Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Hyde Park Users Guide to South Loop: Opart Thai House

posted by chicago pop

The happy truth of the matter is, South Loop isn't just for groceries anymore.

In the space of time -- less, actually -- that it's taken Hyde Parkers to deep six The Point, to mothball Doctors Hospital, and to even get the ball rolling on a possible redevelopment of Harper Court, a city-within-a-city has arisen on the skeleton of boulevards that frames Chicago's historic heart.

As recently as 5 years ago, when the old boulevards of Indiana, Prairie, State, Wabash and Michigan were being decked out with new high-rises seemingly every week, there was barely a Subway sandwich shop to be found. The whole area had the potential, so it seemed, to go awry in the way that Jane Jacobs argued is most likely when large concentrations of urban development are built at once.

But that doesn't appear to have happened. Now, together with a bustling China Town and Bridgeport, Greater South Loop and the Near South Side offer an increasing variety of attractions for South Siders. To highlight that fact -- and to make life more interesting to Hyde Parkers while we sit out the development deep-freeze in our own neighborhood -- we offer you this and subsequent installments of A Hyde Park Users Guide to South Loop.

Opart Thai House

We visited this place on South State Street a few weeks ago after an event at Columbia College. Located on the ground floor of a new building, we were able to park around the corner and immediately get a seat on a Friday night. This is a third location for Opart, and from what we've heard from those who have tried both of its Chicago locations, it is superior to the original at Western and Lawrence.

Short take: a decent neighborhood Thai place with authentic and flavorful food.

Eggplant in Oyster Sauce with Basil and Tofu

If you're used to Thai from the folks on 55th St., it does a world of good to get out and calibrate what's on offer elsewhere in the City. The eggplant in the dish above was properly cooked and softened enough to absorb the seasonings and eliminate any fibrousness. The tofu was not battered and only lightly pan fried, which helps preserve its flavor and smooth texture. Simple achievements, but as with so many urban Thai or Chinese restaurants, not always ones bothered with.

Gaeng Panang Curry

Opart is a clean, modern space, and is quite tastefully appointed and decorated for a restaurant operating in the range of $7 to $9 entrees, making it competitive with 55th Street.

Overall, Opart Thai House is the best Thai experience available to Hyde Park from within a striking distance of about 5 miles. Check it out.

And, it's worth noting, the bathrooms are clean, brand new, and built for use.

Opart Thai House
1906 S. State Street

Sun.-Thurs. 11:00am-10:00pm
Fri.-Sat. 11:00am-11:00pm

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Herald's Chicken: Local Paper Confronts its Irrelevance

posted by chicago pop

Herald to world: "We are a little piqued."

World to Herald: "Who cares?"

The Herald is feeling a little left out these days. The University of Chicago has finally begun demolition at Harper Court, something we've known would happen for months now. They didn't tell the Herald the exact date when it was going to happen. Now the Herald is calling people names. They've lost access, and bemoan the fact in their most recent editorial ("Searching for U. of C. cooperation", Wednesday, August 19, 2009).

So what's the problem? It appears to be the fact that there is a new "Office of Civic Engagement", headed, as we know, by Ms. Anne Marie Lipinski. The Herald feels that, despite its name, the Office is not Engaging. Or, to be more precise, it is not giving the Herald the information it wants. So here's my question: given the way the Herald writes its editorials, why should it? What or who does the Herald represent, exactly? The "community"? That seems doubtful. So why should anyone cooperate with them?

The destiny of Harper Court has been known for some time now. There has been extensive coverage of the acquisition of the land, the community and TIF meetings updating people on the state of play. At some point, the buildings at Harper Court, legally emptied of their tenants and now on the market for redevelopment, had to come down. This week some of them did.

What didn't happen was that the University's Office of Civic Engagement gave the Herald a date and time when the bulldozers would roll in, giving our local paper everything it needed to run another loopy editorial summoning all old Harper Court die-hards to come chain themselves to fences, lamp posts, and railings in order to block demolition.

Engagement means interaction. It doesn't mean rolling over.

"But the pique of the Herald staff is not the issue," we're told. "We will get over it."

That's a relief. Meanwhile, bring on the new Harper Court.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hyde Park Etude #1

posted by chicago pop

From a loyal reader and heavy user of the Hyde Park Herald online archives.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hyde Park Community Meetings Influence the Nation

posted by chicago pop

The Hyde Park Style:
Bearded White Guy Yelling at The Man
(Based on Very Little True Information)

Hyde Park didn't just give the nation a President.

We gave the nation an ATTITUDE.

And now the rest of the nation is only finding out about it.

Hyde Park: where the nutball community meeting was invented.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Farewell Tribute To Peter Rossi

posted by chicago pop

Some of you have noticed that our stalwart ally and co-founding blogger Peter Rossi has been an absent voice on HPP for some time now. Peter has amicably let us know that the time has come to part ways.

HPP wouldn't be what it is today -- and certainly wouldn't have been nearly as fun to be a part of -- if Peter hadn't been along for the ride. But until HPP goes the way of Talking Points Memo and blossoms from a staff of one unpaid blogger to a few dozen employees (not likely), none of us will be making life decisions centering on the blog. So we wish Peter well, thank him for his contributions, and hope he checks in once in a while.

And in the meantime, we hope the fish are biting.


[The first of two retrospective posts highlighting Peter Rossi's contributions to HPP. Below is Peter's first, and still pertinent, post to Hyde Park Progress on the subject of Harper Court:]

Herald's Chicken: Handouts for Failing Businesses
(Thursday, August 2, 2007)

"Another Hyde Park Staple Forced Out," proclaims the headline on page one of this week's Hyde Park Herald (Wednesday, August 1, 2007). The reader is encouraged to think that some sort of ominous force or conspiracy has killed off a necessity for life in our neighborhood. It turns out, of course, that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Dr. Wax Records (a used vinyl and CD store in Harper Court) is $15,000 behind in rent payments. Dr. Wax’s landlord, the Harper Court Foundation, has taken the radical position that a lease should be honored and Dr. Wax’s owner should pay up.

This is part of a several themes that run through the Herald’s pages:

  1. There are conspiracies at work (mostly from profit-hungry capitalists) to rob our neighborhood of its distinctive character
  2. The Harper Court Foundation is not transparent in its dealings with the community and, therefore, something must be amiss.
  3. Any thing worth fighting for cannot exist in the marketplace and must be subsidized by government or community intervention.
Let’s take a closer look at Dr. Wax. Record stores are a dying phenomenon (witness the closing of the mother of all stores, the Virgin Mega store, and closer to home Coconuts). The reason is that music lovers buy their songs, one at a time, or steal them off of the internet. This is a trend that we cannot buck. Is this socially undesirable? The Herald would have us believe that stores like Dr. Wax support “underground” music or at least music that is only popular with small (i.e. elite) segments of the population. The Herald has not yet arrived in the 21st century. The wonderful thing about the internet is that it allows artists with small followings to make a living by providing them access to a large market. Niche markets thrive on the internet. Dr. Wax can only tap a very small local market, no wonder it is a model that is obsolete. We might have nostalgic memories of browsing Jimi Hendrix albums in “Spin It Records” as teenagers but now we can simply log on and even listen to the songs!

Dr. Wax records is no longer commercially viable. Does this mean that our value system is shaken to the core? No, it simply says that there aren’t many people who want to buy records there. Should we ask the Harper Court Foundation to cut a special deal for this dying business? Presented this way, this proposition is absurd. But the Herald has taken this position many times regarding Harper Court. For reasons known only to Herald editors, the businesses in Harper Court are viewed as special (what do a state senator office, a vet, a caterer, and a few restaurants have in common?) and deserve to be insulated from the market. We should allow them to run their businesses poorly and fail to attract customers. Isn’t the only purpose of a business to serve customers? If Dr. Wax can’t drum up business, why should we step in?

The headline is carefully crafted to use the phrase “forced out.” The idea here is that there is some wicked conspiracy to kill off the weak sisters. We must protest and tilt against the windmills of power. The only power here is the power of the consumer to choose how he or she buys records. This is a very powerful force but not one we should oppose.

But the farce continues, the Herald proudly reports the progress of a petition drive to “save Dr. Wax records.” Some 500 or so signatures are reported. Are these 500 customers for Dr. Wax records? This is cheap talk. We want the option of going to Dr. Wax but we aren’t willing to actually buy records from the store. Soon blue and white stickers “Save Dr. Wax” will be plastered over the “Save the Point” bumper stickers. Should anyone care?

Harper Court is a failed experiment born of 1960’s liberalism. The idea was to provide a nonprofit foundation to run a cluster of retail spaces for artists and other bohemians forced out by urban renewal. Somehow, lower rents could be charged as the Harper Court Foundation wouldn’t need to turn a profit. Of course, there are few things in business harder than running small retail stores. The most successful tenants soon left and Harper Court became “Huckster’s Court” - a sad collection of anemic businesses. With low rents, the Harper Court Foundation could ill afford to maintain and upgrade what was a poorly designed and constructed set of structures to begin with. We are left with a disgrace to our neighborhood. The wrecker’s ball can’t come too soon. A parking lot, of all things, would do more to help 53rd street than this continued mess.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


posted by Elizabeth Fama

We have a problem in Hyde Park. Let's call it "un-researched activism (U.A.)." The most painful example is the Point debacle, where hundreds of otherwise level-headed Hyde Parkers earnestly signed their names away and gave money to a deceptive "Save the Point" campaign, without even seeing the Compromise Plan that the City and Park District had offered us.

A small instance of U.A. occurred this week, but it may have slipped under your radar if you're not a University of Chicago Laboratory Schools student, alum, or parent. It's a valuable case study, and unlike the Point debacle, it has a happy ending.

The Lab Schools have three beloved Public Safety Coordinators (security guards). All three go beyond the call of duty, and are indispensable parts of the school community. The U of C Police, in an effort to reduce costs (ordered by President Zimmer across all departments) decided to outsource their security guard duties to a company called Allied Barton, which pays minimum wage. The three guards were offered employment with Allied Barton, but the pay cut was too severe, so they declined.

Begin the rioting: a well-meaning High School student (a sweet kid and family friend, I should add) started a facebook group to support the guards, saying that the U of C had unceremoniously terminated the guards, and that their last day was on August 15th. She implied that the University had deliberately done it over the summer, so that students and parents couldn't protest or say goodbye. When I joined the group (Wed. 7/29), roughly 350 people were already members (today there are 545) and there were many outraged comments. Parents had also started e-mailing each other, promoting the notion that this was a secretive act on the part of the University, and designed to side-step parental involvement.

That same day I e-mailed the principal of the High School, who sent me on to G. Christopher Jones (Director of Business Affairs) and he was happy -- I'd even say grateful -- to discuss the issue. None of the other facebook members (or, I presume from his tone, parents) had contacted him. Mr. Jones wrote that the Lab Schools administration had gone to bat for the guards, and had asked the University to make a special exception; their arguments were that the Lab Schools is a tiny slice of the security pie (for comparison, the Booth School has 20 guards), and that the personal investment and continuity of these guards are important because children are involved. He said the Lab Schools were participating in ongoing negotiations with Allied Barton and the University. He still seemed to have hope. For one thing, the University's new Associate VP of Safety and Security was sympathetic to the cause, in part because he's a Lab Schools parent himself.

The conclusion of these talks -- reached within the span of a week -- is that the guards will remain as U of C Police employees, and nothing about their status will change.

Now, it would have been fine with me if the facebook group and the flurry of e-mails were simply encouraging people to tell the University that they wanted to keep these guards, and at their current salaries. That kind of message is helpful. What disturbs me is that no one apparently called to check facts before going "viral," and that the story degenerated so quickly into the old "Evil Empire" conspiracy model.

I have a theory about why Hyde Parkers are like this. They're intellectual, and they want to be good, concerned citizens. They think activism is the way to do that. But they're busy -- oh, so busy. So they delegate their research to representatives -- that is, to local community activists, or in this case a high schooler -- or they buy into a sound bite.

Why they leap so quickly to the Evil Empire Model (E.E.M.) is beyond me, though. That's another feature of Hyde Park activism that deserves its own post someday.

Monday, August 3, 2009

GO TO 2040 Regional Planning Initiative

posted by chicago pop

From the folks at CMAP: a push to get local input, on the anniversary of Daniel Burnham's 1909 Chicago Plan, for the 2040 long-range development plan. CMAP wants to know what YOU think should be done to plan for the expected population growth of 2.8 million people in the Chicago region.

It's an excellent opportunity for Hyde Parkers interested in broader regional issues of smart growth and urban development to weigh in on big-picture issues like green space, transportation infrastructure, density, water, and energy. And we know that
Hyde Parkers are now fairly knowledgeable about these issues! Using CMAP's online, "Invent the Future" tool, you can build your own urban growth scenarios, and then, of course, post them to everyone on facebook. No joke.

Here's the blurb from CMAP, plus a list of upcoming "Invent the Future" workshops. Check it out.


The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is leading development of GO TO 2040, the comprehensive regional plan that will guide growth for Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will Counties for the rest of this century. In addition to land use and transportation, GO TO 2040 also addresses the full range of quality-of-life issues, including the natural environment, economic development, housing, and human services such as education, health care and other social services.

Our seven-county region needs to make some critical decisions over the next several years. We can’t solve everything at once, so it’s all about trade-offs.

  • Should rapid growth outward continue? Or should we consolidate housing and jobs where infrastructure already exists?
  • Should we emphasize roads or transit — or invest in both?
  • How can we reduce energy use while also strengthening our region’s economy?

In fall 2009, your input will help CMAP develop a preferred scenario that will best reflect the region's desired future. Real-world public policies and investments -- including roads, transit, and other infrastructure -- will be the result when our GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan is finalized in 2010.

CMAP's GO TO 2040 campaign has entered its "Invent the Future" public-input phase. Through August 2009, tell us how you want the seven-county region to plan for the additional 2.8 million residents expected by 2040. Attend an "Invent the Future" workshop and have your say.

Visit to create, share, and compare your own scenarios for the future.

A list of upcoming "Invent the Future" workshops:

Pullman - Hotel Florence, 11111 S. Forrestville Ave., Chicago, on Wednesday, July 22, 2009, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

South Suburban Mayors & Managers Association, 1904 W. 174th St., East Hazel Crest, on Thursday, July 23, 2009, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Rogers Park Library, 6907 N. Clark St., Chicago, on Tuesday, July 28, 2009, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Active Transportation Alliance, 9 W. Hubbard St., Suite 402, Chicago, on Wednesday, July 29, 2009, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Argonne National Laboratory Transportation Research and Analysis Computation Center (TRAC) Center, 2700 International Dr., West Chicago, on Wednesday, July 29, 2009, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Village of Tinley Park Kallsen Center, 16250 S. Oak Park Ave., Tinley Park, on Thursday, July 30, 2009, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Bartlett Village Hall, 228 S. Main St., Bartlett, on Thursday, July 30, 2009, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Bronzeville Visitors Center, 3501 S. King Dr., Chicago, Tuesday, August 4, 2009, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Harvard Public Library, 900 E. McKinley Rd., Harvard, on Wednesday, August 5, 2009, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Ct., Schaumburg, on Thursday, August 6, 2009, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Joliet Historical Museum, 204 N. Ottawa St., Joliet, on Tuesday, August 11, 2009, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Geneva Public Works Department Training Room, 1800 South St., Geneva, on Tuesday, August 11, 2009, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Kendall County Health Department, 811 John St., Yorkville, on Wednesday, August 12, 2009, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Barrington Area Library, 505 N. Northwest Hwy., Barrington, on Thursday, August 13, 2009, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Berkeley Public Library, 1637 N. Taft Ave., Berkeley, on Tuesday, August 18, 2009, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Arlington Heights Village Hall, Board Room, 33. S. Arlington Heights Rd., Arlington Heights, on Tuesday, August 18, 2009, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Elmwood Park Village Hall, Third Floor Council Chambers, 11 W. Conti Pkwy., Elmwood Park, Wednesday, August 19, 2009, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., Evanston, on Thursday, August 20, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Fox Waterway Agency Offices, 45 S. Pistakee Lake Rd., Fox Lake, on Thursday, August 20, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Grayslake Village Hall, 10 S. Seymour St., Grayslake, on Tuesday, August 25, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Montgomery Village Hall, 200 N. River St., Montgomery, on Wednesday, August 26, 2009, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The 53rd Street Plastic Red Man

posted by chicago pop

53rd Street seems to be at a low-point.

Nothing symbolizes this more than the ridiculous plastic-poly-composite-faux "Red Indian" that has been planted at the intersection of 53rd and Harper, across from the empty hulk of the old Herald Building and Harper Court.

Here we have yet another Hyde Park smoke shop with a genius for advertising, a flare for self-promotion, and, topping its more modest cousin in the basement space at Hyde Park Boulevard and 55th Street, a commitment to out-and-out buffoonery.

We'll note that since we first posted on the obnoxious ad blitz launched by "Cigarettes for Less" earlier this summer at 5503 1/2 S. Hyde Park Boulevard, most of what we then found to be obnoxious has been removed: the free-standing placard chained to a public light pole, which we are told was removed at the request of 5th Ward Alderman Hairston, and an unsightly wooden sign randomly bolted to the side of an otherwise handsome and historic Hyde Park apartment building.

Both are now gone, and for the better, much diminishing our initial objections.

Yet no sooner did the cheesy advertising on one prominent street corner abate, than by some unholy Archimedian principle of cheese dynamics, the same volume of cheesiness was displaced to yet another and even more prominent location. The same location that all the players in Hyde Park are working to make a "destination" for the region.

Destination: Red Man

This particular improvement, such as it is, has not so far been highlighted on the University of Chicago blog devoted to 53rd Street redevelopment, 53rdstreetblog. We can't imagine why not.

At least one Hyde Park resident dislikes the plastic-composite-poly-faux Red Man, one Ms. Marie Jackson, whose letter to the editor of the July 29 Hyde Park Herald takes issue with what she feels is the racist nature of the statue.

But even were the statue in question a plastic knock-off of a sculpture by Phidias or Praxiteles, or an inflatable Ben Franklin or Homer Simpson, it would still be an unwarranted imposition of junky advertising on the public way, an intrusion on the commons.

And just a wee bit out-of-date.

As long ago as 1871, the New York Times felt that the use of "Red Indian" statues in front of "tobacconist" shops had become déclassé. Granted, Chicago tends to lag the styles and trends of New York by a few years, but a lag of roughly a century-and-a-half should be more than enough time for even our less attentive merchants to catch on.

Wrote the Times in 1871, in the idiom of the period:

The fumacious or ruminant consumer of the nicotene weed is frequently confronted at the entrance of the store where these things are sold with a graven image to which he might, if idolatrously inclined, bow down and offer up his those monstrous creations of some former epoch...

The ill-proportioned savage in front of the corner cigar store, with whom our youthful eyes were once unpleasantly familiar, has descended from his pedestal to make room for a robust maiden of the Minnehaha persuasion...

Of course, we can argue with the author that neither a Minnehaha statue, nor any other kind of self-authorized decoration of the public way, is really an improvement, nor terribly tasteful. We'd prefer sidewalks to be clear for use by pedestrians and, where appropriate, restaurant seating. Not cheesy plastic statues.

Alderman Hairston asked that the much less objectionable free-standing sign in the photograph above be removed from the corner of 55th and HPB.

Surely 4th Ward Alderman Preckwinkle can get a tacky, plastic statue removed from a prominent corner of what both Preckwinkle and the University of Chicago hope to be the commercial heart of Hyde Park?