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OPINION

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Hyde Park (Heather Charles/Chicago…)
March 25, 2012|By Lenox Magee, For RedEye

Last summer, someone asked me, "When did you fall in love with Hyde Park?"

My answer: It's hard to say.

I've been coming to Hyde Park since high school. I found the love of my life in Hyde Park. I kissed my first boyfriend at Medici, got drunk for the first time at Bar Louie and ate the best banana pancakes in the world at The Original Pancake House.

Eventually, I moved in to Hyde Park. But when I walk around my neighborhood today, the vibe is different. Hyde Park's small-town feel is being chased away by commercial businesses and a new wave of yuppies.

As the Chicago Tribune recently documented, the University of Chicago and Antheus Capital, Hyde Park's two largest landowners, are behind the "reinvention" of the neighborhood. Already moved in or coming soon are a Hyatt hotel and office tower, Five Guys, LA Fitness, Akira, New 400 Theaters and Whole Foods, to name the bigger projects. Out or displaced are Dr. Wax, Dixie Kitchen, Village Foods and—my favorite, of course—The Original House of Pancakes, among others.

I know that, like anything else, love evolves over time and every neighborhood ultimately changes—usually for the better. (I'm also aware this back-and-forth between residents and the university has gone on for decades.)

And don't get me wrong. I'm not going to say no to strutting down 53rd Street in my retro punk Akira look. Nor will I pass up a glass of wine while I shop for expensive organic groceries at Whole Foods or buy some of its delicious cranberry tuna from the deli. (And, more importantly, I'm looking forward to watching people do the walk of shame from the Hyatt at 7 a.m. on a Sunday.)

Still, I fear these glitzy new neighbors of mine eventually could turn Hyde Park into—sigh—the South Side's Lincoln Park. While I enjoy Lincoln Park's pretentiousness in doses, that's not an energy I'm eager to have associated with Hyde Park.

In Hyde Park, we're proud to be one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods. We're the only place you will see hipsters, black professionals, students, millionaires and even the future president all in one place, getting along and exchanging ideas. Diversity is the foundation of Hyde Park, and without that this 'hood is nothing.

As our favorite small businesses are replaced by these fancy chains, residents can't help but worry that rent soon could be on the rise too, forcing out some of the lower-income residents and drastically changing the diversity of the area. While the U. of C. certainly has the motivation and money to alter the area around it for the benefit of students and faculty and the goodwill of some of its neighbors, there is a good chunk of us—those who will be here long after the students graduate and leave this 'hood—who are concerned.

Our leafy, racially diverse neighborhood doesn't need all of these upscale commercial businesses to be cool. We already are cool.

I hope that as Hyde Park evolves, U. of C. and Antheus work closely with the neighborhood's long-term residents and find a way to bring back some of the small businesses we care for, maintain some of the neighborhood's charm.

But things change. I understand that. I'll always love Hyde Park. I'm just not sure I'll always be in love with Hyde Park.

LENOX MAGEE IS A REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR.

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