Letters to the Editor

Thanks to all who supported Drop-In

To the Editor:

Chicago Hyde Park Village thanks everyone who came to and supported our pilot Drop-In program at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave. The third Drop-In last Friday, June 7, was the best of all. We had some lively discussions, delicious focaccia sandwiches prepared for us by Hyde Park Produce and “stress baked” (it’s exam time!) scones prepared for us by student bakers from Burton Judson dorm.

Sadly, that was the last of the pilot Drop-Ins. There will not be a Drop-in this coming Friday. The University of Chicago student group, spearheaded by Andrew Holzman, is hoping to join forces with us again in the fall to resume the program. In the meantime, we are exploring ways to bring a few Drop-Ins to you over the summer. Watch for notices.

Again, thanks to all who joined us these past three Fridays and for your thoughts and suggestions.

Susan Alitto
President, Chicago Hyde Park Village

McMobil supporters are still not convincing

To the Editor:

Well, after several letters of “support” for the McMobil project, still not one has attempted to put forth a rational argument for erecting That Specific Building on That Specific Site. That’s of course because there is no rational way to support construction of any building so out of scale with its surroundings.

And “scale” is not “aesthetics.” If you create a toy train layout in HO scale, you can’t use an N scale engine — it won’t fit. All the trees, animals, people and buildings in your layout must also be HO scale or they won’t fit. Your landscape would look mighty strange with N scale buildings in an HO scale environment, regardless of “aesthetic” choices such as color. The same is true for a scale model airplane or dollhouse. That’s one of the reasons why Colleen Moore’s Dollhouse is such a marvel — everything is in scale, from the tiny candlesticks and oriental carpet patterns to the light bulbs.

All of us use our sense of scale in our daily lives. You use it to choose the furniture for your home. You might long to have a canopy bed, but you probably would not try to stuff a king-size, four-poster canopy bed into an eight-by-10 bedroom with an eight-foot ceiling. One also tries to have all the chairs, tables, lamps, pictures, sofas and rugs in scale with the size of the room. The same is true outdoors. Nature has a scale — little three-inch plants don’t often have huge, peony-sized flowers.

Cityscapes should have a unifying scale as well. New buildings should fit their site and be in proportion to those near them “to knit up holes and tatters in a city neighborhood so that the mending is all but invisible,” as per Jane Jacobs.

So please quit using the “retail, residents, jobs, affordable rentals, parking” mantra as excuses, since any building on that site likely should/would include those features. Instead, support the idea of a “hold” on the McMobil plans, so that we as a community can discuss a comprehensive, public, community-directed process for establishing an overall, specific development plan for 53rd Street. If we care about the future of Hyde Park, we should not blandly accept this piecemeal, parcel-by-parcel, developer-oriented scattershot approach, which has resulted in trying to convince us that an out-of-scale behemoth is necessary to solve 53rd Street’s problems.

Stephanie Franklin

Check out the Village Drop-In

To the Editor:

Seniors in Hyde Park will not want to miss the opportunity to drop in and hang out with University of Chicago students this Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the meeting room of Augustana Lutheran Church at 55th Street and Woodlawn Avenue. This will be the third such Drop-In, sponsored by the Hyde Park Village, at the instigation of Andrew Lee Holzman, a freshman philosophy major from Cape Cod. I have enjoyed both prior Drop-Ins. Each one offered something different. At the first, an informal discussion of the McMobil plans got our temperatures rising. At the second, three tables — a poetry table, a tech table and a third were set up. Hadley, a freshman in international studies who plans to spend next year in Kyoto, led the poetry table in a lively discussion of three of her favorite poems. A poem by Billy Collins got us all talking about our memory lapses. At the Tech table, Andrew was answering questions from seniors who had brought their computers. Students circulated among the tables and answered our questions about where they were from, what they were studying, what they hoped to do with their lives and how they liked the university and the community.
There are also refreshments — drinks, sandwiches and munchies — and while we enjoyed them, we also circulated and met other students, all of whom seem to be friends of Andrew, or friends of friends.

Come and see for yourself this Friday. It’s like hanging out with your own grandchildren at the university.

Mary Rose Shaughnessy

Drop-In is great service for seniors

To the Editor:

My husband and I recently visited the Hyde Park Village’s drop-in center for seniors. The Village tried the program out to gauge interest, and may start it up again in the fall if the number of attendees is high enough. The Drop-In, which includes discussions, socialization and lunch, is not to be missed. I recommend it to my neighbors and urge them to support it by attending the final session next Friday, June 7, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave.

Stop by!

Carroll Giocondo

In support of Mesa’s Vue53 development

To the Editor:

I’m writing this letter in support of Mesa Development’s plans for the Vue53 project. As a somewhat newer resident to the neighborhood, I have become acutely aware of the need for additional providers of goods and services throughout the community. My family has become far too accustomed to making the trek north to Roosevelt Road for many of life’s most basic needs. I believe that continued development on 53rd Street and elsewhere in Hyde Park by firms of Mesa’s pedigree will help to stimulate jobs, sales taxes, property values and overall quality of life for all neighborhood residents. I am very confident that memories of the gas station, car wash and ugly asphalt parking lot will vanish in a minute upon this development’s completion.

Hyde Park is a wonderful, unique, tight knit neighborhood which is the reason my family chose to relocate here from the North Side. However, embracing positive change will only enhance these attributes and ensure they continue indefinitely. Please join in support of Mesa.

Meredith Oliver and family.

University, McMobil ruining Hyde Park

To the Editor:

When my family and I moved to Hyde Park from Washington, D.C., in the mid 1960s, we noted a number of very positive similarities in the two communities. Lots of green: trees and grass were plentiful. A sense of space: buildings were, for the most part, low with parkways and lawns. The sky was easily visible without getting a crick in one’s neck. Moving about either by foot or by car was easy: congestion was minimal. There were lots of interesting “Mom and Pop” stores.

In the past 10 or more years, the university seems to be taking great pleasure in destroying all that is positive about Hyde Park. Trees are coming down. Buildings are becoming sidewalk to sidewalk. Where are the grass and trees? Buildings are becoming taller. Where is the sky?

The McMobil site is a perfect example of all that is becoming bad in Hyde Park. Vue53 is too tall and encroaching for the community. It will add far more traffic than the community can support. Where will the new arrivals park?

I will not pretend that the following is my original idea, but I would strongly urge the community and university to seriously consider moving the planned Vue53 project to where the Plant Department currently stands, on Stony Island just south of 56th Street. The advantages are plentiful. The first and most obvious is that this piece of land is larger so that the new building need not be 14 stories high and a parking garage could be included or added to the roof. The current building already extends to the sidewalk, so no grass nor trees would be sacrificed in building out. Stony Island is wider than 53rd Street, so additional traffic could flow more freely. The occupants of the apartments would have Metra within half a block and several bus lines within a block – unlike at the current proposed site where the closest bus line is more than four blocks away. In addition, a major economic reason for not building as tall as planned on 53rd Street is the city’s mandated regular critical façade inspections. These are expensive!

I have heard that the university is planning to build a new dormitory on the Plant Department site. This could and should be placed on the McMobil site. Most dormitory students do not have cars and therefore walk, easing traffic congestion. The McMobil site is closer to the quads than is the Plant Department site, ergo more student friendly. Students get tired of “dorm food” and will willingly go to the many new eateries on 53rd Street.

Mary Fano Giacomoni

Vue53 part of positive Hyde Park trends

To the Editor:

I fully support the proposed redevelopment of the “McMobil” site (Vue53). I have lived in Hyde Park for a decade with my wife and three kids. We could live anywhere in Chicago but we decided to raise our family here in Hyde Park. With confidence, I can say that there is no other place in America like Hyde Park. We love it because of the diversity, access to the lake, proximity to the downtown, strong housing stock and the association with one of the most prestigious universities in the country. However, Hyde Park has one glaring weakness in the form of limited retail and restaurant options. While we have the basic services, we can do better!
Clear progress has been made with the current redevelopment of Harper Court, but we can’t stop there. The proposed Mobil site redevelopment will further enhance the west portion of the 53rd Streetcommercial corridor. This new state-of-the-art apartment building will house over 300 new residents, which will bring more patrons and spending to support the existing businesses and entice other retailers to set-up shop in Hyde Park. The size and density of the new building is precisely what we need to create demand for more retail offerings. The building will include parking and retail space on the ground level, filling in the current open gap in the streetscape. Furthermore, the proposed development will not utilize any public subsidy but, in fact, will help to replenish the tax increment that has been depleted by the Harper Court development.

Lastly, I want to keep my family’s spending in Hyde Park to support the neighborhood that we love. We look forward to the day when we can stroll down 53rd Street and discover all of the new shopping options from Harper Court to Kimbark Plaza. To make this vision a reality we need to support Vue53 and make it happen.

Alderman Burns, I thank you for your support of this project!

Charles Young

Mesa development has many advantages

To the Editor:

I fully support the efforts of Mesa Development LLC to revitalize 53rd Street with its high-rise and leased commercial space. As a long-time resident, I welcome the opportunity to secure more stores and restaurants with quality options for Hyde Park residents.
Our family has decided to live in Hyde Park all of these years because of its cultural diversity, its proximity to the Loop, our business and because we have made many friends in the neighborhood. After many years, we’re beginning to see commercial changes. The steady stream of new options in Hyde Park is welcoming to say the least.

The Mesa development will clearly help define that goal and will surely bring more vibrant and exciting pedestrian retail to 53rd Street. While creating jobs and tax revenue, it will also give additional retail options for national and local merchants.
Steve Thomas

Thanks to supporters of Village Drop-In

To the Editor:

Chicago Hyde Park Village thanks the Hyde Park Herald for your help in publicizing our pilot Drop-In programs for older residents. We did not have much lead time, but with the support of the Herald and neighbors, we’ve managed to get out the word. About two dozen people have joined us for each of the first two Friday Drop-Ins. We hope to welcome more participants this coming Friday, the last session in this pilot program.

Some reasons people have said they like the Drop-Ins: “[socializing with] people—of all ages; … computer help;” “[making] new friends;” “the interaction of everyone;” “the poetry discussion was very good;” “learning about the community;” “getting in touch with neighbors;” “chance to talk with older people … my kids need grandparent mentor figures!” “chatting with the U. of C. students.” Everyone who was there said the Drop-Ins should continue.

CHPV especially thanks U. of C. freshman Andrew Holzman who initiated this project, his several classmates who have participated and helped, Mather LifeWays for partnership seed money, and Augustana Church for use of their social hall.

Check us out this Friday (June 7, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave.) and let us know what you think. We will be assessing whether we can and should continue the program in the fall.

Susan Alitto
President, Chicago Hyde Park Village

Hoping leafletters learn to read

To the Editor:

After years of getting unwanted flyers, newsletters and other ads littering up our Hyde Park house, I finally put up a “no flyers” sign on the gate to our yard two years ago. But we still get this clutter on a daily basis, and some local merchants are the worst about it: Fortune Painting, Sarpino Pizza, Leona’s, Atino Pizza, Vazquez Bros. Landscape and the Cornerstone Baptist Church have all left us multiple flyers, often hanging right next to the sign. There’s a city ordinance against this; but I’d settle for these guys just learning to read the sign.

Seth Richardson

Mesa’s McMobil parking numbers are all wrong

To the Editor:

At the May 7 meeting of the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council, Mesa Development claimed that it was providing 230 parking spaces for the McMobil development, which exceeded the 200 parking spaces required under existing zoning. This claim is contradicted by the traffic study prepared by Mesa’s consultant, KLOA.

The traffic study notes a zoning requirement of 200 parking spaces for residential use, and no required parking for commercial. At the TIF Advisory Council meeting, Mesa said that 100 of the 230 parking spaces for the McMobil development are to be reserved for commercial. This leaves 130 for residential, which is a deficit of 70.

The bottom line — even from Mesa’s consultant — is that the McMobil development will exacerbate existing parking problems in central Hyde Park.

Marc Lipinski

Thanks to supporters of Kenwood student

To the Editor:

Eva Lewis, 8th grader at Kenwood Academy High School Academic Center, and I, Valerie Andrews-Lewis, Eva’s mother, would like to thank all of our supporters for their very generous contributions in making it possible for Eva to represent Illinois and Kenwood Academy as a participant in the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day competition at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. We also appreciate the coverage that the Hyde Park Herald gave to our efforts to raise the necessary funds to underwrite Eva’s trip in the article by Daschell Phillips in the May 15, 2013 issue.

Eva Lewis will present her website, “The South Shore Country Club and the Proposed Demolition: A Turning Point that Sparked the Voice of the People,” along with another Kenwood Academy High School Academic Center winner, Hope Rogers. Hope will also present her research paper, “Return of Tradition: Chicago’s Role in the Folk Music Revival,” at the National History Day competition.

We wish to acknowledge the following organizations and a number of individuals who were very instrumental in helping us exceed our fundraising goal of $2,000:

  • Dr. Brazier, Pastor of Apostolic Church of God, and members of his congregation
  • Kathy Huff for her fundraising efforts and to additional members of the Hyde Park Historical Society
  • Pastor Corey Brooks, New Beginning Church, and founder of Project Helping Others Obtain Destiny (H.O.O.D.)
  • Mrs. Geraldine de Haas, former member of the Coalition to Save the South Shore Country Club Park
  • Erma Tranter and Friends of the Park
  • Catherine Celimene and Children’s Rendez-vous Inc.
  • Pamela Flowers and the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Council

We would also like to thank Dr. Gregory Jones, Principal of Kenwood Academy High School, and Tanya Towns, Business Manager, for receiving and accounting for the donations that were sent to the school.

Valerie Lewis-Andrews

Happy to see Vue53 has city support

To the Editor:

I was happy to see the Chicago Plan Commission passed the plan to build Vue 53.

I think it is an improvement for Hyde Park. When I walk down 53rd Street from Lake Park to Ellis avenues, I notice how underdeveloped Ellis to Kenwood avenues is. The building is in scale for the neighborhood.

Mark Mandle

Restore our historical density with McMobil plan

To the Editor:

I am writing in support of the Vue53 development. Many letters have already been written in favor (and against) this development. I wanted to take a historical prospective.

Hyde Park used to be a more urban neighborhood that had a denser population and several thriving commercial districts. During Urban Renewal, the population of Hyde Park was reduced by about 50 percent and the new model was a more suburban, car-friendly neighborhood with very limited retail. I think most Hyde Parkers would agree that we are a lousy suburb but have the potential to be good, possibly great, urban neighborhood.

To get there we need to restore the lost density. That will have good and bad consequences. There is concern that Vue53 will create a “traffic nightmare on 53rd Street.” The issue of traffic is debatable (gas stations generate a lot of traffic), but I suspect street parking will get harder as population density increases.

Most buildings in Hyde Park provide no parking for their residents; Vue53 will provide some. If we aspire to have a suburban neighborhood, then traffic and parking should be our highest aspirations. But many of us would welcome a more urban landscape, even if it makes Hyde Park less car friendly.

Walking along 53rd street will be much nicer once Vue53 replaces the gas station and vacant lot that once housed a fast food restaurant. That is a trade I’m happy to make. In summary, I am very glad that the developers of Vue53 are willing in risking their money to help Hyde Park regain what it once had. I hope there is more of the same in our future.

Abraham A. Palmer

U. of C. would not build Quad McMobil

To the Editor:

The McMobil development promises benefits that few Hyde Park residents would reject: more retail stores, new consumers to patronize them, a lively presence of new residents on 53rd Street and in Nichols Park, unionized employment during the construction period and after and a percentage of low-cost housing units.

I embrace all of those goals. But I oppose the placement of this building at this location. The building is ugly. It has a Babylonian appearance, gigantic, block set upon block, like Lego construction. Its segments seem like parts of a much taller, narrower building that has been dismantled, its base spread out and its upper stories rearranged below in neat lines but no sense of proportion. The street façade will be all glass storefronts. Many new commercial developments and many malls might be proud to have these facades and this entire building. But set on 53rd Street in Hyde Park it is nothing short of grotesque.

The neighborhood at present has integrity and a strong aesthetic and cultural character. It will be compromised and changed by this building. Urban and gritty as it may be, it is worth maintaining. A benevolent developer planning for Hyde Park redevelopment with the good of the community in mind would surely consider this factor. And I don’t doubt that University of Chicago and Mesa Development have the good of the community in mind.

If the U. of C. campus and not Hyde Park were at issue the thinking and planning would be very different. Let’s imagine this case: Mesa Development Co. proposes to set the McMobil building on the campus of University of Chicago in the campus core, say on the quadrangle in front of Swift Hall or between Pick and Eckhart halls. That’s clearly impossible. It would be grotesquely out of place within the perimeter of the old campus. But suppose the developer named the project “Campus Renewal” or “Vue U. of C.” and urged the economic and social benefits of the project, the many new jobs, the growth of residential space for students and the innovative architecture, encouraged the public to practice progressive thinking about change. The university planners would not be indifferent to those benefits, but they would reap them in a location suited for such a building. For instance, south campus. The integrity of the inner campus has aesthetic and historical value, and a McMobil among the three-story neo-gothic buildings would violate its integrity and mar that value. But the proposal would be rejected, of course; the university respects the integrity of its inner campus, and Hyde Park residents cherish it.

I urge the U. of C. and Mesa Development to respect the integrity of the 53rd Street area as well: either scale down the project and make it consistent with the neighborhood architecture; or move it where it’s better placed — or both. When the U. of C. needed a new library, it didn’t set Regenstein or Mansueto in the old campus. An absurd idea. They put it on the edge of north campus, where the innovative architecture could assert its own new ambience without treading on anyone else’s.

McMobil would meet with much less opposition if it fit the neighborhood. It doesn’t and we are being invited to overlook that fact by the thought of economic and social benefits.

The McMobil project would be well placed along Lake Park Avenue, backing up to or facing the railroad tracks, looming above other commercial property, and looming alongside other high rise buildings nearby (like the Harper Court office building, 47th Street and Lake Park Avenue, the east side).

To object that the community around 53rd Street lacks cultural and aesthetic integrity, and that a glistening, huge new building would replace its “urban blight” (the term from the New York Times article), would be a case of big interests muscling into an established neighborhood with crass disregard of its present character.

The university’s track record on redeveloping Hyde Park is not encouraging. I’ll end by quoting some passages from “Reflections on Hyde Park” by Phil Hefner, long-time resident of Hyde Park, distinguished theologian and teacher emeritus at LSTC:

“The redeveloped 55th Street is, from a human point of view, a street of horror. It was changed from an ordinary bustling city street to a major artery connecting Lake Park Avenue to Cottage Grove Avenue and Washington Park. It is more a highway than a street. Even more important, it changed the streetscape by lining it with institutions … The ‘new’ 55th Street contradicts totally what our greatest urban planning writer, Jane Jacobs, called for in her idea of ‘human streets.’ She coined the term ‘ballet of the streets;’ there is no such ballet on 55th Street — it moved to 53rd Street.

“55th Street was a historic street that had evolved with the neighborhood. That history was simply torn up, so as to make the street an effective barrier between the university and the Golden Rectangle on the south and the “other world” to the north. [Fifty-third] Street is also a street with a history — in part an extension of the history of pre-urban renewal 55th Street. In the half-century since urban renewal, the domain of affluence has extended, so that it can now include 53rd Street and move north to Hyde Park Boulevard. It is no surprise that the university and the developer … are now moving to re-write the history of another street.”

The essay will be published soon.

Stephen Jaeger