Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What does "development" mean for Hyde Park?

Harper Court pre-demolition....

I posted a few days ago about the "redevelopment" project that is set to begin in the Harper Court space later this year. In a nutshell, the University of Chicago has purchased the complex and has hired the Vermillion Development firm (known for its experience with "university town" development projects) to raze the existing buildings and replace them with something shiny and new. I, unfortunately, am not privy to any of the specifics of the plan, but rumor has it that there will be a "tower" including a hotel and gym, possibly a cinema, and lots of commercial space.

Anyway, now that I know that the whispers of "development" in Hyde Park are becoming a reality, I'm sort of feeling uneasy. I'm going to be totally honest-- when I first moved to the neighborhood, I whined and complained to anyone who would listen about how Hyde Park would be perfect if only we had this-that-or-the-other yuppy amenity-- e.g. a place to get microbrews, a tapas spot, trendy sushi, and a non-strip-mall shopping complex with national and higher-end shops. With time, though, I've begun to develop a more nuanced perspective. On the one hand, I think having these things nearby would be great. On the other, though, I worry that too much development--particularly University-driven development-- runs the risk of fundamentally changing the character of the neighborhood and robbing Hyde Park of its distinctive quaintness and authenticity. If Hyde Park starts to look like downtown Champaign-Urbana or Ann Arbor, will it still be the Hyde Park I love?

What this all comes down to is that Hyde Park is not and (hopefully) never will be a college town in the traditional sense. Yes, it is the home to a world-class university and to thousands of students from all around the world, but it is also an economically and culturally diverse urban community within a huge metropolis. I get that the university wants its students to have access to cool places to hang out, drink, and shop, but I hope that the development project will also address and respect the needs and preferences of non-University Hyde Park-ers and Southsiders in general.

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