Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Herald's Chicken: Translating NIMBY Speak

posted by Peter Rossi

This week's edition of the Herald (7/30/08) contains a classic example of NIMBY-speak -  the letter entitled "Come Out to Doctor's Hospital Meeting."  This letter is difficult to decipher without a Rational-NIMBY dictionary.  For the benefit of our readers, I will attempt a translation.

The letter starts with a hollow appeal for readers to come to yet another public meeting on the fate of the Doctor's Hospital.  I say hollow as the author does not provide the meeting's location.  I'm told the address is posted inside the shuttered offices of the HP Historical Society, but this is just a rumor.  

Next comes an assertion that there are "important concerns ... expressed by the community."   While not an outright misrepresentation, the author hopes to convince the reader that the entire community agrees with what is little more than just his own opinion.  This tactic also absolves the author of any responsibility if the eventual (and likely) outcome is that the Doctor's Hospital remains abandoned.

Had enough?  Please read on. I haven't even got to the juicy parts!

What do you suppose is the first "concern?"  "Diminished" parking and "Congestion."  This is classic Hyde Park NIMBY dialect.  Doctor's Hospital is located on a virtually abandoned stretch of Stony Island Blvd.  The author is well aware of how preposterous the congestion attack is for anyone familiar with the DH site.  So instead of giving the exact location, he casts wider aspersions, referring to the "southeast corner" of our neighborhood.   "Congestion" is the HP NIMBY rallying cry.  It sounds so much less selfish than admitting that you want to keep the public parking space in front of your house for your own use.

Number 2 is also an out-dated classic.  The hotel proposed by the property's owner, The University of Chicago,  has "excessive height and bulk."   You would think the U wants to build a replica of the Merchandise Mart on the spot instead of a hotel.  Who is the arbiter of what constitutes "excessive?" -- why the author, of course.  

Number 3 is the claim that what is proposed is of "mediocre quality."  Not only do our local NIMBYs assert control of all development in our neighborhood but somehow view themselves as having a superior aesthetic sense.

The University unwittingly threw a bone to the NIMBYs by involving White Lodging in the project.  Generic "congestion" and "excessive height" statements can now be accompanied by claims of "questionable labor practices."  Our local NIMBYs,  who have done more than any other neighborhood group to harm and exclude people of modest income, now claim to be the friend of the working man.  

It is interesting that our "preservationist" author leaves concerns about "demolishing" the "historic" Doctor's Hospital to number 5.  "Historic" is NIMBY for "old."  

NIMBY-speak likes to invoke the worst images of change, so our author can't resist the D-word.  Fellow NIMBYS, they want to DEMOLISH the existing building.  Chicago is the most architecturally significant city in the world because its citizens understand that buildings can and should be torn down if needed.* 

If your back is against the wall and change might happen,  the garden variety NIMBY thinks -- "how can we delay progress indefinitely?  I've got it, let's study it!"  We need a comprehensive "development plan" for the three blocks on Stony Island from 56 to 59th, proclaims our scribe.

The next paragraph is a masterpiece of inconsistency.  "Whether one is for or against a new hotel, these issues need to be resolved."  Sounds very reasonable (but didn't he just say we needed to study it forever?).  As you read further, however,  the polemic takes over. The issue must be resolved "in favor of ... traditional character and ... future best interests."   This is very clear.  There is no tenable position in favor of the hotel proposal, as it can't possibly keep "traditional character" alive in HP.

Next we have a longish paragraph the gist of which is  -- hey, we NIMBYs designed a great plan for the site that keeps the DH building.  What's more, you folks who want the new hotel are just plain dumb -- don't you know that you can get a tax break for "preserving" the old building? This is a classic NIMBY tactic -- hope that the reader won't do his homework and will tell his friends -- those preservationist types have already figured it out and it will be cheaper!  

It is true that some of our NIMBY friends consulted an architecture firm but no one really knows what transpired.  Details are very hard to come by.  As for the tax credit argument, I believe that Representative Chicken Little has proposed a tax break for buildings constructed of solid gold.  Using our author's peculiar logic, this means that gold buildings would be cheaper than brick.

Instead of a real alternative, we have people who merely claim to have an alternative.  I would believe our local NIMBYs if they found someone willing to plunk down the $20 million+ that any proposal (with or without the D-word) will require.  The only real alternative they have proposed is to continue to have an abandoned building on prime HP  real estate.

The author loses restraint altogether in the last paragraph.  First, the author reminds the Alderman (Leslie Hairston) of her awesome powers to stop any significant development.  The sentence serves a dual purpose -  insult the Alderman (doesn't she know her powers?) and remind would-be NIMBYs that all they need to do is pressure the Alderman.

The last sentence is a threat directed squarely at the Alderman.  You better play ball and "exercise leadership" on "behalf of the community."  For exercise leadership, translate that to "do as I say."  For community, translate that to "me."  

Let's understand this letter for what it is.  There is no on-going development in our community (Solstice and Village Center are merely plans at this point).  The only construction of any significance takes place on the U of C campus.  This NIMBY author wants our neighborhood to stay that way -- a backwater.  We can't afford this unless we want our community to die.

*The Chicago Fire, firm bedrock and cheap land also played a role.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hyde Park Herald Gets Uppity Over Promontory Point Swimming Ban

posted by Elizabeth Fama

Rogue swimmer, scofflaw, repeat offender

The Herald's fiery, retro-anti-establishment editorial was, to quote the very frank C-Pop, "A doozy." The editor's tirade over the City of Chicago enforcing the no-swimming ban at the Point is laughable, given that the Herald was instrumental in rejecting the Compromise Plan, which included sanctioned deep-water swimming. As the mouthpiece for the Save the Point group, the Herald has helped to stall the re-building of the Point for seven years. I'm sorry, but it was the original (2001) Task Force for Promontory Point that won swimming rights in the Compromise Plan, not the Holy Point Savers, who have been heard to say they'd sacrifice swimming for aesthetics if the Preservation Gods required it.

And don't get me started on Crystal Fencke's Page One story about Fabio Grego's ticket from the police. She didn't learn a thing from HPP's blow-by-blow dismantling of her previous, inaccurate Point article: she's still dutifully calling the Compromise Plan a "demolition," "concrete-and-steel" plan, even though it reuses all of the existing limestone blocks, and even though any plan will require the revetment to be completely dismantled before it's re-built. But given that her own editor is misleading his readers by pointing to the "monstrosity" between 51st and 54th Street as the design the Point Savers are fighting against, I shouldn't be surprised.

Now on to the Letters-to-the-Editor section, and the strange notion prevalent there that "We've always swum here" somehow means the City shouldn't enforce the law. If only these folks would campaign instead for the Compromise Plan. If people who are passionate about swimming at the Point had been involved all along, we might even have been able to modify the Compromise Plan to include sanctioned swimming on both the north and the south side (currently it's only slated for the south side, although both sides will have the same water-access design).

Finally, I have to just say it outright: the Point has become dangerous. Most of you know I love the place with every cell in my body. But I totally understand the City's quandary: it needs to give out a few tickets every year, just so that when someone is killed or seriously injured, Mara Georges, the City's top lawyer, can say, "Whoa! We've never allowed swimming there! Look at these tickets!"

In that sense, Mr. Grego can consider himself to be the most recent sacrifice to the Point Savers' Gods of Preservation.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


posted by Elizabeth Fama

To me, HPP is a hangout spot where neighborhood folks can drop by, knowing that a mostly cordial discussion of local issues will always be underway.

Fittingly, I met Chicago Pop in cyber space in March of 2007. He had written a letter-to-the-editor for the Hyde Park Herald about the Solstice proposal that mirrored my sentiments exactly. In the biting tongue-in-cheek style that is his trademark, he invented the "Committee to Save the Cornell Parking Lot," and in signing off he mentioned that he was an alumnus of the U of C College. Cyber stalker that I am, I looked him up in the alumni directory and wrote him a fan e-mail. It's not often that a Herald LTE represents my opinion, after all.

In his reply, C-Pop made the mistake of using the words "Point consensus" in referring to the Save the Point group, and I promptly gave him a long lecture about the true history of the Point controversy. Four months later he wrote me an e-mail saying that he'd started this blog, and would I like to contribute?

"It'll never fly," I thought to myself, while typing my agreement to contribute posts. Thus began our friendship.

So let's raise a toast to Chicago Pop, the Man Who Dared. Thanks for starting the blog, C-Pop.

Front row: bloggers Peter R., Chicago Pop, and Elizabeth F. Back row: guest contributor, frequent commenter, and tireless community meeting attender, Richard G. (One year anniversary, July 25, 2008.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Fama's Photos

Beth's photo essays sum things up, get things moving, and sometimes make them go away. Beauty and the Beast sparked the first big discussion of the Co-Op -- and of anything, for that matter -- on HPP. The outpouring of opinion on this topic was but a sign of things to come.

Hyde Park Anti-Progress brought attention to a severely deteriorated and unsightly piece of public art on 55th Street. As a result, and after much labor on the part of a number of sympathetic Hyde Parkers, this sculpture is slated to be removed.

That's progress.


Beauty and the Beast

(Originally posted by Elizabeth Fama on Saturday, August 27, 2007)

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

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

Hyde Park Anti-Progress

(Originally posted by Elizabeth Fama on Monday, August 6, 2007)

What is this, and when will it go away?

(location: 55th Street and Harper Ave.)

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

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

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

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Herald's Chicken Classico: No News is News

(Originally posted by Peter Rossi on Thursday, August 9, 2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating 1 Year of Roasting The Herald's Chicken

The Establishment Organ as it Should Be -- Fried and On a Tray

Here's how it all began: in July, 2008, chicago pop went to a "community meeting" about the University's plans for Doctors Hospital. A few days later, he read the Hyde Park Herald's version of events and thought to himself, "this is bullshit." Up went the post we present below, the very first to appear on Hyde Park Progress. Soon he was joined by Elizabeth Fama, Peter Rossi, and still others. The rest is history.

So join us as we re-run some of the classics from the first 6 months of Hyde Park Progress, from The Beginning up through the Death of the Co-Op. It was a Golden Age, a mythic epoch, an era of giant battles and glorious victories, when sacred cows were spooked, and light was shed on the group-think so often spread by our journalistic shamans.

Most of all, we ate a lot of chicken. They just keep sending it our way. And we're still hungry.

Herald's Chicken: Doctor's Hospital Update

(Originally posted by chicago pop on Wednesday, July 25, 2007)

The Hyde Park Herald (Wed. July 25, 2007), the Establishment's leading organ of the press, led off this week's edition with the headline "Residents reject Drs. Hospital Swap", meaning that there was a consensus against the U of C's plans to tear down the 1914 structure and replace it with a mid-market Marriott hotel. Now, headlines are a matter of journalistic art, and no one is holding the Herald up to, say Washington Post standards, but this is not quite accurate.

The Herald claims there were 250 people in attendance. The population of Hyde Park is, according to the South East Chicago Commission, 44,700 people. That means a minute fraction of the neighborhood's population (0.006%) bothered to show up. Although I got the gut sense a majority of people in the room didn't like the University's plan, I have no way of telling if all of them were opposed to it. Nothing in the Herald's article provides any sort of objective basis for determining if the project is popular or not in the neighborhood at large.

So, with just a back-of-the-envelope calculation, we can see how The Establishment is taking the voice of a small group of people and projecting it as the General Will. This happens with nearly every case of proposed development.


This is not to say that attendees failed to raise legitimate issues. Of all the complaints I heard, two were reasonable. The first was the fear of parking congestion, which is a fear among single-family homeowners throughout the universe. A truly righteous response to this complaint, as an urban-planner friend of mine put it, would be to tell people that they shouldn't be driving cars in a city anyway. Hans Morsbach laments the prospect of not being able to park his car "in front of his house," as if he didn't live in one of the densest cities in the United States, in which millions of people use mass transit every day, and more transit infrastructure is desperately needed. This problem should be shut down with proper design of a parking structure.

Aesthetics are a more substantial concern. Although the Herald did not mention this in its "Rejection" story, a number of the most compelling comments made acknowledged that sometimes you have to tear down an old building; but if and when you do, why not put up something even better? Even some preservationists at the meeting were willing to trade, if the new building were a contribution to architectural excellence. The Inland Steel building was cited as one example of a case in which no one regrets the loss of the building that was there before.

Truth be told, the Doctors' Hospital is nothing to look at. It is significant in an academic way, which is enough for the Hyde Park Antiquarian Society to insist that it remain unaltered, meaning vacant and deteriorating like a dozen other Hyde Park properties. Tear it down and build something better. We could use the restaurants, the cafes, and the foot traffic into the neighborhood.


posted by Elizabeth Fama

I received a call on Tuesday from Virginio Ferrari's son, Marco. He pointed out an error in a previous post of mine regarding public art. I had incorrectly identified this sculpture as his dad's work:

In fact, the sculpture (which used to live in front of the old Woodward Court dormitory) was created by Israeli-born artist Buky Schwartz. I'm sorry for the error.

The point of that post remains: I was on my usual tirade about how private art can be taken down whenever the owner wants to retire it, but public art often has a difficult removal process (witness Orisha Wall), or no process in place at all (which I believe was the case for Caryl Yasko's 55th Street mural, now slated for restoration).

Marco pointed out that blogs can be flawed news sources because they're not vetted -- that is, anyone can write anything and many people will believe it. That may be true, but there's some great freedom of speech happening on this blog that I wouldn't want to throw out with the bath water. We try hard, but let us know when we've made a mistake and we'll happily correct it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hyde Park Neighborhood Club needs to Focus on Hyde Park Needs

posted by chicago pop

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, by the admission of several people intimately involved with the Club's day-to-day finances, is in desperate shape.

They're losing over $10K every month, and are facing stiff competition in just about every category of service they provide. They've been around longer than the Hyde Park Co-Op, and went into profound crisis at about the same time, but the whole affair has attracted far less attention.

In fact, most of us at HPP don't know anything about it. We still don't, and we're not the only ones.

Partly that's because the Club is less transparent than the Co-Op was. No one has been able to independently assess the management and financial health of the Club on the basis of open information.

More importantly, though, the Club has not managed to make itself relevant to the neighborhood constituencies who could do the most to support it -- Hyde Parkers who could afford to pay for services offered at the Club, or donate to support them. If these people aren't interested and involved in the Club, then it could be anywhere -- in Cleveland or Los Angeles -- and doing virtually the same thing.

How could all of this be? Let's look at the photo above. This newspaper photograph, taken for the Tribune in 1953, depicts one Mrs. Henderson Thompson, who modeled a luxurious fur shawl "in a recent benefit fashion show the University of Chicago Settlement League presented at the Shoreland Hotel."*

What the ladies of the Settlement League (now the University of Chicago Service League, and they're still ladies) were doing was selling fancy clothes to raise money for direct donations to affiliated charities like the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club.

Can you imagine a moneyed Hyde Park middle class buying luxury fashions in support of a local charitable organization, when local pundits tell us that Hyde Parkers aren't even interested in buying new clothing?

Part of the problem the Club faces is a moderately schizophrenic identity: is the Club a neighborhood recreational center, or a social service for the greater South Side?

This split identity is built into the Club's origins as a younger sister of the University of Chicago Settlement, established in 1894 in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. The Settlement as a form of social work was an innovation of the Progressive movement of the 1890s and 1900s. It involved mostly white, middle class and Protestant women, many from rural backgrounds, going into the immigrant slums of industrial America in order to clean, feed, protect, and elevate a degraded working class.

That was not the Neighborhood Club's original intent, even though it is frequently said that the Club was "part of the Settlement movement." Hyde Park at the time of the Progressive movement was a very rich neighborhood, and its Club was founded to address a problem that has bedeviled the urban middle class for most of its existence: how to keep teenagers out of trouble by giving them things to do.

"Keeping kids off the streets was as necessary in 1909 as it is in 1960," reported the Tribune, adding that as of 1960 this was "still the Club's major objective."**

In the 50s, teenage boys were kept busy with an auto mechanics club named the "Autocrats"; the Tot Lot supported the child care needs of working moms; cooking, ballet, and crafts classes kept kids busy after school, and a "Friendly Club" eased the isolation of local seniors. It was only in the late 1960s that Club leadership began speaking of "new goals," and of " the fringe areas of Hyde Park-Kenwood ... bringing more disadvantaged youths and families into the program."***

Today, the Club has a lot more competition: the Hyde Parker thinking about purchasing the fur shawl pictured above might be just as interested in donating to a foundation for the education of women in Afghanistan, the clearing of land-mines in Kosovo, or to an environmental group lobbying for reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases.

Our sense is that both the current and preceding Directors of the Club are aware of these pressures, and of the need for hard-nose fiscal management coupled with the pursuit of creative funding solutions.

Why, for example, couldn't the Neighborhood Club fix a revenue stream by leasing space to or directly operating a cafe -- as have the Hyde Park Art Center, the Experimental Station, and the Smart Museum?

Until the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club manages to connect with a new generation of Hyde Parkers who can pay to use it and donate to support it, it may as well have an office in Indiana or Wisconsin, where it could be doing exactly the same thing in either Gary or Racine.

For it to be a Hyde Park neighborhood club and win the support of Hyde Parkers, there's got to be a reason for me to care about this organization as opposed to all the many, many others with equally worthy causes.

*The photograph accompanies an article by Ruth MacKay, "Hail the Clubwoman! She Plays a Vital Role in Preserving America's Fine Heritage." Chicago Daily Tribune, G1, December 6, 1953.
**Jean Bond, "Times Change, but Kids Still Flock to Club," Chicago Daily Tribune, January 10, 1960.
***William Currie, "South Side Community Conflict -- Year in Review," Chicago Tribune, December 29, 1968; "Hyde Park Civic Club Serves Community," Chicago Tribune, November 14, 1968.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Hyde Park's Best Public Art

posted by chicago pop

The concrete dolphin children's fountain in Bessie Coleman Park, on Drexel at 54th Place, hands down. How could you not love this one? Who needs Sea World?

Stay tuned for a jam session on the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, and whether one of HP's oldest voluntary organizations can stay alive in the 21st Century.

Prognosis: Maybe. But it won't be business-as-usual.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Psst! You can talk about Village Center now!

posted by Peter Rossi

For several years, there have been rumors that Antheus Capital (owners of the Village Shopping center at Lake Park Avenue and Hyde Park Boulevard) was interested in replacing the run-down shopping center with a combination residential and commerical development.

At the 53rd Street TIF meeting held Monday (7/14), developer Eli Ungar was allowed to let the cat of the bag. The proposal is nothing less than stunning and represents the most ambitious project attempted in Hyde Park in more than 30 years. Ungar and associates propose a development of more than 500,000 sq ft with 170 residences, dozens of retail spaces and more than 500 parking spaces.

The development would cover the entire parcel, bordered along Lake Park Ave by a 10 story structure with retail on the bottom floors and 2-4 bedroom condos above. At the northwest corner of the property at Harper and Hyde Park Blvd sits a 24 story residential tower. Along Harper, south of the tower, would be small scale retail spaces. Between the tower at the west and the "bench" along Lake Park would be a transparent retail bank on Hyde Park Blvd that hides an interior parking structure.

Elevation from Kenwood Academy Grounds

Along Lake Park Ave at Night

Designed by Studio Gang (creators of Aqua in the Lakeshore East development and designers of the yet to be constructed Solstice on the Park in HP), the development features a very transparent look that goes out of its way to relate to the streetscape and hide parking from view. The transparency is designed to reduce the mass of the development which is considerable.

At 244 ft, the tower is sure to get local NIMBYs stirred up but fits rather nicely with the 51st and East Hyde Park area.

View from atop Blackwood Apts at 52nd and Blackstone

Given the massive capital requirements, the development is to be attempted in two phases. Phase I will construct the "bench" along Lake Park and the interior parking and retail space, leaving most of the existing buildings along Harper occupied by current tenants. Phase II would add the tower and new retail spaces immediately to the south.

Cross-Section Viewed from South

The development faces a number of steep challenges including: leasing the retail space and generating residential interest, some current tenants who are holding long term leases, garnering Alderman Toni Preckwinkle's support, and dealing with the usual nay-sayers who oppose change in our community.

It should be noted that this is the ONLY development of any size that is on the drawing board for our neighborhood. Harper Court redevelopment is nowhere in sight and the University-funded Harper Theatre development is dead in the water. Add this to the stalled high rise at 53rd and Cornell, no clear future for the Shoreland, and vacant Doctor's Hospital and McMobil properties and you really have a ghost town in the making.

Millions in University and public funds have gone down the rat-hole of improving HP retail and yet the only development in Hyde Park comes entirely from the private sector. I hope our elected officials understand where the future of our neighborhood lies and offer to help speed this through the necessary zoning changes required for a more than eight-story structure.

The development will proceed with no TIF funding. The 53rd street corridor is fast degenerating into a mass of cell phone stores, vacant storefronts, dollar stores and branch banks. One wonders where our TIF dollars have gone?

There will be those who scoff at the sheer audacity of this proposal in the midst of paralysis in the mortgage markets. Ungar is betting on the future of HP. Who knows, with a windfall from the Olympics, he may end up having the last laugh.

Make no little plans!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hyde Park Herald is Obamafied

posted by chicago pop

Obama First Declares for State Senate at Hyde Park's Ramada Inn:
Preservationists Fight to Keep it For Historic Value

Only slightly more surreal than the prospect of a President of the United States who lives less than a mile away, and who began his political career at the hideous Slumada Inn across the street from my home, is the fact that the lead story for the July 21 edition of the New Yorker is a densely researched piece on Obama's "Chicago period" that includes 10 references to the Hyde Park Herald in 15 pages. (We won't even get into the magazine's cover illustration).

Big media is turning over little rocks big time.

They're off to a good start. After the Weekly Standard's gonzo interviews with a few neighborhood relics, the New Yorker is reprinting excerpts from some of Obama's charmingly idealistic columns in the Herald, beginning when he assumed the office of State Senator for the 13th District back in 1996.

In his first column in the Hyde Park Herald ... he announced that he was "organizing citizens' committees" to help him shape legislation. He asked constituents to call his office if they wanted to participate. That kind of airy talk about changing politics gave way almost immediately to the realities of the job.
Really? Try getting people to a TIF meeting.

But Ryan Lizza delves even further back, into the Herald's pre-Obama archive: citing a front page article from 1995, it seems that the Herald once did some muckrake-ish reporting.

On more than one occasion, the Hyde Park Herald reported on the rise in campaign donations from these developers [taking advantage of City tax-credits to develop low-income housing on the South Side]; in 1995, it ran a front-page article about Tony Rezko, who was then a very active new donor on the scene.

This sounds like broad-ranging journalism, rooted in Hyde Park, but looking beyond it.

So what happened?

Now we can't get the Herald to unpack the drama about adult day care at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club.

Most of what Lizza's New Yorker piece draws on from the Herald, however, are Obama's own words. The article's thrust, beginning with a very frank interview with Alderman Preckwinkle, is that Obama's recent political "maneuverings" on things like Federal campaign financing, gun control, and telecom immunity should not be surprising from a guy that endorsed Mayor Daley and worked to get Blagojevich elected.

Pretty much politics as usual, though that has come as some surprise to folks outside of Chicago, or to those few idealists who survive within it. Lizza asked Preckwinkle what she thought of Obama's rise.

""Can you get where he is and maintain your personal integrity?" she [Alderman Preckwinkle] said. "Is that the question?" She stared at me and grimaced. "I'm going to pass on that.""

Chances are the Herald will, too.

The Next Historic Landmark Building in Hyde Park

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ungar's Village Center Back in Play: 53rd St. TIF Meeting Monday, July 14

A lot of rumors have floated around about the fate of the forlorn Village Center at 51st and Lake Park; some of you may remember Peter Rossi's ruminations on the topic from last February.

Well, now Ungar is back with new and improved plans, to be unveiled at the 53rd Street TIF meeting, together with all sorts of other juicy development-related stuff. Stop by and get the download.

The next meeting of the 53rd Street TIF Council is scheduled for:

Monday, July 14, 2008
Hyde Park Neighborhood Club
5408 S. Kenwood Avenue

The agenda will include the following items:
  • 53rd & Harper Update -- University of Chicago
  • Harper Court RFP Update
  • Report from the University of Chicago Student Retail Task Force
  • Proposal for Redevelopment of Village Center -- Elli Ungar, Antheus Capital
  • Other stuff
Check it out.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Herald's Chicken: Herald Headline Contradicts Article; Sharonjoy Declares Self Empress of East Hyde Park Shrubbery, etc.

posted by chicago pop

Herald's Chicken: Making Obama Proud

After Elizabeth Fama deconstructed Crystal Fencke's article on Point preservation in the June 25 Hyde Park Herald, I've scanned the following two issues looking for any sign of editorial corrections. Most newspapers issue corrections every day. The Herald has plenty of time to accumulate them, and they would certainly help fill up space in the absence of news, but I haven't found any.

Based on Fama's critique of Fencke's "Learning the Latest about Promontory Point's Rescue", I counted 3 outright factual errors (such as: "The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency stopped the project"), and at least 3 uncorroborated assertions. Any real reporting would have dug into the controversy on the issue and attempted to present the different sides of the story.

Of course this requires work, and it's much easier to flip through the Rolodex, call the same three people that you always talk to, and crank out obviously slanted lines like "the community didn't accept this 'concreting over' of the sensitive historic site", which gives a journalistic foot massage to the assembled members of the Executive Committee of the Community Task Force for Promontory Point.

So I was not at all surprised when I read this week's Fencke piece, "Hyde Park farmers market in full swing", and noticed that the content of the article contradicted the headline.

"In full swing" suggests going at full capacity, a great success, can't be stopped, all pistons firing, look out we're going to run you over. Read on and you learn that "vendors have been wrapping up their weekly Thursday visits at about 12:30...rather than the 2PM time listed on the city of Chicago website."

And again: "Of the more than 20 such seasonal markets around the city, it seems that the market in Hyde Park is slow to catch on with the public this year."

Full swing. Got it.

On a more reassuring note, Sharonjoy A. Jackson, in a letter to the July 9 edition, declares herself Empress of East Hyde Park Shrubbery, and has recognized select Park District employees as her worthy vassals.

As with the Point Savers, in keeping with a certain law of local activism, bureaucratic elephantitis presents itself whenever the membership of a neighborhood group shrinks below the number of letters in the name of their organization, resulting in snappy titles such as "The Steering Committee Members of the Lakefront Task Force for Hyde Park."

A worthy tid-bit:

Yesterday, and today, many trees and bushes are being planted in, and around, the Promontory Annex, in response to the many trees felled by strong wind sheers [sic] and storms for the past two years or more.

So, in the spirit of Sharonjoy's New Imperial Syntax, I'll sign off by remarking that yesterday, but not today, I went to Summer Dance, which was at, and in, 63rd Street Beach House, where I danced around, and about, to the Willie Gomez con Cache Orchestra, and enjoyed myself both at the time, and in reflection.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Herald's Chicken: Point Savers Enforce Swimming Ban

posted by Peter Rossi

Chicago Police are beefing up efforts to harass swimmers off of Promontory Point as part of a team effort with the Save the Point Task Force on preservation.

"The historic revetment is a 'living museum' and should not be sullied by these brazen swimmers," huffed Point Saver Spokesman Leon Lame-Brain. 

"Since May 2001, the evil Park District has offered to sanction deep water swimming off of the Point. We saw this ploy for what it is: an attempt to make the Point a usable park. We have rejected these plans out of hand for some time now,"  continued Mr. Lame-Brain.

Other preservationists on the task force questioned the political orientation of the swimming community.  "Swimming is a sport of the upper class.  Some of the swimmers have disturbing foreign accents.  We have even heard that professors and students at the elitist University of Chicago like to swim off the Point.  We are the arbiters of acceptable activities at the Point,"  commented one task force member who wished to remain anonymous. 

"Bicycling is a pursuit more suitable for the people," commented another task force member, mounting a new titanium road bike.

Task force members have teamed up with police to report swimmers.  "Not since the 68 convention has the Chicago Police Force distinguished itself with such a level of community service,"  declared task force president Don Veal.

"We have successfully delayed sanctioned swimming at the Point for more than eight years and intend to keep this unlawful activity out of our park forever.  This will require eternal vigilance," observed Mr. Veal.

Other members of the task force were not as optimistic. "We are concerned that the users of the Point may come to their senses and push for acceptance of the Compromise Plan.  This diabolical plan would allow for swimming, fix the Point, and restore the Caldwell landscaping.  We plan on redoubling our efforts to misrepresent the facts and dupe our elected officials," whispered Ms. Constance White-Nimby, task force co-chair.

While there is no evidence that Point Savers are calling in the Chicago Police, it is a fact that this group has fought plans by the Park District to fix the Point and create a sanctioned deep-water swimming area since May of 2001.  Sanctioned deep-water swimming and water access has been in every plan proposed by the City since May 2001.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Save the Point = Cavity Search for Grandma

posted by chicago pop

Here's a question: what's the best way to get everyone's grandma a cavity search, courtesy of the Chicago Police Department, at Promontory Point?

Ask Jack Spicer or Don Lamb and anyone else on the poetically titled Executive Committee of the Community Task Force for Promontory Point. Because if weren't for them, everyone would have safe, legal swimming at the Point. Right now. Instead, on the Spicer/Lamb watch, the Point has become still more of a deathtrap, and the only real surprises are that no one has died yet, and that the CPD hasn't brought in more paddy wagons to cart away all the scofflaws.

The unwieldy and Kakanian title of our protecting Committee of pustchists attests to a sort of bureaucratic "short guy syndrome": the less of an argument you got, the longer you make the name of your committee. But the fact is, the Executive Committee of the Community Task Force for Promontory Point was offered everything in the Compromise Plan, and walked away back in 2005. Hyde Park's Sharm el Sheik, with its own Yassir Arafat -- in Birkenstocks instead of a keffiyeh.

In the years since this failure of leadership, the Point has become even more of an obvious safety hazard, more swimming grandmas have been ticketed, the clock is only ticking until someone dies on the broken rocks and exposed pilings, and now millions of taxpayer dollars for a "third party" study are going to be spent to essentially determine what we already know: that we need to Fix the Point. Using concrete and steel with limestone frosting.

But what the Army Corps folks who are doing the study (different Army Corps folks, guys from Buffalo, who somehow will have a different paradigm of revetment engineering) stand a chance of not concluding is what all the parties except the Executive Committee of the Community Task Force for Promontory Point were willing to accept in the Compromise Plan of 2003: reuse of all of the existing limestone, and legal, safe, ADA-compliant swimming access to the Lake.

But blowing through other people's money while you try to sort out your own problems is a classic Hyde Park tradition. We saw it up close with the Co-Op, and now we're seeing a gleeful example from representatives of the Executive Committee of the Community Task Force for Promontory Point and their hopes that a Federally funded, taxpayer subsidized study will relieve them of the need to realize how badly they screwed up.

Meanwhile, brainwashing missives worthy of the Myanmar junta, or even its elder Chinese cousin, continue to appear in the Herald, a journalistic zoo where facts roam unchecked, reminding us that the "rescue" and "preservation" of the Point are "in view," and suggesting that the Demolition-Clique, in a secret conspiracy with the exiled Concrete Cartels, had barges offshore ready to dump cement all over, and would have done so, were it not for the vigilance and stewardship of the Executives of our Community and their Committee.

If lack of legal swimming access is what the Herald and all the local grandmas are upset about, then there's clearly a local problem with recent historical memory, and the capacity to put 2 and 2 together. Certainly our local paper isn't helping. Because by now, as should be well-known, we could have had legal, safe, and ADA compliant swimming access, with all the old limestone to look nice, and all the concrete you need to keep Lake Michigan from eating the landfill. Had not the local practice of activism-as-performance-art prevailed.

Herald editors and disconcerted swimming grandmas should refresh their memories, and check to see if they ever put one of those "Save the Point" stickers on the bumper of their car.

Because, if they did, then they're getting what they asked for. Which is the latex finger of the CPD uncomfortably inserted where the sun don't shine.