Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Herald's Chicken: Herald off to brilliant start in "Rumsy" Campaign

posted by chicago pop

Ahh, just like old times. Based on this headline, we're looking forward to another 7 months of campaign coverage:

Advisory Group Forms to Clean up Elm Park

posted by chicago pop

Good news about some neighborhood activity to clean up one of Hyde Park's seedier parks and playlots, Elm Park, located on Woodlawn just north of Kimbark Plaza. As we know from the example of the neighborhood parks and playlots, it takes dedicated neighbors to maintain a park and playground's quality. Like a number of others in Hyde Park, this one could use some help.

A meeting of the group is scheduled for Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 6:30PM, Nichols Park Field House, 1355 E. 53rd Street.

For those interested, a statement of intention and recently circulated contact info is below:

May name is Timika Hoffman-Zoller. I am a resident of Hyde Park who is interested in forming a Park Advisory Council (PAC) for Elm Playlot Park which is located at 5215 South Woodlawn Avenue.

Members of the community and I will convene the initial Advisory Council Meeting for Elm Playlot on Monday, June 21st 2010, 6:30 PM at the Nichols Park Field House, located 1355 East 53rd Street.

At the initial Elm Playlot Park Advisory Council Meeting we will:

· Receive nominations for Park Advisory Council (PAC) officers

(Elections will be held for the offices of President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer.)

· Review and adopt the Park Advisory Council By-Laws

· Create committees deemed necessary and appropriate to fulfill the purpose of the Elm Playlot PAC.

· Set the date for the next meeting

We wish to form the Elm Playlot Park Advisory Council to help provide park visitors and neighbors with a safe, inviting, and beautifully maintained park. Through the development of the Park Advisory Council we can promote unique ways for the community to better utilize Elm Playlot Park, and help develop the physical space and creative programs that will provide a positive impact on Elm Playlot Park and the surrounding community.


Timika Hoffman-Zoller

773 454-0499 cell phone

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Coming Soon: HPP Reviews Janowitz, "Culture of Opportunity"

posted by chicago pop

Read it. And in the meantime, go meet the author:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

5490: An Aerial View of Bourgeois Egotism

posted by chicago pop

5490 South Shore Drive Backyard:
Room for 30 Cars

The image above comes to you courtesy of HPP's NIMBY surveillance drone. It is the "backyard" of the ten story, vintage lakefront cooperative building at 5490 South Shore Drive.

We're posting this now -- two days before the community meeting on redevelopment plans for the next door Shoreland Hotel -- because the only real objections to MAC Property's plans for the Shoreland have come from residents of this building, which we estimate to be occupied by about 20 households.

Those objections have been unusually self-interested, even for Hyde Park. In essence, they amount to this: you can't redevelop the Shoreland unless you promise us more and better parking, something which we've never had, and something which no one owes us.

Even though we have this nice big lawn out back with nothing on it but a swing set for the two times a year our grandchildren come to visit.

Sounds like a fair deal, no? An additional perk for 20 households vs. an obvious benefit for all of Hyde Park.

Support MAC's plans for Shoreland redevelopment, and support a great deal for ALL of Hyde Park.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Chicago Pop's Ranking of the Best Playgrounds in Hyde Park Kenwood

posted by chicago pop

Getting a drink at the neighborhood's best summer fountain
in Kenwood Community Park

The Hyde Park- Kenwood area is particularly rich in city parks, and especially in children's playlots. By one count, Hyde Park- Kenwood and the surrounding area are home to 30 city parks. For parents of young children, this is a particular boon, and one of the reasons HP-K is such a child-friendly neighborhood.

Naturally, the best park playground is (or should be) the one closest to home, just down the street, where kids can walk or be carried a short distance, to meet and be with people they know. Chicago playgrounds also come in a variety of packages. While most of them have the same basic equipment and general layout, they come in vastly different settings: some are new, some are old; some are loved and bustling, some are neglected and empty; some cater to a restricted demographic, some display the full range of Chicago's ethnic diversity; some are squeezed between apartment buildings, some take up entire city blocks; some are in larger parks with few amenities, some are among the city's most attractively landscaped jewels, surrounded by may other attractions.

So, all this being said, here are chicago pop's rankings of Hyde Park and Kenwood area playgrounds. There may be a few I missed completely, and a few that have striking qualities that deserve to be highlighted, even if they don't place in the Top 5. Let's hear about it, if so. But I'm confident that the Top 1 and 2 positions are there to stay.

The rankings here are based on the quality of the playground -- amount of equipment, condition, layout -- but just as much on the setting, the qualities of the surrounding park, and the demographics of park use. There is a slight preference for larger playgrounds in larger parks, but I also include a smaller favorite in recognition of the fundamental diversity of playground settings.

Hyde Park-Kenwood's Best Playground: #1 Harold Washington Playlot, Harold Washington Park

Hands-down, without-a-doubt, no-two-ways-about it, Hyde Park - Kenwood's best playground is the spacious, shaded, elaborately-equipped, and beautifully sited Harold Washington Playlot in the city park of that name.

Harold Washington dominates in every field. It is an outstanding, recently-renovated children's playground located within one of the most beautiful city parks in Chicago. It is unmatched in surrounding attractions and amenities. And it is one of the least segregated playgrounds in the Hyde Park area.

This last quality helped knock a few solid and serviceable playgrounds out of the Top 2 -- playgrounds like Bixler Playlot, on 57th Street, which is used by a heavily Caucasian crowd, and the vibrant playground at 47th and Cornell in Burnham Park, which is very popular for pick-up basketball and heavily African-American.

Urban density next to open lakefront space: the best of Chicago at Harold Washington Playlot

Harold Washington won out on a few basic measures: there is simply more stuff there than in any other park, it is bigger, and the stuff is in better shape. On a good Saturday morning or afternoon the park is humming -- as is the surrounding city park -- with people of all races, and even folks who have come from outside the neighborhood. During the week it is regularly invaded by summer camp kids from the adjacent Akiba Schechter Jewish Day School and other programs.

The surrounding park helped lift the playground to the top of the list thanks to a few key features, chief among them being one of Hyde Park's very few public restrooms. This is something that any parent should be able to appreciate, as well as a sign of confidence in the civility of park patrons.

See-sawing by the lake
at Harold Washington Playlot

The list goes on, and includes Chicago's only boat pond -- which we remain hopeful will one day rent boats for kids to sail -- newly resurfaced tennis courts right next door, chess tables nearby, access to the lakefront trail, Promontory Point, and Istria Cafe a few blocks away, as well as the coming rehabilitation of the Del Prado Hotel on the southwest corner of the park.

One of five major activity stations in Harold Washington Playlot

Enjoy your local playground this summer. But be sure at some point to stop into the best playground in the best city park that Hyde Park - Kenwood has to offer.

#2 Kenwood Community Park

Kenwood Community Park is the only other park in the neighborhood on the same level as Harold Washington in terms of diversity of activity stations, with one jungle gym for toddlers and another for older children, as well as one of the best play fountains. Like Harold Washington, Kenwood Community Park has abundant shade, is clean, and is frequented by a diverse group of residents from all of Hyde Park and Kenwood.

The playground itself resembles Bixler to the extent that it is located in a park next to a school (Beulah Shoesmith), set in a residential neighborhood -- in this case, a charming square of old brownstones and single-family homes. Two blocks to the east is one of the Chicago Public Library's architectural jewels, the Blackstone Library.

Kenwood's configuration is somewhat unusual in that it is an oblong, narrow area, fit in between a baseball diamond and the park boundary. But this is a quibble. The adjacent tennis courts are frequently in use, and the sandbox is very popular. Kenwood Community Playground is the epitome of an active playground integrated into the fabric of an old, established Chicago neighborhood.

#3 Bixler Playlot

Bixler Playlot scores points for one reason above all: location, location, location.

It is quite popular among the PSN-mommy set, due primarily to its location in an area that is comparatively lacking in parks or playgrounds. It also has the convenience of being located across from one of the few stretches of commercial and dining activity in Hyde Park -- on 57th Street -- making it easy to grab a refreshment around lunchtime for the kids or a coffee to help the adults keep up with the youngsters. Because of this central location, it is almost always in use.

A hot, bright day at Bixler

With Bixler we move down to a different level from the #1 and #2 playgrounds. It is smaller, less well kept, and has fewer activity stations. Importantly for this ranking, Bixler is not nearly as diverse in the crowds it attracts. On an aesthetic level, it tends to be littered with junk and broken toys that someone, at one time, thought it would be generous to leave as gifts to the commons, but now mostly frustrate or trip the children who try to use them. It is also less well-shaded than either Harold Washington or Kenwood, making for hot times both for children or their guardians watching from the benches.

#4 Sycamore Playlot Park

Sycamore Playlot Park is my favorite among the smaller "pocket" parks laid out on one or two city lots between standing blocks of residential apartment buildings. Many of these parks are visited much less often than the larger or more popular parks in the neighborhood, and are often known only by locals. However, some of them are worth visiting on the basis of their own qualities, and Sycamore is one of them.

Located half a block from Barack Obama's Kenwood mansion, Sycamore is a well-shaded playground with one major activity station, two swingsets, and a sandbox. It is surrounded on three sides by the brick walls of adjacent apartment buildings, and opens up onto Greenwood Avenue. Several nearby in-home day-care services occasionally bring their toddlers into the park in warm weather.

Sycamore Playlot is not busy, and this may spook moms who don't like to be alone, even though there is a large Secret Service presence just around the corner. It also lacks any significant green space, giving it a very urban feel. All this being said, it is well-equipped for its size, the gear is in solid condition, and Sycamore has the advantage of being one of the more tranquil playgrounds on a calm summer afternoon.

And in the fall, Sycamore is distinguished by three young maple trees that are among the few in Hyde Park to turn a flaming red, contributing to the quiet beauty of the place.

#4 Nichols Park

Nichols Park is the dive-bar of neighborhood parks. That is partly what gets in on this list at all -- its very seediness. But it has several redeeming qualities that compensate for this run-downness and make it a major playground destination for the area. Above all, it is large, with some of the only and largest green space between the Midway on the south, Washington Park on the West, and the lakefront parks on the east.

A glorious summer day on the green in Nichols Park

This means that in summer months, it is always busy with picnickers, dog walkers, summer camp groups, tennis players, and parents with small children. Nichols Park itself is home to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, with its various childrens' activities, and it neighbors Murray Language Academy to the north, which has its own bustling playground.

There are two Park District playgrounds in Nichols Park, one with a more university-oriented crowd on the southern end near 55th Street, and another with a more neighborhood-oriented crowd on the northern end near 54th. Both are older and dilapidated, much like the rest of the surrounding park. Here is where kids will find those increasingly rare but very fast aluminum slides that heat up to 1000 degrees in dog days of summer.

Dilapidated but well-used playground at northern end of
Nichols Park

Nichols ranks high for diversity: I have heard more languages spoken in and around the two playgrounds at Nichols Park, especially the southern one, than at any other playground in Hyde Park. The presence of the Neighborhood Club guarantees that there are kids of all ages and backgrounds at the southern end of the park, while the northern playground is regularly used and reflective of the diversity of the neighborhood. All of this -- plus the central green and glorious surrounding timber -- helps Nichols Park overcome its dilapidation to place at #4 on our list of neighborhood playgrounds.

#5 Playground at Promontory Point in Burnham Park

The playground in this park ranks #5 on my list for purely aesthetic reasons: it is situated in a very pleasant location. (Pictures forthcoming!)

The playground equipment is by no means the newest, most modern, or most extensive (although the equipment is in better shape than the playgrounds at Nichols Park), and the playground is used only intermittently. Close to the Point, it is more remote from the central areas of Hyde Park. But the playground, at the southernmost end of vast Burnham Park and across from the Shoreland Hotel, is one of the loveliest settings of all the playgrounds in Hyde Park. It is shaded by several enormous cottonwood and basswood trees, which let a dappled sunlight filter down to the activity stations. The Point is steps away, and open green space is all around. Even when completely empty of other visitors, its open location and proximity to the lakefront path make it feel safe.

#6 ... Your Suggestions?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Local NIMBYs Float Unholy Alliance with Irked Profs

posted by chicago pop

Back when we first began running doomsday scenarios on the HPP supercomputer, the most outlandish, improbable, and hair-raising of all was one in which local NIMBYs managed to overcome the social and cultural gulf separating them from their faculty neighbors so as to form an unholy alliance with irked professors.

Their common enemy? The Evil Empire, Mother Church, and Borg Collective itself: the University of Chicago.

Our favorite homespun "Good Neighbors" NIMBY listserv, rooted in our local Waziristan and useful for finding a plumber and hatching conspiracy theories, has recently floated the idea of just such an unlikely coalition. The folksy "Good Neighbors" list is again being mobilized for more than a gardening project, and indeed is mulling the unthinkable: that local professors, irked at the totemic status of Milton Friedman and the institute being established in his honor, might join forces with the community-oriented neighbors they usually ignore.

Impossible, you say? After all, we all know professors who laugh at all those letters to the editor, scholars who had no idea what was going on with the Co-Op, and didn't even know White Lodging was planning to build a hotel at Doctors Hospital before the Vista Homes NIMBYs scuttled the idea. Indeed. But now even some of those professors are so irked by inner University politics, and the Milton Friedman totem, that they, too, are now writing letters to the Hyde Park Herald, the customary preserve of the grumpier among their non-tenured neighbors.

Local Good Neighbor Jay Mulberry, who usually gives the signal for the listserv's mobilization, electronically transforming its Jeffersonian yeoman homeowners into a redoubtable NIMBY militia, proposes just such an alliance.

Will the party of mostly humanist academics who oppose the Milton Friedman Institute, and what they generally decry as the corporatization of higher education, take the bait? Will they join forces with powerful grassroots movement that controls the hinterlands beyond the walls of the monastery? Might such a coalition bring the Evil Empire to its knees?

A recent circular to the Good Neighbors reads:

Unless I am mistaken, everyone I am writing today either was a student at the University of Chicago was on its staff. One or two have other intimate relationships with it. For the last several years during the presidency of Robert Zimmer the elements of the neighborhood that include me and Alice have been in an almost continuous state of frustration over the University of Chicago's high-handed and secretive ways. There is plenty to say on the subject but I think the following letter gives a good start.
To which is approvingly appended the following letter from CORES spokesman Bruce Lincoln:

Click image to enlarge

In a May 28th article, the Maroon quotes a few familiar names as representative of those who have become quite concerned that, now that the University is committed to preserving the old CTS building, it won't do it the right way.

Those names will be familiar to readers of the Herald and Hyde Park Progress:

But some community members are concerned over MFIRE’s move into the CTS building. Some are afraid that renovations will not take into consideration the integrity of the building's original design. Longtime Hyde Park resident Charles Staples (School of Social Service Administration ‘61) has taken a special interest in preserving the CTS building. His unease primarily revolves around the future of the stained glass windows in the building. If they are to be removed, it will be due to the University’s lack of respect for antiquity, he said.

A "lack of respect for antiquity" that seems more than a little odd, given the location of the Oriental Institute, a University-run repository of artifacts from some of the most ancient sites of human civilization, directly across the street. But read on:

Jack Spicer, Preservation committee chairman of the Hyde Park Historical Society, shares many of the same concerns. “The quality of the CTS is timeless- it can’t just be renovated.” Spicer said.

Spicer goes on to add, without a trace of the irony that would be appropriate, given his role in promoting the adaptive reuse of Doctors Hospital as a hotel:

“It is difficult, but not impossible to recreate buildings that were made for one purpose and used for another purpose,” Spicer said.

That's funny.

So the question is, will these two groups form an alliance? There is already an impressive list of names attached to an anti-Friedman Institute petition printed by the Maroon on May 23; the latest burst of renewed concern from faculty originated with the news that a contractor had been chosen to develop the old Chicago Theological Seminary building.

One gets the feeling that some of our Hyde Park Herald letter writers would like their names presented together in such illustrious company. But for that to happen, a charismatic leading figure must emerge from the ranks of irked faculty, a traitor to his or her professional corps, a LaFayette or Mirabeau with tenure, who may serve as a bridge between the academic aristocracy, jealous of its ancient rights, and the neighborhood's Jacobin masses.

Support Shoreland Redevelopment!

posted by chicago pop

Click to enlarge

Community Meeting Details:
Monday June 21, 2010
6:30 PM
Montgomery Place
5550 S. South Shore Drive