Hyde Parkers learn the nitty gritty of development at urban planning exercise

“When three people meet on a corner they form five committees,” said 36-year Hyde Park resident Cal Audrain. Perhaps that’s why another model block exercise was held in Hyde Park last week.

By Hannah Fine

According to Cal Audrain, a 36-year Hyde Park resident, it’s more than the mix of college students, long-time residents and landmark architecture that makes Hyde Park unique.

“When three people meet on a corner they form five committees,” he said, a partial explanation for the community’s idea to participate in a hands-on Model Block Exercise, held in Kenwood Academy this past Saturday.

The exercise, planned by Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) in partnership with fourth ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle , was designed so residents could both voice their opinions to developers and property owners of three sites on East 53rd Street, and learn more about the real difficulties of development. The University also sent representatives to the event to listen to the concerns of the residents.

To see how their dreams of East 53rd Street could become a reality, participants split themselves into six groups. Each group was paired with a design adviser, an architect, and a facilitator to help plan and sketch each group’s ideas. They were also equipped with a map of each site and wooden blocks to physically map out what sort of development they envisioned for the site. Their plans could include retail space and residential space, as well as affordable housing options. To give their plans more of a real-life focus, participants also even had pro formas, Excel spreadsheets used by developers to calculate all of the costs of construction.

 Michelle Rademacher, a design adviser for Gensler Architecture, said that residents picked up the fundamentals of development quickly. Over the course of the day, Rademacher worked with three groups on brainstorming ideas for the Dorchester Commons site on East 53rd Street and South Dorchester Avenue. In her first two groups “people had big ideas, but by the third group everyone went right to the numbers,” she said, showing a growing uunderstanding of difficulties in developing land and the costs involved.

During the exercise, participants also worked on devising ideas to redevelop the Mobile McDonalds properties and Harper Court, which the University now owns.

Most attendants agreed that it was a productive exercise and enjoyed the opportunity to voice their opinions. 

”The only problem is that it is so separate from the development process,” George Davis, a member of the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference, said. “None of the developers are here.” 

Local developers will look at the plans created at the meeting, however, and provide feedback to residents at a meeting next month.