouTube.

So we'll breath deep, exhale, and get to the point:

The prices at Chant are much more in line with the quality of the food than previously -- which is to say, no longer overpriced -- and the menu is solid. If you want hard-core Asian cuisine of any national or regional variety, you'll probably find Chant on the bland side. If you want squat-and-gobble Thai or Chinese, for which there is no lack in Hyde Park, you'll probably feel ripped off.

If, however, you want an awesome vibe -- there is no better date or couples restaurant in Hyde Park -- with gracious service, cozy seating, in-house liquor, together with well-done, varied albeit somewhat bland offerings of Asian fusion, you'll be relatively happy. We both were.

Six months after our first visit, the menu was almost unrecognizable, and neither of the entrées we ordered the first time around were available. The same is true, so we were told, of the chef, who was brought in a few months after Chant opened in fall 2007 to shape up the original, faltering, menu.

To begin with we shared an order of seafood shu mai in a lime dipping sauce, which struck me as unremarkable. It needs to be tweaked.

For her entrée, my partner took in the snapper with honey miso glaze, which was cooked artfully and presented well. With a side of carrots and sugar snap peas, along with some potato slices, it left her with no complaints. The sauce was reported to be a little salty, usually a sin to the East Asian palate, but we agreed that such is the nature of miso broth.

I thought I would put the kitchen to the test with beef tenderloin and so went for the Szechwan filet mignon, the restaurant's big ticket plate. I was not disappointed. The cut was choice and the meat was cooked as ordered (rare), with an understated char of peppercorn seasoning that linked up nicely with the equally light hoisin broth.

The highlights of this dish, however -- given that slabs of beef must generally stand on their own -- were the sides of wasabi mashed potatoes sake-sauteed baby bok choi, both of which were enjoyable counterpoints to the uniformity of the beef and helped keep up my momentum as I made it through the latter.

My partner ordered a side of white rice with her snapper, but it never came to the table. The waiter was very gracious about the mistake, and took it off our tab right away. Apart from this, we agreed that the service was fine -- not too cloying, but friendly and professional. Nothing objectionable, and certainly above the mean for the neighborhood.

Menu for 2

Hors d'oeuvres
Seafood Shu-Mai

Miso Glazed Red Snapper
Szechuan Crusted Beef Filet Mignon

Chant Mojito

Tab (Tip not included)

Chant, 1509 E. 53rd Street, Chicago, Illinois. Hours may vary.

773-324-9994 (Fax)
Sun-Mon Noon-10
Tu-Th 11:30-Midnight
Fri-Sat 11:30-1:00

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Preserving Indian Village Parking Lots: Behind the Powhattan, Narragansett, and Barclay

posted by chicago pop

The HPP intelligence network recently picked up a bit of electronic NIMBY chatter. Just a few whispers detected and processed at our global listening station, alerting us to the possibility that someone might decide to build a building near the Powhattan -- a tall one, maybe a little taller than the ones already there -- on some of the parking lots pictured below.

Prime Use of Lakefront Property

Whether the chatter is true or not, what is true is that the current use of this land for surface parking only is economically inefficient, and even wasteful, from the perspective of the local economy. Land given over exclusively to surface parking lowers the residential density of a neighborhood, which reduces the local trading area and makes it harder to do shopping close to home.

And it just looks like hell.

What do you think about the fact that in one of the sections of Hyde Park-Kenwood closest to the Lake, home to some of the most impressive interwar and post-war residential high-rise architecture in Chicago, and with some of the neighborhood's best access to public transportation, significant chunks of city blocks look like this:

Barclay/East End Parking Lot from Intersection of Cornell and East End Avenues, and 49th Street

The only reason these blocks are public eyesores paved for private parking is because this little area has been a real-estate black hole for nearly half a century. But, as an urban planner friend of mine put it when he saw these lots, "those aren't going to remain parking lots forever."

Local folks might want to get used to the prospect. At some point, someone is going to buy them out and allow them to pay to park in someone else's building.

On land this close to the lake, with such abundant transportation infrastructure, and already designed to accommodate high urban densities, it's practically inevitable. And it's probably a good thing.

A Little Piece of Manhattan (+ Surface Parking)
1640 E. 50th Street -- The Narragansett and Powhattan Buildings

Surface Parking Lot for 4940 S. East End and 5000 S. East End Avenue -- the Barclay and East End Buildings

Replace these parking lots with density of housing, and auto congestion will flatten or even decrease. Because whatever new building shows up on any of these lots, it will have its own parking, which will probably hold most people's cars stationary, going nowhere, for most of the week. It would also likely house things like convenience stores, or more amenities like Istria cafe.

It's all basic stuff. Which you'll know if you scan hipster-liberal zines like

As parking lots proliferate, they decrease density and increase sprawl. In 1961, when the city of Oakland, Calif., started requiring apartments to have one parking space per apartment, housing costs per apartment increased by 18 percent, and urban density declined by 30 percent. It's a pattern that's spread across the country.

In cities, the parking lots themselves are black holes in the urban fabric, making city streets less walkable. One landscape architect compares them to "cavities" in the cityscape. Downtown Albuquerque, N.M., now devotes more land to parking than all other land uses combined. Half of downtown Buffalo, N.Y., is devoted to parking. And one study of Olympia, Wash., found that parking and driveways occupied twice as much land as the buildings that they served. (Katharine Mieszkowski,, October 1, 2007).
So if and when the day comes that someone wants to build something reasonable on any of these parcels -- say something comparable to the Powhattan or the Newport in size or shape -- don't be fooled by cries of "Congestion!" or "What about parking!"

These are the neuroses that keep Hyde Park's biggest NIMBYs tossing in bed at night, but like most neuroses, they have little to do with reality.

The cry that you probably should take seriously is this one: "Not another high-rise to block my view of the Lake!" In the 4th Ward, we've seen the lengths to which people will go to protect the "views" over which they have no proprietary rights.

Trees illegally felled near 44th Place and Lake Shore Drive, allegedly to open a view of the Lake from nearby 4th Ward condos.

If anyone already living in a high-rise between 51st and 49th Streets cries out about another high-rise going up next door, we'll be able to expand the NIMBY taxonomy beyond the owners of quaint Victorian frame houses on Harper Avenue.

The new species, if it is ever discovered, may well include inhabitants of vintage Deco towers, and perhaps a few Modernist ones. Specialists at that point will have to recognize this species as a local variant of the world-wide "last one in the door" genus (from the Greco-Latin nimbyotopus rex) or:

"I've got mine, now you stay out."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

53rd Street Workshop Part II This Saturday

posted by chicago pop

Date: Saturday, May 3, 2008
Time: 8:30-9AM Registration/9-12 Workshop
Place: Kenwood Academy
5015 S. Blackstone
RSVP: 773-536-8103 -- or --
Details: Dress for walking, bring a camera