Celebrating 60 Years-1949-2009
By Gary Ossewaarde
The Conference grew out of a community crisis in the late 1940s. People perceived that a good portion of the housing and retail stock had not aged well. Housing was being divided up, especially on and near the main arterials, due in part to high housing demand and the end of enforceable restrictive covenants. Building and other codes were not being enforced. Redlining was rampant. Newcomers were not being welcomed and made part of the life of their blocks. Crime in several respects was on the rise. But new studies of how to fix urban problems and organize communities, and availability of new federal and state programs gave hope.
Faith-based and other Hyde Parkers formed the Conference—an organization engaging in grass roots conversation on community improvement and particularly for a community it envisioned as integrated and of high standards. Some in and outside the community thought these goals impractical, likely to negatively impact low income people of both races, or pit neighbors and institutions against each other—and it frequently did.
But the Conference fought for and found ways to effect integration and went to work on policy and building broad membership, action committees, and most significantly the formation of over 60 active and open block clubs that not only calmed the fear but also served as eyes and ears, improved the neighborhood, and lobbied for better city services and enforcement, schools, and parks. Much of this organizing and programming was generously supported by foundations and community volunteers, and included surveys and photographic record-keeping. (Our rich archive resides in Regenstein Library.)
Significantly also, the Conference spurred and collaborated with the University of Chicago, which assembled the government and agency support, plans and funds to engage in a massive urban renewal, both clear-cut and spot, and to form arms that could ensure positive policing, housing code enforcement, and more.
Despite disagreements and mistakes on many sides, the neighborhood was stabilized and gained confidence. Eventually cleared sectors were filled in, although population density, retail and night life was much reduced--soon Hyde Park would encounter “problems of success.” Thanks to generous funding, the Conference carried out demonstration housing and house-caring; job training; monitoring of redevelopment; had cadres who went to housing and criminal court; supported the Garden Fair , outings, and art fairs, new parks and sculpture. All the time, sight was not lost of the key functions of promoting grass roots conversation and holding elected officials to account.
In later years, new organizations took on many of the burdens the Conference had borne, while funds and a sense of urgency declined. In the 1990’s, the Conference reorganized with new strong committees tackling new issues, often in collaboration with others, and became known for its ongoing series of community forums. The Conference also took part in larger efforts to form new ways of accomplishing community goals, such as the ad hoc committee for 53rd St., 53rd St. TIF and Vision processes, and subject task forces and coalitions.
And we move with emerging and re-emerging issues such as development, preservation and zoning; affordability and affordable housing; disabilities; accessibility; transportation and parking; seniors’ perspectives; association and owners issues; sustainability; public safety; park usage; impacts of Olympic bids and other changes including University growth, and the needs of service providers and small institutions.
We maintain one of the most comprehensive community and community organization websites, www.hydepark.org. And we publish the Conference Reporter (8-12 pages two to four times a year) for our members and community stakeholders.
We continue to serve as fiscal agent or provide support services for groups including Friends of Blackstone Library, Southside Preservation Action Fund, Chicago Academic Games League, Hyde Park Garden Fair, and park advisory councils. And we stage a huge annual book sale.
We dropped geographic boundaries, realizing that in many ways we must act as part of a larger South Side. The Conference continues to be membership-based and answerable to the community. Our annual meeting and elections are held in the fall.
The Conference would not have existed without the hundreds and thousands who have been members, contributors, friends, board members and officers, and the many businesses, foundations, and organizations who have so generously supported or given their help. Thank you.
“…to attend to the civic needs of the community; work toward an attractive, secure, diverse, and caring community; and to promote participation of residents, businesses, institutions, and organizations in programs and activities that advance the interests and concerns of the community. It serves the community as a watchdog, independent voice, and clearing house in the community’s ongoing conversation and decisions about those matters which affect and define community life.”
A recap of the Conference in 2008
By Gary Ossewaarde
Looking back at 2008—HPKCC as we enter our 60th Anniversary Year
We were busy in 2008!
• Our March 2008 Conference Reporter told you of our Harper Court and 53rd Street forums, on line survey and involvement in the Vision process, the winter garden lectures, Kenwood Park controversies, and Schools Committee outreach. The August Reporter discussed Garden Fair, parks, and development matters and featured an essay on “Income Diversity and Community Development in Hyde Park” by D. Garth Taylor.
• The Conference ran a highly successful Hyde Park Used Book Sale Columbus Weekend, for the second year. Our surplus was larger although sales were lower. This community service is now our largest fundraiser, enabling us to be ready to do much more. Among dozens of hard-working volunteers, especially notable were chairs Jane Ciacci and Jane Comiskey. Absolutely essential was our sponsor, Treasure Island Foods. Save your books for next October. We’ll be collecting from mid-August through September. Sign up to volunteer with Jane Comiskey.
• Our intrepid Hyde Park Garden Fair Committee held two sales, 3rd Friday and Saturday in May and 3rd Saturday in September. Proceeds from the sales go to neighborhood beautification projects and the Conference. Four gardening lectures were held in the winter. 2009’s (4 Tuesdays in February) will prefigure a gala 50th anniversary celebration May 31.
• HPKCC collaborated on breakthrough proposals in transportation and affordable housing issues including ideas to prepare for the expected impacts and potential benefits of all eyes being on Hyde Park due to the election, and of the bid for the 2016 Olympics. The most dramatic is the “Gold Line,” building on ideas for intense, “EL”-like Metra South Chicago service, with transfers to CTA, now costed out with added features. HPKCC has supported such proposals for many years. The Gold Line has now garnered broad support among our elected officials and several public agencies. Our Transit and Accessibility Task Force is led by James Withrow.
• Regarding collaborations, our chief transit collaborator, and lead on affordable housing and related initiatives, is the Coalition for Equitable Community Development—visit hpkcoalition.org. Another group we have worked closely with is Hyde Park Older Women’s League, OWL, hydeparkowl.org, which works to create a seniors friendlier community, and an area disabilities task force. And we’ve worked with Hyde Park Historical Society, and others active on development or sustainability. In these stressed times, HPKCC is very concerned with the health of civic--and service providers such as the Neighborhood Club, Hunger Program, and Blue Gargoyle. One of our roles is to serve as fiscal agent and facilitator for major neighborhood projects: We added Friends of Blackstone Library, started launch of a preservation support fund, and continued to advance Chicago Academic Games League, the Hyde Park Garden Fair, and Nichols Park Advisory Council. We seek others we can help or steer to those suited to help.
• HPKCC chaired and completed a Usage Committee to resolve issues of Kenwood Park usage, future, and park advisory council. About twenty residents and stakeholders served on this committee, convened by Alderman Toni Preckwinkle and chaired by HPKCC President George Rumsey to research, solicit observations, and reach consensus for the park. The ball fields are recommended for return to original configuration with more grass; other upgrades to the park are recommended or funded; and scheduling of games and activities will be improved and respected. Kenwood Park’s advisory council now carries out the monitoring and upgrades and meets four or more times a year, usually last Wednesdays. Contact us for schedule.
• We continued to support our schools, local school councils, and parents with two networking and informational dinners and roll out of HPKCC’s Youth Program Database, available to parents and schools at hydepark.org/schools. Committee chair Nancy Baum has the committee planning a forum spring 2009 on a major schools matter and community schools engagement. Find our description at hydepark.org/education/AboutHPKCCSchools.htm.
• HPKCC worked on developing a set of principles and needs list for Harper Court and 53rd St., in collaboration with Alderman Preckwinkle, the TIF, many other organizations, the university, and the city. Our part included a forum in February, a web survey in winter and spring, participation or logistics in planning and review meetings and workshops—and lots of letters, emails and phone calls. And we consulted on or queried many other development projects and the neighborhood and development goals of the University of Chicago.
• We worked with many other organizations throughout the South Side on intertwined issues such as sustainability, infrastructure, accessibility, and public safety. Especially active in outreach have been James Withrow and Vicki Suchovsky. James meets 1 on 1 with residents about their concerns and ideas for “getting around.” Vicki is also chair of our WhistleStop program—drop by Treasure Island 2nd Saturdays 11:30-1 to buy whistles or chat.
• Being concerned about the ability of Hyde Parkers to afford their homes and the viability of condo and other homeowner associations, in December we held a forum for condo and co-op owners on handling foreclosures and other financial and legal issues. Committee chair is Jay Ammerman.
• Finally, we had a fine and engaging annual meeting in September that included extensive discussion with our aldermen and representatives and election of eight members to our Board of Directors: Jay Ammerman (returning) Amy Becker, Gwen Bonds, Amy Girst, Wallace Goode, Anita Hollins, Julie Monberg (re-elected), and James Withrow (returning). Our Officers, elected in October, are George Rumsey, President; Jay Ammerman, 1st Vice President; Gary Ossewaarde, 2nd Vice President; Trish Morse, Secretary, and Mark Granfors, Treasurer. Amidst all this we moved our office to 1525 E. 53rd St. Ste. 907.
Explore the website, hydepark.org for full coverage and in depth features on our community’s past, rich tapestry, and evolving future. And check out its many calendars. Our chief writer and manager, Gary Ossewaarde, welcomes your thoughts.