This is the second in a series of posts in which I will describe my vision for the first phase of a small streets village on the Midway, which I originally proposed in my first post. In my previous post, I outlined a possible street layout, which I reproduce below.
How might the buildings in the village be used? An ideal use for most of the space would be a mix of residential and commercial, with retail occupying the ground floors and apartments occupying the upper floors. Such a configuration is fairly typical in many European cities and is already quite well represented here in Hyde Park.
Apartments would ideally be quite a bit smaller than the norm to keep density high and prices low. I mentioned a figure of 250 square feet per person last time. This may seem very low, but this would merely be an average: much smaller (and hence less expensive) accommodation would be ideal for the University’s many students. But even for people who can afford larger apartments, the aesthetic of the village should be most appealing to those who do not necessarily value—or even want—a lot of private space. By creating appealing public spaces designed for people and not vehicles, the need for excessive amounts of private space diminishes. Balconies would be a prominent feature of apartments that would further connect people to the public space.
The ground-floor retail would be much like the retail we already see in Hyde Park: restaurants, cafés, barbershops, bookstores, and so on. Small shops and service providers can only stand to benefit from a situation in which many people are living literally right on top of them and with fewer restrictions on where they can open. In lieu of supermarkets, smaller, more specialized grocers like Hyde Park’s own Open Produce become much more viable in a high-density, walking-oriented community. Indeed, Open Produce co-founder Steven Lucy has been traveling around Europe, visiting groceries and produce stands in Budapest, Skopje, Thessaloniki, and Istanbul. His photographs give a very good idea of how such retail integrates into the fabric of the city.
This is not to say that there would be no place for larger retail establishments. The square, with its proximity to the Metra line, would be an ideal place to locate attractive retail, which would help make it a destination for people from the rest of Chicago. But not everything would be a good fit for a small streets village. A furniture store like Ikea is a bad fit because people tend to want to transport their furniture in their cars. A supermarket is likewise a bad fit, especially with a preponderance of smaller grocers in the village. A clothing store, however, would be an important addition, especially since this is one area in which Hyde Park (and the rest of the South Side) is sorely lacking. (And no, Akira doesn’t really count.) The Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo has set its sights on a big US expansion, but it recently passed up Chicago for the West Coast. Uniqlo offers a broad range of sensible clothing for reasonable prices, and I think it would be popular among the students here. Attracting Uniqlo or something comparable to it would be an important goal for this phase of the project. Another good retail option would be a sporting goods store, especially given the proximity of the Midway Village to the Jackson Park Golf Course. I also have no doubt that the South Side could support more cinemas, theaters, art museums, and the like.
Overall, it’s hard to predict what the right mix of residential and commercial space would be, and such decisions might be best left up to the market. But I think a mix of some purely residential buildings, buildings with ground-floor retail, and larger retail locations in the vein that I described, would be a likely outcome in an environment where automobile use is curtailed and mixed-use buildings are permitted throughout.