Skill Sets

We had our Landmarks Illinois Issues Committee meeting today, which included a presentation on why a nice 1887 Romanesque loft building had to be demolished for a Ronald McDonald House, the ongoing challenges of preserving ANYTHING on the North Shore and a classic dodge in Robinson, Illinois, where the locals used state/federal money to build a new gym while keeping the old one. Then, when the new one was done, they demolished the old one for playing fields. Very clever. You see, if they had announced they were going to demolish it before they built the new one, the project would have been reviewed under Section 106 (federal) or Section 707 (state). The average municipal hack would simply have stiff-armed the 707 or 106 process and bulldozed anyway, but the Robinson hoods went that extra step and avoided the review altogether.

I guess that makes them more clever than the people who wanted to redevelop Doctor’s Hospital in Hyde Park. This one has been an issue for a few years now, and it really sits elegantly along the northern reaches of Jackson Park. Locals stymied a plan for two highrise hotels on the site and pushed for a hotelier who could redevelop it – a pro bono plan showing how that could be done was also completed. But the hotel developers can’t make it work with their system – because their system has no flexibility, no creativity.
This avoidance of creative thought has bothered me throughout the quarter century I have been in preservation. Even as a twentysomething punk I would rail against those UNCREATIVE developers who couldn’t think about how to make an old building work. It bothers me even more in middle age because I think of all the things I have done and all of the adjustments I have made in thousands of days of living and here someone can approach a multi-million dollar project with a single, inflexible system. It’s immature. When I was young I thought these people were incapable of creativity or designing a solution around an existing condition. But after a dozen years as a full-time educator I have a hard time seeing people as incapable. Resistant and obstinate and lazy, yes, but not incapable. It is a studied ignorance.

That resistance is something we associate with stagnant bureaucracies so why does it infect businesses? Isn’t capitalism dynamic? Well, not always, because some cogs in the market can survive by bottom feeding on cost reductions and precision cost calculations. They eliminate uncertainty and the loans and VC flows because what you see on paper is what you get in the real world.
But Hyde Parkers knew they didn’t want a portion of their community to LOOK like that spreadsheet, especially since right now it is beautiful. Two spreadsheet designed towers from EVERYWHERE AND ANYWHERE would cheapen the community and give motive to every other owner to bottom feed as well, to remove uncertainty, chance and creativity from their property.

Do you know what elimination of uncertainty looks like? Do you want to live there?


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