Monday, December 20, 2010

A Bone-Rattling Tale of Christmas Present: or, How to Get Something Fixed in a Chicago Ward

posted by richard gill

The Rattling Plate on 57th and HP Boulevard

This is a story about wretched municipal response to a serious, yet simple, problem. What should have taken a few hours took a week. It was a genuine City of Chicago Screwup.

In early December 2010, a persistent, frequent banging started coming from 57th Drive at Hyde Park Boulevard, in front of the Museum of Science and Industry. It was loud enough to disturb anyone living on or near 56th Street from Lake Shore Drive to Cornell. A heavy steel plate had been placed in the 57th Drive curb lane to cover a hole. Either the plate was not placed correctly, or it moved, because it rocked and banged whenever a car rolled over it at about 20 mph or more (every few seconds most of the day). People told me it was interfering with their sleep, and some (as far away as Kenwood Avenue) at first thought it was gunfire.

"The Chicago system of placing the Alderman between the resident and the city is abominable."

Ok, so there’s a big hole in the street and the city put a temporary lid on it, to keep the traffic lane open. It’ll get taken care of in a day or so, right? Wrong. It went on through the week, so on Thursday, December 9, I registered a complaint with Alderman Hairston’s 5th Ward service office. In Chicago, the local Alderman’s office is the go-to place for remediating problems and obtaining city services. Even the 311 website, an all-purpose non-emergency reporting venue, suggests contacting the Alderman. As a backup measure, I made the same complaint on the 311 website and received a prompt email acknowledgment. Saturday, I received an email from the Alderman’s office saying the plate was gone. It was still there, hammering away.

So I emailed the Alderman’s office again, to say the information they provided was incorrect. The office checked and then replied that a crew had indeed been dispatched to the site and had returned without fixing it because of weather and furlough days (city budget crisis). I believe this meant that they wanted to fix the underlying problem, but they had insufficient crew and/or equipment. Whatever the case, the thing remained and kept making noise, by then sounding like cymbals. I again informed the Alderman’s office.

On Tuesday the 14th, a solo operator with a front-end loader arrived and repositioned the plate to be square with the curb. The operator even dismounted and inspected how the plate sat. Then he immediately departed. Now the noise was (1) worse and (2) happened even at very slow vehicle speed. Motorists tried to drive around it. I notified the 5th Ward office. I also phoned 311, to again report the problem and I added that the rocking plate might not be safe to drive over. On Wednesday the 15th, between about 6 and 8 pm, a crew arrived and put up temporary barriers to keep traffic out of the curb lane. The quiet was delicious.

Thursday morning, December 16, I went out to take pictures and noticed red spray paint—the color code for “electrical utility”—on top of the snow, leading to an electrical manhole near the curb. I guessed that the hole under the city’s plate might be for Commonwealth Edison work. I called Edison, to find out what they might know. The rep informed me that they could not know what was taking place in the field, and suggested I call 311.

Then, around 11am, an operator and equipment arrived—this time accompanied by a foreman. The plate was shoved off the roadway, to the curb inside the museum driveway. The hole was filled with some hard-pack material, which may be a temporary measure, because as of this writing (11 am, Saturday, December 18) the barriers are still up.

That’s the chronicle. What have we learned from it?

First: the Chicago system of placing the Alderman between the resident and the city is abominable. This system inserts a third party simply to relay a request. It is time-consuming and it invites errors in communication. It also makes a citizen dependent upon (and grateful to?) a politician, and that invites real problems. If 311 really functions as it should, why is the aldermanic intermediary necessary?

I believe the Alderman’s 5th Ward office did relay my initial request to the city in a timely manner, but then the city went back through the Alderman who then got back to me. Since the plate wasn’t gone, something got miscommunicated or the ward office, having called the city, assumed the plate was removed. Then, it took time for me to tell the Alderman’s office that their information was wrong, so they could tell the city. I really don’t know whether it was communication with 311 or the ward office that finally led to results. Also, it’s hard to imagine that other people weren’t calling.

Second: It was the city’s fault that this horrible disturbance happened in the first place. Furthermore, the city’s initial “fix” only exacerbated the problem. They sent out an unsupervised employee, who pushed the plate a bit, then didn’t bother to hang around for a minute to listen to the results. The job was so simple, perhaps a supervisor wasn’t deemed necessary. Finally, when traffic was diverted around the plate, it was nighttime (rhymes with overtime?)

Third: assuming the claimed furloughs were factual, we now have a direct example of the consequences of a bullying mayor, an ineffectual city council, and patronage hiring.

Fourth: The city just blew it. It took three tries over a full week to move a plate and fill a hole. And that was after the problem had gone on for days.

We are about to have what I hope will be a huge change in city government. There will be a brand new Mayor and a lot of fresh faces in the City Council. Assuming they must be better than what we have now, they should unzip the whole governmental fabric and shake it out. A makeover is needed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Hairston Used Infrastructure Funds to Pay for Free Parking

posted by chicago pop

Leslie Hairston's letter to the editor of this week's Hyde Park Herald discloses a little-known fact about the Fifth Ward's magical bookkeeping: it's possible to spend aldermanic menu funds dedicated to infrastructure on non-infrastructure items like parking give-aways, while using the same money to make capital improvements on the South Shore Cultural Center!

It's a 2-for-1 deal! Impossible, but true! Vote for Leslie!

Right. Now let's take a minute to sort through just what's going on with Hairston's 2010 summer parking give-aways at the 55th and 63rd lakefront lots.

In her letter, Alderman Hairston offers an accounting of how she spent the money.

Approximately $42,000 went towards maintaining the traditionally free parking lot at 63rd St. Beach...I allocated another $52,000 towards the lot at 55th Street and South Shore Drive to cover nearby residents from June through December 2010 who traditionally park there at night.

And: "The Park District agreed the money my office paid for the meters would be used for capital projects at the South Shore Cultural Center."

As the Herald previously reported:

Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th) is touting a deal she arranged to provide 100 free parking spaces at 63rd Street beach this summer, but she is providing few details about how she is planning to pay for her largesse...

She plans to pay the Park District for its lost parking revenue out of her aldermanic menu, a $1.32 million fund given to each alderman for infrastructure improvements throughout their wards -- projects such as road resurfacing or streetlights [italics added] ...

But she declined to provide any further information about how much of her aldermanic menu she will spend on the free parking.

("Hairston gets free parking at 63rd St. Beach -- at what cost?" by Kate Hawley, Hyde Park Herald, 24 June 2009)
The Herald went on to estimate that this would cost the citizens of Chicago $77,000, a figure which HPP blogger Elizabeth Fama added to the Tribune's reported $52,000 subsidy for free overnight parking at the 55th and South Shore Drive lot, to come up with a grand total of $129,000 in one-time parking giveaways. In her letter to the editor, Hairston claims that paying for the 63rd Street lot cost $35,000 less than the Herald's estimate, or $42,000.

Even so, that still means Hairston spent $94,000 of public money on parking freebies that 1) weren't means tested, and 2) at 63rd Street, were available on a first come, first served basis -- hardly an equitable or rational form of "monetary relief."

But here we come to the most interesting thing in Hairston's letter, which is her claim, repeating the Herald's statement of June 2009, that the parking subsidies came out of funds dedicated for infrastructure.

How is a parking subsidy classifiable as an infrastructure expense?


No wonder Hairston didn't want to talk about it. It turns out, according to her letter, that the money to pay for the spots at 63rd was given to the Park District with the understanding that it be used to make repairs at the South Shore Cultural Center.

So then who paid for the spaces? Would Standard Parking, the concessionaire responsible for installing and maintaining pay boxes for the Park District, agree give Leslie a free ride for the summer, just because she has great hair? Unlikely. The best interpretation I can come up with for this rather opaque arrangement is that the Park District ate the $42,000 due to Standard Parking for 63rd Street beach, in exchange for Hariston's funding of work on the Cultural Center.

Very creative bookkeeping, indeed. But the Park District still paid for those spots, which means ultimately Chicago taxpayers gave them away with no foreseeable benefit other than helping Leslie Hairston get reelected. It still amounts to a publicly funded parking spots - for votes program.

And we haven't even mentioned the question of Hairston's use of 63rd Street as a VIP parking lot over the 2010 July 4th weekend.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Newsflash: (unconfirmed) Employee Buys Out Istria, Cafe will Remain Open

The Groove Store on 55th

posted by chicago pop

Since it was a swamp, only little more than a century ago, Hyde Park has gone on to host many things which might strike a casual visitor as unlikely: over there, they more or less invented the atomic bomb; across the way, major strides are occurring in the translation of Demotic Egyptian, Hittite, and Assyrian; while over on 55th, next to a couple of hair salons, is --- the new vinyl store. The ending of the previous sentence is not meant to be deflationary, or at least, it will only sound that way to the unenlightened, which is what I was only week ago. Because Chicago -- and Hyde Park -- are world centers in the trade of old vinyl LPs.

Hence, Groove Store. There is a reason it's here.

You can get the skinny on Groove Store from an excellent piece in Chicago Weekly. The store's owner, a Frenchman, started shopping for vinyl in Chicago back in the 90s, around the time Chicago's Mecca for vinyl enthusiasts, Dusty Groove, first opened. Alexis Bouteville seems to have been part of the same trend, and opened the first Groove Store back in France.

“I’ve been coming to Chicago almost 20 years to buy records,” Bouteville says. It was shortly after his first trip in the early ’90s that he opened the first Groove Store in Paris. “In France nobody wants to buy CDs, everybody’s downloading,” Bouteville observes, and the Groove Store there sells vinyl almost exclusively. The new Hyde Park shop is the stateside extension of the Paris location.

Groove Store's Paris Location

Perhaps it's Hyde Park's ambiance as a cultural attic, where things generally forgotten elsewhere (like Demotic Egyptian, Hittite, and Assyrian, or change ringing) are kept track of and cultivated in proud defiance of prevailing trends. The neighborhood itself is a bit of an improbable relic, a geographical reality which seems to have infused the aesthetics of the U of C undergrads who, after working at campus radio station WHPK, went on to found Dusty Groove back in 1996. And Chicago's vast South Side musical heritage provides aficionados with almost as much research material as the tablets and shards at the Oriental Institute.

Rolling Stone describes Dusty Groove thusly: "Funk, soul, African, Brazilian, Latin, hip-hop, jazz, and disco are the specialties of this Chicago powerhouse — easily the finest shop of its kind in the United States." And its concept was born in Hyde Park. Add to that the local legacy of Dr. Wax, the ongoing concern of Hyde Park Records, and Groove Store seems much less of an oddity and much more of a new chapter in a vinyl tradition with deep roots, and continuing vitality, in Hyde Park and the South Side.

The Groove Store
1703 E. 55th. Street
Monday-Saturday, 11am-8pm
Sunday noon-6pm
(773) 938-0073

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hyde Park's Shovel Slackers

posted by chicago pop

Slacker Address: 5515 S. Dorchester (12/07/2010)

It's that time of year again when we highlight slacker property owners who don't shovel their sidewalks, letting trampled snow freeze into icy sheets that can make treacherous going for pedestrians, dogs, and strollers.

Slacker Address: 5517 S. Blackstone (12/07/2010)

As always, the problem areas are in the charmed area blessed with I.M. Pei's warren of brick boxes, which seem to have the architectural property of subconsciously deterring their owners from complying with city ordinances. After this first December snowfall, the south stretch of sidewalk along 55th has again been conspicuously neglected by its neighbors.

Slacker Address: 5517 S. Blackstone (12/07/2010)

Call 311 to report an address adjoining unshoveled sidewalks. From the Chicago Department of Transportation:

Chicago Municipal Code 4-4-310 and 10-8-180 require property owners to remove snow and ice from the sidewalks in front of their properties.

Addressing sidewalk snow removal is a top priority of the MPAC, composed of representatives of government, health care, and business and community organizations.

Citizens can call 311 to report a location where sidewalks have not been cleared of snow.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Istria on 57th Likely To Close Soon

posted by chicago pop

Multiple sources have informed us of somewhat shocking news: Istria on 57th may close very soon, perhaps as early as December 20th.

Many people have said that this one cafe made life much more tolerable in retail/social gathering spot/bohemian culture--deprived Hyde park.

If this keeps up, it's going to be harder for realtors (or realtor, singular, meaning MetroPro) to make the pitch that, when it comes to Hyde Park, it's either "the golden rectangle" or the wilderness. With the rare exception of the new Z&H location, what little action there is in the area is either well to the north -- Istria's second, Cornell location at the Hyde Park Art Center is doing very well -- or south, where Robust Coffee Lounge is taking on Woodlawn. With Florian already gone, an empty space under the Metra tracks at 57th and Lake Park Avenue will make two conspicuous holes in one prominent block in the heart of Hyde Park.

[Source: Eric Allix Rogers' Flickr photostream --]

We'd love to know what went wrong. Streams of people pour out of the Metra station at regular intervals all day long, walking right past Istria's front doors. Neighborhood folks go out of their way to grab a seat. Was it poor management? Bad luck? Or simply not enough traffic?

Perhaps locals may find consolation in the fact that Morsbach's Medici Bakery, ever the trend-setter, is now offering cupcakes.


Postscript from Istria received in response to this post:

With respect to closing our original Istria Cafe on 57th Street, several factors let to this difficult decision. Chief among them include a multitude of inflationary pressures and operational constraints. In order to be a going concern, we need to make adjustments to our menu offerings and business model - changes that we plan to roll out over the next several weeks at our other location on 5030 South Cornell in the Hyde Park Art Center. Unfortunately, the economic model and real estate associated with our original 57th Street location are not compatible at this time. We are saddened that we need to close the doors of our original store, but remain optimistic that the improvements that we have planned will be well received by our customers. We have served many wonderful loyal patrons at 57th Street over the past five and half years and hope to continue to serve them going forward.
Marc Pribaz
Istria Cafe

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Robust Coffee Lounge: Caffeine in an Urban Fastness

posted by chicago pop

One of Hyde Park - Kenwood - Woodlawn's newest cool things is in the lower left-hand corner of the above building: Robust Coffee Lounge. We've been flagrantly remiss in not heralding its arrival much, much sooner. Chicago Weekly has a very nice write-up of Robust here. Neighbor blogger Woodlawn Wonder gives her personal take on it here.

So, after several friendly proddings from readers, we finally made it down to their corner location on 63rd and Woodlawn -- where, as a rosy-cheeked youth I walked in days of yore, neath the dappled sunlight of a cacophonous elevated rail spur, in search of Harold's Chicken -- to find that we weren't the only ones retracing our footsteps.

For the most interesting thing about Robust Coffee Lounge-- where, despite the name, it is hoped they do not brew robusta coffee beans -- is actually the owner Jake Sapstein's backstory. In opening up Robust, Sapstein is retracing footsteps of his own. Talk to him for a little bit and you'll quickly realize that he knows the South Side. The reason is that his family owned a chain of pharmacies throughout the area, back in the day when Walgreens was not the only game in town.

It's clear that running a small business, and entrepreneurial spirit, are in his blood; so is running a store on the South Side of Chicago.

I mention all of this because I couldn't help but wonder, approaching the building in this photograph from the north, surrounded as it is by enormous tracts of empty land, who would have the guts to open up here. Not just because it's kind of scary at night (ask Jake, he'll tell you), but because commercially it's deserted, and business loves company. The whole story has a sort of poetry: the old threads of social fabric, torn for over half a century, have been stitched together again on one particular street corner. With any luck, so we are told, Sapstein and his business partner may open up a restaurant next door.

And the coffee? Well, if you've gotten used to Z&H, you may be a little let down. Then again, Sapstein's aim is not to be a solo foodie boutique, but to grow and make money -- full-disclosure to Old-Guard Hyde Park anti-capitalists. But the baked goods are all locally sourced, and everything on the deli menu -- which is substantial, and includes staples that you can't get in Hyde Park anymore, like chicken salad -- is made in-house. "We want to be a curator for local vendors," Jake told me.

Seems to be working so far. Go check it out, if you haven't already.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Carol Moseley Braun's Kitchen is Atrocious, or, How Hyde Parkers Expect to Sell High in Down Markets

posted by chicago pop

No one is going to vote for her anyway, but one look at the interior design job in her $1.7 million brownstone, and voters have every right to ask some serious questions. Like, how can you expect to ask 11% or $200 K more ($1.9 million) than you paid for it, if that's what you did to the kitchen? What's with all the jarring Christmas tree green? And what happened to the soul, amidst all the whitewashed box-rooms, of what must have at one time been a beautiful old brownstone?

It is often remarked that Hyde Park residential real estate operates in a kind of Bermuda Triangle, in which home prices seem to go in the opposite direction of prevailing trends, exempting themselves from the rules of economics that apply to most everyone else. "I'm not into 'buy high, sell low,'" Braun told Chicago Magazine.

The piece confirms a few other things about the Twilight Zone real estate market in Hyde Park that have been widely rumored for ages: 1) To be successful, you must be like a humanities PhD candidate who expects to get a job, and pretend that you are an exception. List for above what comparables in the neighborhood are going for, and pray.

Chicago Magazine
's Dennis Rodkin reports that "Hyde Park’s current average sale price for single-family homes is in the 2004-2005 range." Braun bought her home in 2006. 2) Don't list unless you're willing to die in the home before lowering the price. Quoth Braun: “The market is so soft. Until it turns around, I’ll stay here."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Worthy 5th Ward Challenger: Anne Marie Miles

posted by chicago pop

Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston has been parked in the same political spot for a while now. Unfortunately, the meter has expired, but her car is still there. It's time to call the tow truck. Other people would like to park there.

As of this past Monday's filing deadline, 9 candidates have received the call from dispatch, and are currently on the ballot to take Leslie Hairston's parking spot at the job she has held, with very little to show for it, since 1999.

We think this crowded field is a good thing. The factors that have contributed to stasis on the City Council, and indirectly in the 5th Ward, have slackened considerably in 2010. Chicago city politics, like politics on the national level, are currently wide open and tumultuous.

This does not bode well for status-quo politicians who have preferred to coast on complacency. Hairston is an incumbent in a time of anti-incumbent sentiment. Her bread-and-circuses approach to discretionary spending reveals a lack of long-term vision for the ward. Employment opportunities in the ward, which would have benefited from 200 new jobs had she helped shepherd the Doctors Hospital project, remain scarce. The major city players who have supported her in the past are leaving the picture -- both Mayor Daley and 4th Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle.

There are thus good reasons for challengers to take on the 5th Ward Alderman. On the basis of her record, Leslie Hairston is vulnerable in ways that she was not in any of the previous three elections. Even if more than half the field drops out before the end of the year, the current Alderman will still face at least one qualified opponent worthy of the 5th Ward's historic tradition of independent, visionary politics: Anne Marie Miles.

We had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Anne Marie several weeks ago, and are very pleased that such a strong candidate has officially entered the ring for the February 2011 aldermanic elections. Before too long, we'll be interviewing Anne Marie Miles on HPP to give readers a better sense of who she is and where she comes from.

For now, though, we'll let her speak in her own words.


From an undated letter to the editor shared with HPP:

I am running for Alderman of the Fifth Ward of Chicago, because I believe that the Fifth Ward no longer represents the independent voice of reason that it once was for so many years. Over the last decade that voice has diminished and is now on the brink of extinction.

Bona fide leadership is sorely lacking, while there are many issues in the ward that are not being addressed; constituent services are at the top of that list, especially when voters cannot receive coherent responses to justifiable concerns. Constituents continue to wait for communication on education programs, crime prevention, broken pavements, potholes, gutters and tree limbs.

I became utterly committed to run for alderman, when I learned that in a summer with the highest youth unemployment rates in years, vital ward funds were being used to pay for parking spaces for people who live in the co-ops and condos along the lakefront. How many summer jobs could have been created for Fifth Ward residents with that money -- over $100,000.00 -- in Ward funds -- spent on free parking spaces, most of which were never used.

The priority of the Fifth Ward must be economic revitalization. Concern for community, children and senior citizens must be at the very top of that agenda. Common sense leadership is required in City Council; leaders who are willing to confront issues urgently affecting the city, and who can provide a productive plan for economic development, encouragement for children to graduate from high school, and facilitate increased community program development.

I bring a strong commitment to the Fifth Ward where I have resided and raised a family, since the 1990's. I bring renewed energy and resources, and will relentlessly call upon business leaders, parents, educators and youth program directors, to ensure the revitalization of the historic Fifth Ward community and its place in this great city of Chicago.

From a campaign press release of November 23, 2010:

Anne Marie Miles is an advocate, community activist and a loyal, passionate Fifth Ward supporter. She is involved with parent associations and local community groups focused on improving children's lives and reducing teen violence. Miles is the former Secretary and President of the University of Chicago Comer Hospital Service Committee, and has worked for Chicago Volunteer Legal Services providing free legal services to lower income residents. She is currently on the steering committee of Safe Youth Chicago of the Union League Club of Chicago.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Harold Washington Park Advisory Council: Organizational Meeting Thursday, Nov. 18

Help form an Advisory Council

for Harold Washington Park

Please join us for our organizational meeting:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

6:30 PM

Hyde Park Art Center

5020 S. Cornell

We welcome and need your leadership, ideas and support. Let us make Harold Washington Park better, together.

What is a Park Advisory Council? A park advisory council is a group of individuals who meet regularly with the Chicago Park District’s local park supervisor to support the effective functioning of the park and advises them on the needs and concerns of the community.

Agenda will include Council Formation & Elections, meeting schedule. Once formed the Council will identify its goals and priorities. For purposes of this effort Harold Washington Park is defined as the area between 4900 S. Chicago Beach Dr. - 53rd Street and between S. Hyde Park Blvd. and Lake Shore Drive.)

Please call Park Supervisor Heather Kelly at (773) 747-2703 with any questions.

City of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, Mayor

Chicago Park District

Timothy J. Mitchell, General Superintendent & CEO

Visit or call (312) 742-PLAY; (312) 747-2001 (TTY)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Facelift for East Park Towers, Funeral for Tobacco for Less

posted by chicago pop

New/Original Facade of East Park Towers

It's hard to find a picture on the web of what the facade of East Park Towers used to look like. That's probably because it was absolutely hideous, and anyone with an interest in photographing the building did well to elevate the picture frame above street level to focus instead on the handsome upper stories overlooking Harold Washington Park. But you probably remember: a blank concrete wall, textured with pebbles, a bad 70's fad, sort of like the aluminum sheeting that was once draped over the Palmer House and other old downtown buildings to make them look "modern."

Old Facade of East Park Towers, Courtesy of HPP reader
and Talented Photographer Eric Allix Rogers

Well, it's gone. And thank you to MAC for restoring East Park Towers' handsome and understated neo-classical foyer. This makes up for being next to Hyde Park-Kenwood's third spookiest building.


Elsewhere in the neighborhood: what will become of this little basement space? We've seen a boutique bike shop, a tobacco store, and then a mini-mart come through this location in a brief three year period. For a variety of reasons, none of them has worked out. This corner deserves something special. It would be great if the landlord agreed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Grease! A 50's Rock and Roll Musical. King College Prep, Nov 18-20

King College Prep High School
4445 South Drexel Blvd
Chicago, Illinois 60653
Phone: 773-535-1180

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chicago and the Opium of the Developers

posted by chicago pop

Fantasy Real Estate: Chicago's Latest Virtual Reality Game.
Beautiful Renderings Cost Nothing and Keep Stakeholders In a Trance -- But For How Long?

To read the news about all the great development projects the Chicago city council is approving, you wouldn't think that home foreclosures and unemployment continue to be a record highs, that state and local government are running enormous deficits, and that the numbers on all of these might shoot up to even greater heights if, as it very well might, the economy tumbles into a "double-dip" recession.

If you are a bureaucrat in the City Department of Planning, or a city council member in a city that has no money, and you therefore have nothing to do, but are still getting paid (somehow) to show up, it can't hurt to approve grandiose projects that will get Blair Kamin and the Tribune all excited, even if there's no realistic way some of these things will happen in less than 10 year's time -- 20 year's time if we're pessimistic. That's the kind of hole we're in. It's about this big:

Glory Days Gone Past, or, Chicago's Real Estate Crater
[source: Curbed Chicago]

Other cases abound. Remember the exotic 90 floor Shangri La Hotel on Wacker and Clark, the one that is now an empty 26 story shell that will most likely be the first Loop building to be demolished in almost half a century? "Solstice in the Park," the cutting edge green building that was supposed to go up on the corner of Cornell and 56th, doesn't even have a hole in the ground, though it is probably demolished in concept. Optimists will note that it is apparently still listing 8 units for sale, with construction to start "in 2012".

The new blog Curbed Chicago gives a sense of the split personality that still pervades Chicago's real estate world, with posts detailing the ever bigger graveyard of pre-crash projects like the New City "mixed-use development [that] was to have 490 residential units and 370,000 square feet of retail" at North and Clyborn, alongside euphoric posts and splashy renderings of what we supposedly can still expect "as soon as the market turns around," as if the Great Recession is just another downturn and we just need to wait for consumers to start spending again.

The above monster, together with three others, adds "more than 2.5 million square feet of commercial space" to the market in Chicago, suggesting just how far some of the local real estate moguls still have to fall to get to post-crash reality. Loathe to sacrifice the model that has driven its success since the reign of the first Mayor Daley and his famous commitment to the downtown business elite, for these guys it is still onward and upward. Witness the Tribune Blair Kamin in a review of a recently approved "plan" for the vast (bigger than the Loop) abandoned US Steel Yard:

Plans for the old US Steel Yards: $98 million in pre-project infrastructure approved by City Council (from what pot of gold?); $4 billion final cost
Imagine: Sleek residential high-rises lining a vast industrial slip where ore boats delivered the raw materials for steel-making. A new park built over the foundations of a massive open hearth. A broad extension of South Shore Drive that would be an urban boulevard. Parks and alleys that would channel stormwater into Lake Michigan instead of the city’s sewers.

I am imagining it, and that's likely all I will be able to do as far as this project is concerned for about another 25 years. Reality check, anyone?

So when I see glossy renderings for more local projects, like the Vermilion Development Inc plans for Harper Court (12-story, 150,000-square-foot office building, about 100,000 square feet for retailers and parking for 435), or even the more humble "Shops and Lofts" at 47th and Cottage Grove, which will supposedly host an Aldi and 140 units of affordable and CHA rental housing, I have to wonder.

The truth is, and it hurts to say this, as much as the University of Chicago wants to build out the neighborhood at Harper Court and 53rd, they may have missed their chance. That chance was a 20-year window of opportunity that, for some reason or another, was squandered in the likes of Doctors Hospital type fiascoes in which a major institutional power got its arse whooped in the valleys of the local neighborhood Afghanistan. We are likely to live with things as they now stand until our kids move away to college, we move out of the neighborhood for other jobs, or we are dead.

Such gaps in the geological record of American real estate are not unheard of. Around 50th and Cornell, near the popular Istria cafe, there are a cluster of high-rise buildings built in the 1920s. They are gorgeous and speak to the confidence of the age that built them, loaded with the kinds of finishes and craftsmanship that you don't find in residential buildings today. Most of these towers only have windows on two or three sides, because the developers expected neighboring towers of equal ambition and height to go up beside them.

Those other towers never materialized, and the window-less building faces are now mute brick walls to the rest of the neighborhood. The next buildings to appear were built roughly a quarter century later, in the 1950s.

We may be looking at something comparable this time around, and it's not clear that Antheus or the University of Chicago or anybody else will be able to convince enough Sam Zell-type testosterone jockeys, shell-shocked banks or private equity high-rollers to put money into projects that will add hundreds of condos or offices that, right now, no one wants. The suburban empty nesters that were once selling their split-level homes to buy condos in the South Loop probably aren't going to make any moves for a while.

So, by all means, make no small plans, as is only right in the city of Daniel Burnham. But someone should do us the favor of explaining how all of this stuff will get built in an economy that is not going to reset at "2006" anytime soon, if ever.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spookiest Buildings in Hyde Park-Kenwood: A Halloween Special

posted by chicago pop

If you're serious about Halloween, here is HPP's list of the top spookiest houses in Hyde Park-Kenwood. No guarantee that they're haunted, but they sure look like they ought to be (and with good reason in the case of our #1 pic below).

#1. Franks Family Mansion, 2007
Kenwood Home of Robert "Bobby" Franks

Big, empty, falling-apart Kenwood mansion two blocks from the home of the President of the United States. But also the home of the poor soul, Robert "Bobby" Franks, the adolescent boy murdered by the most infamous U of C alums in history: Leopold and Loeb. Strangely enough, this tragic site was recently a preschool. The sign still hangs on a plywood board nailed over a window facing 51st Street. Very spooky.

#2. Spooky House on Blackstone & 56th

This house really does look like the classic, Hollywood version of the haunted Victorian mansion, complete with corner turret for strange lights to shine forth at night, ample attic for chain-dragging poltergeists, and an overgrown yard that will keep people from getting in ... or getting out.

#3. Spooky Apartment Building on Hyde Park Boulevard
at Harold Washington Park

One day this building upped and went empty. For awhile its yard was completely overgrown, but the vegetation was recently cut back, diminishing the spookiness. It has more of a serial killer as opposed to tormented ghost vibe. Spooky, for sure.

And of course ...

#4. St. Stephens Church

Down in the basement, with all the rats ... very, very spooky. And for sale.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Elegy Written by a Vacant Lot; or, The Lament of Hans Morsbach (A Prose Poem)

posted by chicago pop

"There is a need to have sensible local citizens to have a good relationship with the University. I am not among them.

-- Hans Morsbach, October 24, 2010

Hans Morsbach
Date: October 24, 2010 5:32:33 PM CDT
Subject: Re: [Good Neighbors] Anybody know anything about this?

I have been getting the invitation for years but have not been attending for a while. It is in the President's home and attended by folks from the University engaged in neighborhood matters and local citizens. There are fewer people I know than there used to be and I would probably feel like a stranger if I went. Somebody in the UfC's neighborhood staff has singled you out to be a significant citizen. The affair was more useful in the past when there were more UFC persons who cared about the neighborhood and lived in Hyde Park. I have a feeling that they have been replaced with folks who have a bean-counter mentality and like to convert old buildings, mess up the Point, and use the community garden as a building site. Some old UfC people working on neighborhood matters have left the Univisersity, some with bad feelings. I have been in the neighborhood for fifty years and have, at this time, no University contacts. I had lunch once with Lipinski and once with Sonya. I have no contact with anybody whom I know well enough to call and chat about neighborhood matters. I think the University is loosing its connection with local citizens. Somebody should point it out to President Zimmer. There is a need to have sensible local citizens to have a good relationship with the University. I am not among them.

On Sun, Oct 24, 2010 at 10:54 AM, XXXX wrote:

I also received this very tersely worded invitation and had already planned
to call the University on Monday to find out more about this event. I am on
at least three University mailing lists, and it would also be interesting to
find out which one is the source for sending me the invitation.

When I find out more about this event, I will let you know.


----- Original Message -----
To: "goodneighbors"
Sent: Sunday, October 24, 2010 05:45
Subject: [Good Neighbors] Anybody know anything about this?

Dear Goodneighbors,

Came home last night to find an invitation from the "president of the U of
inviting me to "a Reception in Recognition of Community Leadership". Has
anyone else gotten this? Who are we going to recognize? For what?


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to Save Shoesmith Elementary School

HPP passes on the following:

Hello Shoesmith School friends and neighbors,

Thanks for your interest in getting involved at Shoesmith. There are some opportunities coming up that I’d like to tell you about:

First, Shoesmith’s Community Days will be held October 26, 27, and 28. Choose one of these days to tour the school, observe classes, and talk with administrators and each other about the school’s needs and possibilities. The goal here is to learn more about the school and to begin organizing as a community to support and improve Shoesmith.

If you’re interested, please e-mail me and let me know which day you would like to attend; we have room for around six participants per day. Stay tuned for a Community Day agenda, which should be coming to you by October 13. For now, I would recommend setting aside roughly 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for the Community Day experience.

Second, I’m pleased to announce a great event at The Church of Saint Paul and the Redeemer on Sunday, October 17 at 3:00 p.m. Jacqueline Edelberg, author of How to Walk to School, will speak. She was instrumental in turning around Nettelhorst School on the Northside; her message is one of empowering communities to reclaim their local public schools. After that, Ellen Lorden, a CPS parent and the former community relations liaison under Arne Duncan, will speak. Ellen brings a wealth of knowledge about different public school choices, how to apply, things to consider.

Representatives from local public elementary schools—including Shoesmith—will be on hand to answer questions and chat with folks about how they can support their schools.

We think this event will be of interest to:
1. Parents considering sending their child to CPS, whether as a new student or a transfer student;
2. Neighbors who wish to learn how to work with and improve their local public school;
3. Staff at the local public schools who wish to work with their neighbors;
4. Anyone who needs a good does of enthusiasm and optimism.

I’ve attached an event flier. We definitely need help posting these. Let me know if you’d like to help or just go ahead and print and post some.

And please feel free to forward this message on to folks who might be interested!

Thanks and enjoy the weekend,

Eva Nielsen

Shoesmith School LSC, community representative

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tell Me Who To Vote For

posted by chicago pop

For once, I want you to tell me something. I want you to tell me who to vote for, or who I should want to vote for, or who I should want to have installed by appointment -- whichever may be the most appropriate scenario --as my 4th Ward Alderperson.

Because, as we all know, Toni Preckwinkle is on her way up and out, on to higher things. Last Saturday the Tribune endorsed our wonderful 4th Ward Alderperson in her race for President of Cook County Board. Good-bye old-time black South Side Democratic machine, hello black Hyde Park reformer. We wish her the best of luck, but are mostly sorry to see her go because we have no idea what the hay is going to happen to our dear 4th Ward, which we'd prided ourselves on telling people was an island of sanity next to an atoll of utter, involuted stasis, careerism, and mammoth, out-of-control community organizations (the 5th Ward) and flanked, until quite recently, by the carnivalesque hats of Dorothy Tillman.

So who are all these folks clamoring to take all my phone complaints at the 4th Ward office? There's George Rumsey, who seems like a nice enough guy, with a soft spot for mums and bulbs, and a chip on his shoulder the size of the old US Steel yard for the University of Chicago; then there's some radio guy Norman Bolden whose claim-to-fame is that he owns a block of 43rd Street; and of course State Representative Will Burns is Preckwinkle's anointed successor, who looks like a clean-cut kind of guy, but I've never heard of him.

Have I missed anyone? Surely I have. Someone help me out here.

Hyde Park Oktoberfest!

Hyde Park Oktoberfest: It doesn't get any better than this.

Hey, there's a beer festival in Ye Olde German-Towny Hyde Park, complete with Bavarian views of alpine Lake Michigan, lots of jugs, lots of beer, some of it in jugs, and plenty of volkst├╝mlich Gem├╝tlichkeit of the kind only available in the neighborhood of Louis Farrakhan and Barack Obama. What the hell, it's a beer festival, people. There used to be Germans down here. Use your imagination.


Festivities along 53rd Street between Dorchester and Kimbark avenues include a beer garden, food vendors, live music from classic beer hall, brass bands like Akasha, Full Circle, and L.V. Banks, plus arts and crafts and export-oriented, precision machine tool technology, a pumpkin patch, and Germanic, beer-related kids activities, like bobbing for apples floating in large tubs of beer.

Where: Saturday October 9 11AM- 7PM
Cost: IT'S FREE!!!!
Event Phone Number: 773-324-6929

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Filling Empty Buildings with Art: Good Idea

posted by chicago pop

Not a bad idea at all.

From the Hyde Park Alliance for Art and Culture's news blog:

Coming to 53rd Street … Art Here Art Now

September 4, 2010

Most of us have a fairly romantic view of the life of artists. The picture that comes to mind is often bohemian, carefree and set apart from society. But the actual life of artists is vastly different. Like anyone else whose job it is to produce – artists need space.

Enter Art Here Art Now…

… which represents the confluence of desires to see artists at work in the community. The result is a shared work space featuring three artists in the throws of their creative process. Beginning on October 1, Melissa Weber, Cydney Lewis, and Marty Burns will occupy the corner storefront in the building at 53rd Street and Harper Avenue in Hyde Park on Chicago’s Culture Coast. The studio will be open for visiting and interacting with all three artists as you watch their creativity in action every Saturday, in October, from 1 to 5pm.

The idea is not to present a finished product; it’s more for people to see how things change and to see what gets created.

In addition, Art Here Art Now will feature art installations from local artists Andre Callot, Danielle Paz, Jillian Soto and Peter Zeigler available for viewing any time in the windows along 53rd Street.

Art Here Art Now is a project initiated by local artist and Hyde Park Art Center board member Melissa Weber and is presented by HyPa and the University of Chicago.

Melissa said she is really excited for Hyde Park because this project is a great example of what needs to be done with space in the neighborhood and what art can bring to the neighborhood – making art accessible and part of people’s lives.