Community left out of U. of C. planning

To the Editor:

I read about the incubator space that the University of Chicago announced on Friday, Oct. 11. I am writing in response to the announcement, and in the hopes that others will chime in; this is our community, our neighborhood, and our voices need to be heard.

I am life long Hyde Parker — born and raised here. I returned to Hyde Park to raise a family after a stint in the Northwest. I am an entrepreneur and lament the dearth of professional spaces to work in, meet at, park in, create in … so the possibility of a space that may be available to the community is exciting.

While I am also excited about the many changes taking place in Hyde Park, many in the community, including myself, are aghast at the lack of community involvement in the changes and development taking place. So, my excitement at the possibility is tempered by the reality of our present situation and the history of the university’s apparent unwillingness to work with the Hyde Park community to find development solutions that work for the U. of C. and for Hyde Parkers.

And if history is any lesson, there will be very little community members or businesses or entrepreneurs able/allowed to use this incubator space. Maybe that is OK — it’s their money, their idea, their space … it is their sandbox. However, Hyde Park is not their sandbox. And the way they approach development in this area is pretty old-style, Chicago “ganstah” for lack of a more descriptive word … They roll in, allege to ask for feedback (although not sure from whom), “listen” and then do what they were going to do in the first place.

Case in point – the McMobil development (site of the old Mobil gas station) further west on 53rd Street. Community members started a lawsuit on that matter in an effort to get the university and the developer to listen/negotiate. The lawsuit alleges illegality and willful ignoring of the community voice. In other lawsuits and public forums, it has been alleged, among other things, that there was duplicity on residents in zoning application/petition processes.

Whether the current McMobil suit prevails or not, and whether the allegations of duplicity are true or not, Hyde Parkers are tired of being treated like tenants in their own home. In many phases of this development process, and even in its current iteration, the university holds all the cards, and the community is left with unanswered questions and, often, development that suits only the transient student and employee population. For instance, it is still unclear whether the McMobil developers are being made to create enough parking or whether “affordable housing” will simply be reduced rents for “poor” B-school and other graduate students.

So while I applaud continued development, I am very cautious. And, I query why is the information kept away from Hyde Parkers? Can the university learn to be more collaborative with Hyde Parkers? Is there anyone who will stand up for the rights of the community? Where are our elected officials? Is there an independent voice for Hyde Park, Kenwood and Woodlawn?

I’m all for progress, but not at the cost of community.

Curtrice W. Scott, Esq.