The University of Chicago as a Hot Topic and Community Issue

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Writer Gary Ossewaarde

Return links: Home. Hot Topics and Issues home. Site contents.
The other Hot Topics Community Issues sections: Accessibility. Affordability. Development. Quality. Schools
President' Zimmer's April 2010 Strategic Update

Find the latest changes to PD43 filing esp. as affects Woodlawn Ave.- Woodlawn District, Master Plans PD43.
A VERY SUCCESSFUL PUBLIC MEETING WAS HELD ON JANUARY 19 THAT SEEMS TO CLOSE THE CONTROVERSY AND TO PROVIDE FOR ONGOING DIALOGUE. Consideration of an historic district by neighbors will however continue. Full information will be posted, but newly filed Protective Language for the new Woodlawn Subarea, and the Woodlawn Plan are published in: Record of the January 19 meeting and changes to the PD + Plan.

Attendee Jay Mulberry said in Good Neighbors blog:

I went to the meeting last night and was very, very impressed with the way the University and the community came to accord on this important issue. Truly, it is the first time in my memory that such a reasonable and verifiable agreement was reached, and reached through common commitment to finding a solution.
A lot of credit is deserved by people on all sides but since I can't remember many names let me give my impression that our fellow Good Neighbor and Villager Roger Huff was extremely important in bringing the group together and getting real work done.
Thanks Roger, and all the rest of you University and community leaders!

There is no getting around that for better or worse, the University of Chicago is the 800-pound gorilla in Hyde Park-Kenwood and that the latter is UC's company town. But only half of it. And the neighborhood would be vastly different, and possibly not the one we live in (and have this website in which to talk--and brag--about this special place) without the century plus and continuing presence of the University. The waltz between the two goes from great, synergistic, collaborative to hostile then back (or at the same time as in the Urban Renewal years)-- usually with each having a mixed mind about the other.


This website has much to say about the town and gown waltz. First are links to discussion and link pages, then what's new and recent hot buttons, linked where there is further discussion.

University and Community homepage
Some University News Releases
University Community Outreach Conference December 2009 Report
University Community Outreach Programs (see also University of Chicago and Schools and Education)
University Opposition

University Project Updates
Early 2000s Master Plans, Univ. master planning principles
South Campus Plans
University-city Memorandum of Understanding
Planned Development 43
Woodlawn Ave. Corridor
Chicago Theological Seminary (old and new)
Drs Hospital Old Plan, Drs Hospital Early Learning Center and Lab Schools
Harper Court.
Harper Theater dev.
Woodlawn (Neighborhood) News

University of Chicago education initiatives and research; Woodlawn Promise Zone
Healthcare delivery

Tracking Community Trends I (by component incl. UC), and II (in various topics incl. town-gown)
Woodlawn News
Neighborhood Links- Websites, Blogs, Media

Community Renewal and Future Conference 2004
Hyde Park Co-Op demise homepage (primarily later phase)
Urban Renewal homepage (and subpages including timelines into the 21st century)


Negodtiations over PD 43 and Woodlawn Avenue may mark a turn back toward dialogue.

There is no doubt the University of Chicago has been on a hot streak the last two plus years despite the recession-- the only force that seems able to (and needs to for its mission) keep on moving. In 2011 it's dominance and determination to develop Hyde Park and a suite of surrounding neighborhoods, capped by a new relationship with the city, became decisively clear. (Visit Development Hot Topics to link to some of the trails (and trials) of University development.) Nevertheless, as so often in the past, the University suffered serious pushback-- whether this is a temporary glitch, a last battle before becoming an unstoppable bulldozer, or start of a long term battle remains to be seen, but certainly the University went from a low-good-will in 2010 (and following the Drs Hospital debacle) to worse in 2011.

Some of the trouble stemmed from the University purchasing Chicago Theological Seminary partly to give it a new home south of the Midway and partly to set up and house the now Becker Friedman Institute for its massively endowed and corporate-allied business, economics, and economics-law programs. This entailed finding a home for the Seminary Co-op Bookstore-- why not the in non-historic CTS McGiffert Hall in the historic Woodlawn transition zone--and in the process partially commercialize this building-- but zoning is complex, so why not tie it to getting more needed density for the medical district by giving some of the density of the Woodlawn sub areas-- i.e. amending the campus Planned Development including expansion to all the new properties there (including by 2011 the Meadville complex? Coming into the mix was getting rid of some unwanted historic easements in the west zone-- moving these to certain University owned Woodlawn Ave. buildings the University thought it would not need to change might reassure neighbors (but did not). Squarely at the center of all this swirl was the Memorandum of Understanding alliance with the city to speed the way of redevelopment far and wide (and weakening public and aldermanic ability to slow or stop it)-- the University was entering a new level of bigness and power and dominance (and ability to have major beneficial impact on struggling neighborhoods). However, some have observed that maybe the matters and purposes of the MOU are too big to be defined and settled just by administrators of the University and city. Nevertheless, the winning streak was undeniable-- fueled by massive donations and confirmed by the magnificent successes of the Mansueto Library, Logan Arts about to be finished and plans Eckhardt molecular engineering about to start (but needing the PD changes!), less by the Paulson Institute and the former mayor being "on faculty."

The Herald in a January 4 2012 retrospective, interpreted it this way [with additions from this editor]: The university was low on good-will in the neighborhood after a rough 2010 [and afterglow of Doctors Hospital]. The Chicago Theological Seminary move riled residents when it displaced a much-loved community garden [at 61st-Dorchester]. The removal of stained glass windows from the old seminar irked preservationists in the neighborhood [and proposed changes to alleys and plans to abandon the Nursery School with questions about the future of its buildings alarmed neighbors who had various resentments about the institutional buildings on the block]. Low-level employees remained aggravated from drawn-out contract negotiations, layoffs and outsourcing. The faculty was still smarting from a debate about the legacy fo Milton Friedman at the university. The hospital was helmed by an interim CEO after the previous one left under a cloud of criticism from faculty and staff " [aggravated by reduced medical access to the community and a vocal campaign to bring a trauma center back to UCMC]." Then it became evident at the early public meetings, at least, over the Amendment to the PD that University administrators dealing with the public had given little thought to consequences or desire of neighbors and others for reassurance. " Many of the university administrators familiar to residents from the garden and the seminary debates had left ort moved to new roles within the institution. Few issues were resolved because the new administrators had no established reputation with residents and few in the community believed these new representatives had the authority to follow through on promises. To compound the issue, the local politicians were not eager to rush to resolve the disputes after Mayor Emanuel used the memorandum of understanding with the university to tweak local aldermen. [With the Ald. asking more meetings, opponents were able to think, organize, and assemble allies. What some may call whiplashing over historic district vs partially-successful, unsuccessful, incomplete, or bad-faith negotiations occurred, along with between city, aldermen, and university-- including calls for the alderman to force changes to the filed PD before allowing it to move forward. And more meetings are scheduled on related topics.]

Meanwhile, there was little movement on issues such as trauma center and health delivery, or principles governing the the university's endowment.

Recent hot or news:

Find the latest changes to PD43 filing esp. as affects Woodlawn Ave.- Woodlawn District, Master Plans PD43. Meeting January 19 6:30 Union Church.

Lab School to expand on its campus and at Doctors Hospital. Plans to expand/revise UC Planned Development 43- . UC-city deal and MOU of joint action. 61st Garden. Woodlawn and Washington Park initiatives. Campus reconfigurations including de-trafficking and accessibility complaints.

61st Street Garden. The decision appears to be final but the amazingly widespread opposition and outrage or resentment at the garden's demise go on. Read descriptions of what it meant to people.

Harper Court and Harper Theater- University considered (by many of different general preferences on neighborhood direction) too slow to decide and act on these and other projects or else (and not necessarily in disagreement with the former view) has its own agenda and may not listen to what residents or businesses want. Also that communication and alerts have been poor, referring questioners to websites that are weakly informative and not updated.
Another set of gripes is about haste to empty these two sites particularly to have "ready" space for developers long before anything can be done then papering storefronts and putting up scaffolding with no emergency reason.

Doctors Hospital site redevelopment as likely site for Lab School Early Learning Center. The (first?) dispute is over and the University feels it lost and was "dissed" while neighbors continue to think the University came in with its mind made up (or options limited by the only viable developer with something the University feels is really needed for all- hotels and conference center) and would not compromise (UC asserting it made lots of compromises). The part of resentment that is at the University was extending its campus will come back especially, as is likely, a UC related use for its land is proposed in 2010. And so will the feeling of neighbors that they were being imposed upon by a perceived cause of noise and congestion, if that new use is a school with parent drop off and pick up of children. There is also no guarantee that when the economy revives there will not be a high rise for the "reserved" south part of the site, which could also be a topic for controversy. The contention that the University is destroying a viable historic building remains a sore subject for some.

The following University projects are outside their footprint or at the edge and have significant neighborhood interface: Building for Chicago Theological Seminary at 60th and Dorchester (elimination of the 61st Community Garden for construction staging), Lab School facilities on 58th and possibly Doctors Hospital, Harper Court and Harper Theater.
Potential future development sites: Friend Center and the warehouse acquired on Cottage Grove, north arts quad south of 55th, Stagg Field, Facilities (former American School at 56th and Stony Island), Woodlawn properties, the rest of SW Hyde Park between 56th and 57th.

The University is perceived by many as a poor or unimaginative manager and planner of property, especially commercial. This comes up whenever the University proposes commercial development or buys a new property. Related is feeling that the UC as a "ready" or last-resort purchaser and then occupier or lessor of commercial and residential space drives up rents, discourages independent developers, and introduces other market distortions. On the other hand, businesses are often disappointed if university uses are abandoned (such as the Shoreland students going from East Hyde Park to South Campus) and residents like the mix of students in various sectors of the neighborhood-- except when parents buy condos for noisy students or "noisy" gaggles of students or fraternities take up whole buildings.
This whole topic needs good research and is only referenced in various pages in our website.

Health service delivery. The University's stated objectives are to position itself to better treat the more difficult cases, train doctors and conduct research, bring in more income-producing patients, reduce the overwhelming of its ER and primary services with cases that could be better treated elsewhere or in other ways, and to encourage all-- but particularly low income to have a reliable health "home" while also growing primary care service on the South Side. Whether any or significant reduction in service available to either low or other income Hyde Parkers has occurred remains to be seen. (There is anecdotal evidence of people being told their case will not be accepted at U of C and being told everywhere else they call that they are not accepting new patience, or of the inconvenience of having to go at longer distances for clinic care.) There were lots of demonstrations over closure of UC clinics serving low income residents mainly of other South Side communities, but as many directed at city and county plans to cut back clinics and hospitals.

Campus reconfigurations. The new pathways on the main quads involving closure of roadways most hours has caused consternation for deliveries and pedestrians and bike riders-- and conflicted with the federal citation mandate for ADA compliance for the University in 2010. There is complaint that the greater campus has become increasingly hard for traffic such as deliveries, and pedestrians are objecting on grounds of both drop off persons with disabilities and ability to walk on the new pavements.

Also, some construction projects made so much disruption that rental properties had to be vacated. The South Campus projects have caused disruption and mess and loud complaints there also, including from the alderman. There may well be concern should the University seek to vacate 58th near Woodlawn to traffic, make Ellis one way, and expand use of 58th and Kenwood as drop off for the Lab School-- as well as expand school facilities, and to make Ellis one-way.
Not hot but simmering is the future of Woodlawn houses and dorms and Meadville School 57th to 58th, and what happens to the Co-op Seminary Bookstore and historic facilities in Chicago Theological Seminary as the Friedman Institute moves forward. Steady creep westward is of concern for those residents and owners who remain there and those who do not like "monoculture's" of single-use blocks- can some non-institutional amenities be included?
University construction now or soon to be in progress includes: New Hospital Pavilion, Library addition, Campus walks and chill water piping installation, various ADA adaptations, Milton Friedman, and Logan Center for Creative and Performing Arts. More is on the drawing board (not counting major facilities that are stopped for financial reasons or are under consideration), including further expansion of UC as a botanic garden and reconfiguration as "bridges" of streets over Midway Plaisance.

(Other complaints by students, sometimes with community involvement: a non-responsive administration that does not meet students long-felt needs, or exercise social justice responsibility and openness (for example with endowment), treats its workers as third class, or is too slow to catch up with what other universities do from its application and internet to ADA and sustainability.) While some of these are referenced in the general University pages at the top and some other pages such as in Green Hyde Park, they are better explored through campus sources and papers.

See Woodlawn News for concerns or complaints of residents to the south of Hyde Park and of activism by students.