53rd Street redevelopment planning continues

By Mimi Yang

Nearly 200 Hyde Park community members gathered in early December to discuss potential development plans for 53rd Street at an event sponsored by numerous neighborhood organizations. Many residents expressed a desire for wider diversity of retail options and deeper University involvement in the area’s future.

Attendees were polled on their development priorities via handheld devices, provided by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which made results instantly available to the workshop’s members. Data from the polling revealed a strong preference for the development of mixed-used buildings: buildings with retail space on the ground floor and residential or office space on the upper floors.

“Variety, diversity, and choice were repeated over and over,” said Irene Sherr, an urban planner and the primary organizer of the workshop. Individual hand-written responses to the question “What can’t you do in Hyde Park?” elicited remarkably similar answers, according to Sherr. Common answers included buying clothes, groceries, and home furnishings, and seeing first-run movies. “People want more choices in shopping, dining, eating, playing, and in just about everything,” said Sherr. She noted that while students may have different interests, it seemed likely that they would repeat the call for more entertainment options.

“I was really encouraged to see so many people there,” said Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, who also sponsored the event and called the turnout heartening. “I was hoping for 100 and we had nearly 200, with a good mix of the community.” Still, she noted that African-Americans were underrepresented.

“There was a great turnout with a large cross-section of people from the neighborhood,” said Sherr. “When you go through the data, there is a tremendous amount of consensus.”

Both Preckwinkle and Sherr said they were pleased by the University’s support in planning the events, but expressed a desire for more student involvement in the development process. “We felt the timing was really unfortunate, because the quarter had just ended. We would have loved to have student participation because they’re part of the community and they’re not always represented and documented in census information,” said Sherr.

Preckwinkle noted that the University is a major property holder on 53rd Street and has been an active partner in the efforts to focus attention on the location.

Susan Campbell, associate vice president in the Office of Community and Government affairs at the University, said that 53rd Street is the “town center” of Hyde Park and is a “quality of life feature” that helps to draw faculty, students, and staff members to the University.

“Hyde Park lags behind [the neighborhoods of] other peer institutions,” Campbell said. However, she emphasized that the University, while a “key stakeholder with a vested interest” in development, will move forward in collaboration with the community.

She praised the coalition that organized the Vision Workshop in December, calling it “a good group with balance in terms of interests from different aspects of the community.”

In addition to working with the community, the University has solicited student input on neighborhood development plans. Campbell, along with Bill Michel, assistant vice president for student life, convened a student retail working group before the winter break. The group will serve as an advisory board to university administrators, and will meet monthly to discuss different activities taking place in Hyde Park.

Campbell encouraged students to “have their voices heard directly in the community. I think the community needs to hear student voice. Up to now, [student] voices haven’t been heard as loudly as others.”