Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hungry for Preservation or Power?

(Photo by Marc Monaghan, from the Hyde Park Herald, 3/5/2008)

posted by Peter Rossi

The Dry Petition vote is a remarkable event. Only 20 Hyde Parkers turned away the only real chance for development in Hyde Park for sometime to come. While most Hyde Parkers shake their heads with a mixture of disbelief and anger, some are popping the champagne corks.

Who would celebrate such a dark hour?

Not the preservationists. The most likely outcome now is that the abandoned DH buildings will be torn down. The buildings will certainly not be "reused" as some preservationists insist.

Not the Alderman. Her record on development in the 5th ward is now a big fat zero and she showed little leadership in this affair.

Not the University. They have a $10 million albatross and a real problem -- a beautiful campus and vibrant institution stuck in a backwater.

Perhaps, there was some warm beer drunk at local 1, Unite-HERE headquarters. Then some bright spark must have pointed out that this was a charity project by White Lodging and it doesn't really help in the fight to unionize this hotel developer. Unite-HERE big shots have probably figured out that they were the victims of a con scheme.

The champagne was flowing at the house of Jack Spicer in 30th Precinct. Mr. Spicer saw the DH ruckus as way of advancing his own influence on community developments. Before his defenders get upset that I am exposing their hero, I do have evidence that Mr. Spicer misrepresented his motives in the DH affair.

At the community meeting on August 4th, Scott Travis of White Lodging agreed to meet with the preservation interests. A meeting took place several weeks later. Present at the meeting were Mr. Spicer and Scott Travis, of course, but also representatives from Landmarks Illinois (a private group that claims to advance preservation), representatives from the City of Chicago's Department of Planning and Development, and representatives and consultants employed by University of Chicago.

Most of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of re-use or preservation of the existing buildings.

Mr. Spicer stood up toward the end of the meeting and dropped his own bombshell. Preservation of the DH buildings is not really necessary, he noted, what is necessary is that three of my demands are met.

Speaking directly to Scott Travis, Mr. Spicer pronounced "I can help you turn this around" if you:
  1. "address" the union issue
  2. insure the hotel is of high quality
  3. assure me that I will have input and veto power over the design
We now know that Mr. Spicer never had the slightest interest in preservation. After all, he had been working on the Dry "neutron bomb" option for months, including going door to door collecting signatures himself.

This exchange reveals Mr. Spicer's true motivation. What this is all about is that Mr. Spicer thinks he should be in charge of designing the hotel. He can add this property to his other "design" credits -- the crumbling and abandoned Point revetment, vandalized St. Stephens, and the vacant lots on 53rd Street.

I hate to break up Mr. Spicer's party, but this Dry Petition dirty trick will not be forgotten. When people ask, why is there no development in Hyde Park, smack in the middle of what is now the first city in the US? Fingers will point at the radioactive Mr. Spicer who has done his part to keep White Lodging from spending $90 million in Hyde Park.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Don't Forget To Vote!

posted by Richard Gill

Hyde Park Activists Protest Relocation of 55th St
US Post OfficeFrom Basement to Ground Level

It was a really nice surprise, November 17, seeing the newly relocated post office open for business in the Hyde Park Shopping Center. Even though it’s just a little thing, the post office relocation did actually happen. In this neighborhood, that’s something.

Like a lot of other things that Hyde Park needs, the new post office took nearly forever to materialize. It took more than a full year for the post office to move out of a cramped basement into its new storefront quarters. But unlike the typical Hyde Park eternal delay, this one didn’t involve willful obstruction by community “activists”. In this case, there was no endless dispute involving anti-development forces in the neighborhood.

Several days ago, however, it had fleetingly crossed my mind that Jack Spicer might be trying to stop the post office relocation¬—perhaps to “preserve” it in its dungeon as “an irreplaceable artifact” of the now-defunct Hyde Park Co-op; or that Hans Morsbach might claim that the relocated facility would “burden our infrastructure.” Morsbach, after all, worked hard to stop another project—a hotel that the community really, really needs. He and some others (bankrolled and abetted by a big labor union named UNITE HERE) barely managed to squeeze through a precinct-level vote to render their home precinct dry. That precinct—the same precinct in which the hotel would have been built—covers about four square blocks. That stopped the hotel. This neighborhood-wide debacle was pulled off by just a few people with willful tunnel vision. So much for their professed concern for the community at large.

This tragic neighborhood loss was significant enough to attract the attention of the Chicago Tribune. In a November 19, 2008 editorial “A loss for Hyde Park,” the Tribune said, “This is a shame. The neighborhood does not benefit from this vote. Chicago does not benefit.”

Hans Morsbach owns the Medici restaurant on 57th Street. So he knows about the value of businesses and amenities to this neighborhood. But he chose to work to defeat the hotel proposal. If he can thumb his nose like that at the community, then as far as I’m concerned, the community need not patronize his business establishment. Until recently, I was a fairly frequent customer at Medici. Not anymore. I have already steered a group away from the place, and I expect to do it again. Morsbach used the vote to stop something that would have greatly benefitted Hyde Park. Potential customers of Medici can also vote. With their feet.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Many Marriotts of Hans Morsbach

posted by chicago pop

Construction of Marriott Convention Center in Normal, Illinois.
The Medici Restaurant is visible below the beam.

What does it take for Hyde Park restauranteur Hans Morsbach to fulfill his aspirations?

As they put it on the Normal Medici website:

The Medici on 57th is located in a dry district, and the possibility of having a delicious drink in an amazing atmosphere, where his passion for woodworking and people could meet and join forces was a pinacle [sic] achievement for Hans. The Medici in Normal fulfills his aspirations.

Being able to serve booze, above all, which Morsbach has always regretted he can't do on 57th Street. But also the legal power of eminent domain working in your favor, and the good graces of Marriott International, Inc, which will disgorge hundreds of parched conference-goers directly into your saloon as of 2009 or so.

Alcohol, Marriott, and urban renewal: all things Morsbach has objected to in his own Hyde Park back yard.

It should be clear that Morsbach doesn't have any issues with Marriott, wet bars, or forced land clearance at his second, downstate restaurant location, even though he is outspoken in his efforts to block the construction of a new Marriott Hotel in Hyde Park, and actively supported a local liquor ban as the best way to accomplish this goal.

The $64,000,000 Marriott convention center in Normal, Illinois, is directly across from Morsbach's new restaurant, will have 229 rooms, a 23,000 square foot conference center, a 500 space parking deck, and is being built on land assembled through the use of eminent domain, to the benefit of area businesses, including the Normal Medici.

So, in lieu of a toast to Morsbach's new, dry 39th Precinct -- the perfect pendant to his equally new, extremely wet downstate bar-restaurant -- we leave you to peruse the bar menu from the new, Normal Medici -- across from the new, Normal Marriott.


Medici in Normal Bar Menu

Red Wines By the Bottle

Harper Court RFP Released

posted by chicago pop

Released November 18 from the University of Chicago:

The University of Chicago and the city's Department of Planning and Development presented today before the Community Development Commission to initiate a process to redevelop a 3-acre site at 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue.

The University of Chicago and the City of Chicago formally requested issuance of a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a single site that combines two parcels: the University-owned Harper Court property at 52nd and Harper and the city-owned parking lot at 52nd and Lake Park.

For the last several months, the University has collaborated with Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle and the city's Department of Planning and Development to spur development of a high-quality, mixed use project that becomes a cohesive, active neighborhood core.

"We are excited by this opportunity. The University is committed to a more vibrant community and more choices in retail, housing, and entertainment," said Susan Campbell, Associate Vice President for Civic Engagement. "The collaboration between the University and the city provides a unified property with significant scale, a project that can transform the neighborhood and foster additional new development on 53rd Street and in the surrounding community.

The goals of the project include creating a vibrant neighborhood core, combining a high-quality mix of commercial uses, new housing options, increased daytime and nighttime population, and high-quality urban design and architecture. "We have been gratified by the interest that this project has generated, especially from top-tier developers from across the nation," Campbell said. "And we are pleased to see that the community involvement – including ongoing working groups, surveys, and visioning exercises – have informed the goal-setting process. We are thankful for the leadership of Alderman Preckwinkle in this process and for the devotion of countless community members who have participated in the workshops that helped inform the vision for this project."

Harper Court opened in 1965 with the mission of providing space to arts-oriented businesses. One building in the complex, 5201 S. Harper has undergone recent renovations and is home to The Checkerboard Lounge and Park 52 Restaurant.

In recent years, mixed-use projects near university campuses and transit stations have been successful throughout the United States. These projects have attracted residents and retail and significant new investment. Examples include the neighborhoods surrounding DePaul and Northwestern, locally and the University of Pennsylvania nationally.

The redevelopment of Harper Court is seen as an opportunity to create a commercial district to serve the community and to serve as a destination that communicates the distinctive qualities of Hyde Park and the University of Chicago. As part of the 53rd Street TIF project, the redevelopment seeks to revitalize valuable urban land and accommodate the needs of the community.

The University and the city's Department of Planning and Development requested from the Community Development Commission a two-part RFP (Request for Qualification/Request for Proposal) to qualify and select developers interested in the project's proximity to the University, Hyde Park community, and to the existing METRA transit station.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

An Obama Boom in Hyde Park?

When The World Comes to Hyde Park
( ... and Then Goes Downtown For Dinner

posted by chicago pop

The week or so before and after the general election were, for this blogger, framed by the following encounters, in the order of their increasingly surreal occurrence:

1) a conversation with two Jehovah's Witnesses, within sight of Fort Obama, but canvassing for a higher power, who wanted to know what I thought of the Hudson homicide case. This was followed shortly thereafter by --

2) an interview with Fuji-TV, in which my dog and I were taped by a very attractive Japanese reporter while being asked what it felt like to be "at the center of the world"; which was then followed by --

3) a Belgian photographer for the French daily Le Monde, who asked if he could photograph my son as he burrowed into a pile of leaves, and then shocked me by saying nice things about America with a French accent; and, most recently --

4) being ambushed by a CLTV news crew one evening at Valois while enjoying the last chicken pot pies of the day.

"What do you think Obama will do for Hyde Park?" came the question from the man beside the unblinking fish-eye.

The question stumped me. Since then, to the southern-California-style soundtrack of helicopters overhead, I've had a chance to think about it, and here's my best guess:

Not much.

Which is not to say I don't expect great things from Obama as President. It's just that I'm not buying the breathless local media dish that Hyde Park ( and maybe all of Chicago ) is about to get a designer drug in the form of a counter cyclical and recession-proofing happy pill that will inoculate it from the macro- and micro-economic challenges of being an inner city neighborhood.

A sampling of booster-ish sentiment from Chicago Magazine (October 2008):

Meanwhile, the Hyde Park-Kenwood area, Obama's mixed neighborhood on the South Side, would almost certainly see more action and attention ...

... What's more, quick-buck artists would likely move in, starting stores that hawk T-shirts, mugs, and other presidential novelty items...

[Bob Mason, ED of the Southeast Chicago Commission] anticipates that the influx of the tourism trade, coupled with the everyday demands of a presidential entourage and the media, will boost business for existing restaurants and shops.
An article in Crains hitches these boosterish expectations to a particularly virulent local phobia: the fear of commercial development. Obama, according to some of the folks interviewed, is going to set off the economic explosion that will inevitably turn his adopted neighborhood into Lincoln Park-South.

Hyde Park will gain cachet as a place to live, but at the cost, some Hyde Parkers fear, of becoming a version of Lincoln Park, with more Starbucks, Gaps and residential teardowns.

"The Obama Water Park? No! People haven't thought enough about (commercialization), and maybe they should," says Ruth Knack, president of the Hyde Park Historical Society.

There will be no water park, of course, and Ms. Knack may be heartened to learn that Starbuck's has laid-off 1,000 workers and closed 600 U.S. stores in the last fiscal year. In fact, the Baskin-Robbins where Michelle and Barack Obama first kissed is now among the collection of empty storefronts along 53rd Street, Hyde Park's "Main Street."

The reality is that Barack Obama is not John D. Rockefeller, he's a man with a day-job and not a philanthropist. The benefits of his Presidency to Hyde Park are likely to be indirect and long-term, much more so than the direct benefits of, say, something like the (sotto voce!) Milton Friedman Institute for Research into Economics, with its hosts of visiting scholars and staff who will all spend money in the neighborhood.

In contrast, I have yet to see the Secret Service guys at Salonica's on 57th, and the lovely Miss Fuji-TV probably didn't stop at Thai 55 on her way out of town.

The fact is that the problems of inner city neighborhoods like Hyde Park and surrounding areas -- decades of disinvestment, lack of adequate retail amenities or commercial services, depopulation, struggling schools, a persistent level of crime, and racial segregation -- are so great that the per diem spending of Barack Obama's entourage is unlikely to affect them. And if they do, that effect may only be transient.

The tourism industry, for example, brought $2.6 million to Crawford, Texas, at its height in 2004.

Compare to that the amount of retail spending (including groceries) that leaves an area of the South Side that includes Hyde Park-Kenwood, Oakland, Bronzeville, Washington Park, and adjacent areas, to the tune of some $450 million, according to a 2004 market study cited in the Chicago Tribune.

So while that $2.6 million would certainly help the quick-buck artists, and the landlords they rent from, and the local restaurants their customers dine in, it's a long way from meeting the suppressed demand for basic needs on the South Side of Chicago.

And, as the press has recently observed, tourism revenue can wax and wane together with the fortunes of a president. The Times writes:

Of the seven gift shops [in Crawford, Texas] that sold "Western White House" mugs, T-shirts, fridge magnets, and golf balls, three have gone bust, only two still open regularly, and one has a sale on ...

"When it all started all of these [stores] were empty," Marilyn Judy, a teacher ... said. "Now they're returning to where they were."

Let's hope a better fate is in store for the Baskin Robbins of the Obama's early romance. And for 53rd Street. But it will take a lot more than the impulse spending of a presidential entourage to provide the housing, transit, jobs, and retail amenities that are needed in the President's own back yard.

*Photo used with permission of photographer, MPW

[This post also appears at Huffington Post Chicago]

reallyboring reports: 53rd Street Visioning Workshop

posted by chicago pop

reallyboring blocks
(pics by Eric Allix Rogers)

Check out the neighborhood blog reallyboring -- which is actually not boring at all -- for a snappy and illustrated account of this past Saturday's 53rd Street Visioning Workshop.

You may remember we put up a note on how the workshop would help you "Learn to Love Density." Sounds like it worked.

reallyboring's take is interesting:

The purpose of the exercises was ... to gauge the community response to the fact that any new developments in the neighborhood, in order to be financially possible, would necessarily be fairly dense. The attendees, by and large, seemed quite happy with this, although there is an apparent generational divide, with older residents less in favor.
Don't we know all about that particular "generational divide"! Glad to hear that, in spite of this, there was an overall positive reception of the linkage between density and feasibility.

Check out the blog for more pics of the blocks they played with -- and other cool snaps, like the one below.

Amazing Interior Shot of Kenwood Acadmy
(pics by Eric Allix Rogers)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

NIMBY's Corner: Deconstructing Hans

posted by chicago pop

It is characteristic of Hyde Park that the campaigning around Doctors Hospital continues to take place after the vote itself has been decided.

Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston's letter to the Herald urging 39th Precinct residents to vote "no" appeared the day after the election. A week later, a letter from precinct resident Hans Morsbach appeared, making the case for why you should have voted "yes" 8 days before, or should have morally supported those who were able to do so.

The reason for this exercise in chronological acrobatics, however, is fairly obvious: an issue of major import to two wards, two neighborhoods, and an entire section of Chicago was left to the judgment of some 600 people, of which 254 actually decided the matter, voting by a margin of 20 to ban the sale of liquor at the Doctors Hospital site.

Hans Morsbach, therefore, needs to convince the rest of Hyde Park that this was the right thing to do. The odds, however, are pretty good that if put to a vote by anything other than the 39th Precinct of the 5th Ward, the dry referendum would have failed by a large majority.

One again, a vocal and well-organized minority have taken control.

But taking control was the easy part. Convincing everyone outside the 39th Precinct that they were right to do so might be a little bit harder.

Let's have a closer look at Hans Morsbach's apologia pro vita sua of Wednesday, November 12, 2008.


Morsbach: "The opponents of the referendum suggested that we are unreasonable neighbors standing in the way of a much-needed development, and putting a higher value on our own conveniences than on neighborhood interests."

Comment: Agreed.

Morsbach: "A hotel largely designed as an overflow for downtown facilities would not serve Hyde Park well."

Comment: From the beginning of this controversy Morsbach, as well as Allan Rechtschaffen, have assured us all that they were deeply studied in the market dynamics of the hospitality business on the South Side of Chicago and could therefore make recommendations as to the proper scale of any hotel on Stony Island.

The problem is, they've offered no evidence to back up their statements as to the proper scale of a profitable hotel, or what the market in this area could support.

As only the latest example, Morsbach claims without any evidence that Marriott intended this hotel to serve an "overflow" purpose. Yet even if this was indeed the intent, why would this "not serve Hyde Park well"? The presumption is that the economy of Hyde Park ought to be limited to a one square mile area, and that this isolated condition is economically desirable. We've been arguing against this idea from day one.

Morsbach: "A study has shown that there is no reason that the existing limestone-and-brick structure cannot be used."

Comment: Has anyone besides a few activists actually seen this study? Can they tell us how much the design of the preservationist alternative diverges from the parameters presented by White Lodging, and what features of the original Marriott would have been compromised (in terms of size, facilities, construction or operations costs)? Such a weighty pronouncement calls for some public facts, not just Hans Morsbach's say-so.

Morsbach: A hotel would "burden our infrastructure."

Comment: This is classic NIMBY-suburbanite whooey. How would the White Lodging Marriott burden what infrastructure?

Sewer mains? Power grids? Road surfaces? Cellular towers? The CTA? Metra station facilities? The traffic lights on Stony Island? They don't tell us, and it's not clear they have any idea.

City infrastructure in most places is underutilized, especially inner city infrastructure, and has been for generations. An entire school of thought has developed around this idea at Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy. A city like Chicago was built to deal with lots of people.

By arguing that major urban areas can't handle intensive use, Morsbach is rehearsing 70s-era anti-urban romanticism, one that runs counter to well-documented arguments that dense urban areas are in fact the most energy-efficient types of settlement pattern and should therefore be encouraged as a strategy of slowing climate change.

Cities are designed for more burden to infrastructure per unit area than any other type of settlement. There are fewer people living in the 5th ward now than there were 50 years ago,which means that there is less of a burden, if any, on existing infrastructure.

Morsbach: "There should be a place for visitors and students to park their cars without a lot of hassle. Providing adequate parking is imperative."

Comment: Parking is indeed something that needs to be planned carefully. But Hans hasn't always used such high-minded rhetoric; previously he has made it clear that he wants to be able to park his car in front of his house: "I like to park my car near my house on Harper." (Hyde Park Herald reported on August 1, 2007.)

Morsbach, like most of Hyde Park's old guard, is unreflexively automobile-oriented and density-phobic, without realizing that the latter is a partial cure for the former: as we have conveyed on this blog numerous times, urban density in fact diminishes car use. Beyond that, he gives no evidence for his inference that "parking" (in a private lot? a city lot? on the street? in a garage? in front of his house?) would become more difficult on Stony Island or anywhere else.

In fact, Rechtschaffen, who criticized White Lodging for not providing a parking study (which they did, though the University chose not to release it to the public), clearly had already made up his mind that parking and congestion would be "a disaster" without having viewed any analysis of the issue. (Hyde Park Herald, LTE, September 10, 2008)

In a recent article on Hyde Park in Crain's, it was mentioned that Morsbach has been in business in the neighborhood since 1962.

Back before 1962, Hyde Park was a fairly happening place, and strangely enough, it had a lot of hotels. Then things changed, it became not-so-happening, lost its old hotels, and in the aftermath of Urban Renewal and the attempt to make the inner city into a suburb, an entire generation of residents got used to it that way.

Unfortunately, what they got used to was an historical aberration.

Now that things are beginning to revert to the mean, they're fighting the norm with everything they've got. It may keep them busy in the short run, but in the long run, they're going against the tide.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Future Tense: Hyde Park Hotel Dedicated on Former Hospital Site

posted by Richard Gill

Chicago – Apr. 8, 2010

Mayor Richard M. Daley today cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the new Marriott Diplomat Hotel and Resort complex at 58th & Stony Island, in Chicago's trendy Hyde Park neighborhood. The 15-story hotel is the centerpiece of a new US State Department conference and trade negotiation facility that will bring high-ranking officials to Chicago from all parts of the globe.

Also officiating at the opening was State Department Third Deputy Secretary for Economic Affairs Jim Oberweis, a Republican recruited by the Obama administration as part of its across-the-aisle outreach program. Oberweis has unsuccessfully run for Congress 37 times in his west suburban district.

Oberweis said, "This marvelous new facility will definitely make Hyde Park the premier visitor destination in all of Chicagoland."

"Not only does Hyde Park have excellent ground transportation, which is a 'must' for a major hotel, but the helipad on the south end of the hotel roof will enable guests to arrive at and depart from the hotel by air at any time of day or night," Oberweis said.

The Marriott hotel has 380 standard rooms, 32 luxury suites, three restaurants, a wine bar, a sports bar, two taverns, and a micro-brewery. In 2008, the immediate area was voted dry, in a hotly contested election. In February 2009, the land was deeded to the Federal Corrections Department. Federalizing the property voided the 'dry' designation of the site. Corrections wanted to construct a two-story prison to house 250 inmates in a pioneering work-release program in Hyde Park. Neighbors immediately complained that the prisoners would use up all the best parking spaces, would create massive congestion issues, and that the chain-link fence would alter local air currents.

Community activist Lainne Stopit-Gregge told reporters, "We're not against prisons at this site. We're just against this prison. Maybe they should build it across the Midway or at Harper Court."

Stopit-Gregge's sentiments were echoed by Zack "Prez" Szpisczer, who said, "We welcome prisoners of all stripes. But these prisoners just aren't a good fit for Hyde Park."

Then, in a remark not intended to be overheard, Szpisczer elbowed Stopit-Gregge in the ribs and snickered, "Get it, huh? Stripes. Prisoners."

A local resident, who asked to remain anonymous discussing sensitive issues, said Szpisczer's nickname comes from his penchant for preserving everything. "He [Szpisczer] is not 'the prez' of anything," the neighbor said.

Responding to neighbors' objections, the Feds offered the hotel as an alternative. The neighbors' persistent worries about parking were addressed by inclusion of a 500-space, six-story free parking garage behind the hotel and above the Metra tracks.

Leading the campaign for community acceptance of the hotel was Morsch Hanselbach, owner of the MuddyCheee restaurant on 57th Street. In the new hotel, Hanselbach also owns the MuddyCheee II restaurant, the sports bar and the micro-brewery.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Notes from an (Ex-)UnderGrad: Which Way Out of Here?

posted by Jason Finkes

Or, Exploring Transportation Options in Hyde Park

One of an occasional series at Hyde Park Progress exploring things from an undergraduate (or recently graduated) perspective.

While it now occurred a long time ago (February-March 2008), the controversy over 4 private parking spots being weighed against a key bus stop got me thinking: perhaps we should look over the transportation issue that undergraduates face. The first time I visited the University was also the first time that I knew transportation was going to be an issue.

Having trouble navigating through a narrow pass into the neighborhood that could be defended by 300 Spartans (thanks for vocalizing the frustration with the 57th and Stony "Do Not Enter", Elizabeth), the impossible task of finding parking, the late nights waiting for the 55 at the Garfield Red Line station, the impossible task of finding not only the commercial zones to furnish my dorm room and, later, apartment ... for all these reasons my parents won't visit me anymore. It's mainly because of transportation (and, alas, the choice of ... hotels ).

First, an overview of the options:

1) Walk/Bike
2) Private Car
3) CTA
4) Metra
5) cab
6) I-Go or Zip Car
7) Motorscooter

While walking and biking are the most ideal, we all agree that Hyde Park is lacking in commercial density (where would you bike or walk to?) and warmth in the winter months (you're joking if you think biking downtown during a blustery winter's day is an option) that makes it that viable an option.

Also, let's quickly dissect #2. Ideally, one wouldn't need a car in the city, and realistically speaking, undergrads don't have cars. Parking anywhere - downtown or Hyde Park - is frustratingly unfun or prohibitively expensive (to put it in mildest terms). If anything, the simple fact that undergrads don't have cars is a real problem, and I don't mean a personal one at that.

I'm speaking of the Co-Op. Many Hyde Park residents did exactly what one would expect when the only local option is terrible: vote with your feet.

But because there wasn't a decent alternative within walking distance, it was vote with your wheels, which is fine for everyone who has a car (a bit of a hassle, but we've already determined it was a better option than the Co-Op), but an impossible action for us carless students. One reason the Co-Op was probably able to stay longer than it should was its relative monopoly on non-produce groceries for all the students living in the student ghetto.

Another option then should be CTA. It offers a wide range, it's a bit slow and it is cheap. But you aren't going to be buying perishables or bulky items when you're taking public's just a silly idea. It's also really the only option for late-night sojourns, given its hours of operation and breadth of service.

Metra, CTA's better run cousin, is a faster option that is comparable in cost, but what it makes up for in speed, it lacks in frequency of runs and the (predictably) linear nature of its lines. Granted, weekend passes are probably the best buy out there ($5 for a free pass on Saturday and Sunday).

These can be shored up by Cabs, but even sharing costs, it's an expensive proposition. While of course there will never be a replacement for a wide variety of transportation options servicing the neighborhood (or for commercial development so more amenities are more available), I must say that the two great options I've found - getting far more appealing as gas prices go up and fewer want to own and operate SUVs - are Car Sharing programs and motorscooters.

My own experience with Zip Car was amazing. Blocking out 1 hour of car time cost a surprisingly small amount and my girlfriend and I were able to pick up a used piece of furniture and drop it off at her place with plenty of time to spare. For those in love with hybrids or luxury cars, one might be in luck and even score a Prius (which I've seen around) or a BMW (which one of my friends was lucky enough to borrow along the east-coast recently). At a relatively great and affordable rate, all you have to do now is find a buyer for that SUV you no longer want or need.

For smaller trips, I've fallen in love with my motorscooter. I'd be the first to admit that I'm verging on a full-blown crush on Europe, but damned if they don't have city living down to an art. You could easily fit 6 motor scooters into a parking space for a single car, gas mileage is amazing (around 90 mpg). For small trips to the grocery store, or picking up a few small things that would fit in seat-storage and a backpack, it is ideal during the 9 months of the year that it is not winter.

At only $2,000 purchase price from Craigslist, I honestly doubt that I could have made a better purchase for city living mobility.

The best part of both is the ever present parking issue. Recently, street cleaning occured on 4 consecutive weekdays (with each sign signaling which streets would be cleaned delightfully put up the day *after* I had already moved the car I was babysitting for a friend while she was out of town). Receiving kindly calls from a neighbor or two telling me I was about to get ticketed, I had to hop in still wearing pajamas and frantically search for a parking space, which during the day...Surprise! There are none.

Mind you, this is the middle of the summer, when all of the privileged young folk with mal-informed notions of car ownership in the city have a vehicle to park. More people carless = More parking for people to come into Hyde Park = Outsiders to catalyze economic development? A distinct possibility (if more pipe-dream than anything).

Granted neither car sharing or motorscooters are an option for actually going into the city to do something, which still leaves us with cabs, Metra and CTA (and the necessity of developing Hyde Park). But for anything else, let it be known that there *are* options, and more and more people are taking them. There are quite a few shared cars on campus and more and more frequently, I see motorscooters taking up their tiny amount of curb space.

[Jason Finke's previous posts on HPP: Where Fun Comes to Die; and Hooked on Hookahs]

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Learning to Love Density: 53rd St. Visioning Workshop Pt. 3 -- Saturday November 15

posted by chicago pop

The third in a series of workshops dealing with development dynamics on Hyde Park's 53rd Street retail district will take place this coming Saturday, November 15 (see flier below).

Hyde Park alum and Metropolitan Planning Council VP for External Relations Peter Skosey helps to explain what the whole things is about, based on a similar workshop done in the Lawndale neighborhood.

Check it out in this video:

Like the previous two 53rd Street workshops, this one will be based on a series of exercises meant to visualize and make tangible the abstract and ominous-sounding notion of "density." Using a method developed in Minneapolis called the Corridor Housing Initiative, the idea is to help people "connect community visions with market realities" through a series of exercises that demonstrate the variety of forms that density can take, and the market constraints that face developers in urban projects.

Logistics below:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A New HP Hotel, Make an Olympic Video, & Strange Photographs

posted by chicago pop

Insert Photo Caption: ____________
(Hyde Park Herald, November 5, 2008)

We Already Have a New Hotel!

A few readers have informed us that, Wait! There IS a new hotel in Hyde Park. It's just not an enormous national franchise like the Marriott. With rates ranging from $150 to $305/night, the Beadle Residences is a boutiquey hotel at 5140 S. Kenwood that was salvaged (so our reader tells us) from a failed conversion of what used to be a block of Section 8 housing.

The Beadle Residences

Here's their blurb on the neighborhood:

Hyde Park is a culturally rich, vibrant and diverse urban community located just seven miles from downtown Chicago. This unusual city neighborhood, with its winding, tree-lined streets and world class vintage architecture, is only a mile square yet retains a special importance for its eccentricities as much as its vision.

I'd watched this building go into rehab over the last few years, and wondered how this kind of architecture could be rescued. As it is presented on the website, they've done a nice job on the inside. Maybe there's hope for Skokie and Des Plaines, which are full of this stuff.

Olympic Video Contest

A contest is now underway for the best video promoting Chicago for the 2016 Olympics. The deadline is in late November (sorry for the late notice all you videographers!), but should you get your act together nonetheless, this is what I am told awaits you:

The Grand Prize Winner will receive a trip for two to Vancouver for a behind the scenes tour of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and have their video featured on NBC 5 News Today. Second place will win $5,000 worth of video production equipment of their choice.

We'll also be choosing one random lucky voter to win a trip for six to the United States Olympic Committee's (USOC) headquarters in Colorado Springs to see the USOC's world-class training facilities, watch Olympians and Olympic hopefuls train and participate in a U.S. Olympic sport experience.

Check out the "Why Chicago" Video Contest Website, and maybe put another little piece of Hyde Park on YouTube.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Putting Precinct First: Analyzing the Dry Vote

posted by chicago pop

Stony Island Dry Voters

What a study in contrasts: the guy in the big house down the block gets elected president on a stirring platform of "Yes, we can", while the folks on Stony Island win a referendum on a platform of "No, you can't."

While the national electorate delivered a sweeping referendum in favor of change, a few hundred people in one corner of Hyde Park want to keep things as they are, throwing a monkey wrench in plans that might require adaptation and adjustment.

While the president-elect symbolizes the possibilities of racial reconciliation and equality, Hyde Park's own representatives of Liberal activism, almost entirely white, do their best to chase away employment in a predominantly black and low-income ward, one with unemployment rates significantly higher than the national or even metropolitan average.

The concrete results of these grass-roots escapades are that things don't really change much in Mr. Obama's neighborhood, that nothing gets fixed, and that we get to watch buildings fall apart even faster than NIMBY cadres get older. Or rather, like the astronomical costs of CTA maintenance, things simply get deferred, and the folks on Stony Island and Harper Avenue get to live the way they have grown accustomed to living for the last 40 years.

Shabby gentility, Hyde Park style: you can fix it after I'm dead. Après moi, le déluge.

We've said from the beginning that NIMBY-ism is simply the language of self-interest clothed in the rhetoric of "community" consensus. The movement for a dry-vote challenges even this definition, for the following reason: even its strongest proponents made no attempt to speak on behalf of the "community" interest, or the greater good of the neighborhood. Cited as an example of "direct democracy," some dry-vote supporters insisted that those living outside the 39th Precinct simply butt out.

Very well. Residents of the 39th, and their mujahideen, now have 4 some years -- at the very least -- to savor the solitude of their reinforced survivalist bastion.

Meanwhile, things are already changing in the rest of the neighborhood. A few general thoughts on the entire episode and its meaning for the future.

The locus of NIMBY activism is clearly within the 39th Precinct, with a few conspicuous exceptions. The bulk of the action going forward, however -- should capitalism manage to revive at some point -- is going to be north of 55th Street. The major and very minor NIMBY figures have had much less success influencing anything in this area, and they now have much less legitimacy for doing so.

Part of the reason for this is that much of Hyde Park's development drama to-date (including the death of the Co-Op) has been about a dance-of-death, in which the University of Chicago wrestles in a pit of burning sand with the aging folk-heroes and horseless Lawrence of Arabias who are our local activists. The latter thrive on settling scores with the University, and undoubtedly feel that they have scored one here.

But the University is no longer the only player in the neighborhood, and to the extent that our local Robin Hoods continue to taunt the bumbling giant, they will exhaust themselves fruitlessly while truly desirable changes -- both small and large -- occur without their involvement. Indeed, they already are and already have.

These changes offer a striking contrast to the singular record of NIMBY non-accomplishments racked up at The Point, Doctors Hospital, and various smaller sites. William F. Buckley would have been proud of our obstructionists, for in all of these instances, they have managed to "stand athwart history and yell "Stop!"

We can't necessarily blame the 39ers for "putting Precinct first." We just have to remind them that by doing so, it's going to be a bit harder to convince anyone that they can also speak for the "community", or for the greater good of Hyde Park, Kenwood, and the South Side. The laws on our books allow property owners to put self-interest ahead of things like local unemployment, racial equality, public safety, and commercial prosperity. These laws have been taken full advantage of.

39th/5th Prohibition Squeaks By 249 to 228

posted by chicago pop

According to the Cook County Board of Election Commissioners, the dry vote passed for the 5th Ward's 39th Precinct.

It was a narrow margin of victory: out of 477 votes cast, 249 were in favor, 228 were against.

(Thanks to mchinand for the advance link)

We'll hear more on the polling place technical meltdown I'm sure, and analysis on what's next for the neighborhood shortly.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hyde Park Gives Nation A President; People Party Elsewhere

posted by chicago pop

Hyde Park:
Making History, Outsourcing the Party

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ten Reasons to Vote NO

posted by Peter Rossi

On Tuesday, residents of the 39th precinct will vote on a referendum that seeks to ban the sale of alcohol in the precinct. Vote no for any or all of the following reasons:
  1. You don't want to rule out any development in the precinct for at least 5 years.
  2. You want to find a productive use for the DH site.
  3. You find the abandoned DH buildings ugly and want them replaced with better architecture.
  4. You want a hotel to house your visitors and provide jobs for community residents.
  5. You resent the interference of local 1, Unite-HERE that wants a union hotel no matter what collateral damage is done to your neighborhood.
  6. You see through local NIMBYs who lie to you, claiming the dry petition is a "negotiating tool."
  7. You believe that the fate of development in Hyde Park should be decided by the community as a whole and not by any one small part of it.
  8. You don't want to kiss $90 million good bye as we enter a period of economic desperation.
  9. You recognize that congestion is not an issue.
  10. You believe that any potential parking problems are easy to resolve by other methods

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hairston's Letter To 5th: Vote NO

posted by chicago pop

A letter from 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, dated Friday October 24, and submitted to but not printed by the Hyde Park Herald, expresses disappointment with 5th Ward residents who she describes as pursuing an "end game" out of "intransigence and bad faith," and that "voting the precinct dry is not a negotiating tool."

Hairston stresses the economic damage to the entire 5th Ward that would result from the actions of a handful of relatively privileged people.

Full text is as follows (original document at bottom):
Letter to the Editor
Hyde Park Herald
October 24, 2008

I am very disappointed that some 5th Ward residents have decided to join with people who live outside the ward in an effort to vote the 39th Precinct dry.

I understand resident's concern regarding the hotel proposal being offered by White Lodging and the University of Chicago at the Doctors Hospital site. I also understand their concern to retain the architectural integrity of the hospital building in any proposed development.

That is why I worked to bring both sides back together at a public meeting, this summer, after White Lodging had walked way from the project. At the meeting, White Lodging tried to allay residents' fears by promising to work with them to come up with a compromise solution. Before we had a chance to see whether White Lodging would proceed in good faith, I learned some residents were circulating petitions to vote the precinct dry.

Contrary to what residents are being told, voting the precinct dry is not a negotiating tool, it is an end game that reeks of intransigence and bad faith. Once the precinct is voted dry, we are stuck with it for at least four years -- until there is another election. No hotels or restaurants will consider moving into a precinct that bans the sale of liquor.

As Alderman, I am also responsible for economic development in the ward. Starbucks did not build its first drive-through store on the South Side out of altruism. It took hard work to convince the company a 5th Ward site would be profitable. Aldi's did not decide to open the first grocery store on Cottage Grove Avenue between 35th and 95th Streets because the company could not find another location. My office had to demonstrate an existing need and that it would be a win-win for everyone.

The Vote-Dry referendum is not a victory for anyone. If it passes, some may believe they really stuck it to the university, but in the end the 5th Ward will be the loser. Not only will no viable development take place on the Doctors Hospital site, but 5th Ward residents will be perceived as unwilling to negotiate on issues where there are different perspectives.

Leslie Hairston
5th Ward Alderman

Hairston gets it right that the rest of the 5th Ward outside 39th Precinct, and the rest of us in Hyde Park, stand to get taken down in a decades-old grudge match being waged by people who are still fighting the fights of 40+ years ago.

Obama wants to get past the cultural politics of 60s dorm rooms; we want to get past the cultural politics of Harper Avenue. Both are dead-ends, outdated worldviews from a previous generation.

The Harper Avenue version, when acted on in the present, leaves holes in our urban fabric, and no longer points to what is best for all of Hyde Park and surrounding neighborhoods.