It's photojournalism time. Here at Hyde Park Urbanist, your dedicated reporting and picture-taking staff might be all wrapped up in one person, but that doesn't mean I'm going to shy away from either complicated or controversial news stories. Today I'm going in-depth and undercover to look at how the property owners on the south side of 57th Street deal with the verge-- that strip between the sidewalk and the street. We'll be examining the verge from all way from the Quadrangle Club to the Viaduct at a quick pace, so hold onto your hats!
First stop-- Quad Club. Now owned by the University but the verge here is IIRC pretty much as the University found it. The second pic shows the Fleck House on the right, which I assume is also owned by the University. The Fleck photo shows the telltale signs of a too narrow sidewalk. But even if you get beyond that 2-foot dirt path between the sidewalk and the trees, there's nothing growing in the Fleck House area. The Quad Club has dealt with too narrow sidewalk problems by installing rectangular pieces of stone on its verge. I'd say this works pretty well. The upkeep is next to nothing, the rectangles are attractive and there are intermittent opportunities for pedestrians to pass slower walkers.
Once you cross Woodlawn, you run into the Meadville site, which the University has also just purchased, and some private residences further east. At some point, the previous owners of Meadville dealt with the narrow sidewalk issue by placing some random shaped stones in the muddy area. Not a bad way to approach this, but we could obviously use some more stones on the west end of this stretch and I'd be ok with a variety of shapes & sizes. In the next half black, private residences installed some decent bricks on their verge and the trees are surrounded by planters. This is functional, somewhat permeable and probably doesn't require a lot of upkeep. It's not as green as some of the other choices, but it looks like someone cares for it.
The next couple blocks are commercial. The first photo is outside the 57th Street Bookstore. They've also gone with bricks, but they don't lie flat. The bricks just stop when they get close to the trees, so this looks less cared for. On the other hand, it's less institutional-looking than the street to building concrete in front of the stretch to the east. The expanse of sidewalk along the commercial areas gives folks plenty of room to pass, so I'd call that pedestrian-friendly if we're just talking functionality. The abandoned bike would be a whole 'nother issue, I guess.
After Kenwood, we get back into residential areas. These very stately-looking condos have planted evergreens on their verge. There's no mud path here because the bushes go all the way to the sidewalk. I hate getting caught on this strip of 57th Street sidewalk behind slow walkers because there's no room to pass. This verge choice gets points for green-- and it's green all year around-- but it's not so pedestrian-friendly.
On the street side, the bush should be trimmed back a bit so folks could more easily exit the passenger sides of cars. The first couple times I got stuck here without a passing lane, I tried walking along this little strip, but it's a pain because of how close the bush grows to the street.
The house at the southwest corner of 57th & Dorchester has neglected their verge the same way they neglect snow during the winter. I've seen the woman who owns the house just west shovel the walk and her patch of this verge has been mowed, but not along the corner residence.
Across Dorchester, the grass has grown back for some reason and this verge is mowed. There's also some decent landscaping done on the house side of the sidewalk. Let's give these residential owners some props for trying, but I'm not giving them any bonus points for verge creativity.
Across Blackstone, there's a fenced-in area with some decent looking plants under the trees. There's plenty of room for folks to exit cars. Also, if you're observant, you'll notice that the sidewalk on the east side of Blackstone is two feet wider than on the west side. That two feet tends to make some difference for passing purposes. This stretch doesn't feel as hemmed in. And it looks cared for, although I imagine there's a fair bit of upkeep to this.
Then it's street to building sidewalk all the way to the viaduct. The west portion is commercial but there's an apartment complex on the other side of Powell's. This area is ok, I guess, but it could use a little sprucing up.
A couple years ago, Medici's Bakery displaced sidewalk with outdoor seating. I'm for this, although it doesn't allow much room to get out of cars along the passenger side in those metered spaces. It's a quirky and attractive space and folks seem to enjoy sitting there drinking coffe, which increases the number of eyes on the street. The commercial spaces on either side of Harper Avenue should consider this option.
So, what's the best way to deal with the verge. Well, I don't have a platonic ideal of what a verge should be; there's no one best way to deal with these spaces along a too narrow sidewalk. In fact, if everyone did the same thing, it would be rather un-Hyde Park, wouldn't it? I'd even try to dissuade the University from dealing with their three properties-- Quad Club, Fleck House and Meadville-- consistently. The variety makes those properties feel less institutional.
However, if the bushes for the condos on the southeast corner of Kenwood & 57th were trimmed back on the street side of the verge about a foot and trimmed back two feet along the sidewalk, I think that would be my favorite because it's green all year and permeable. If the bushes were trimmed back along the sidewalk two feet, I'd suggest installing stones, random or not. I'm guessing slow walkers would stick to the sidewalk and the stones would be treated as a passing lane.