Hyde Park's isolation was by design. At its boundaries, the university bought and leveled city blocks that could serve as a buffer, or moat, from the surrounding South Side as it filled with impoverished blacks. The isolation brings a whiff of unreality to the neighborhood. The place seems unrooted. It's neither one thing nor the other. Hyde Park lacks the freewheeling energy of a college town, and it lacks the surprises and variety of a healthy city neighborhood. Strolling the quiet streets on a morning in May you'll admire the lilacs spilling over the low stone fences, the mansions with the squares of lawn marching to the edge of the boulevards, the funky, vine-covered apartment buildings shaded by overarching oak and poplar. Only after a day or so do you notice what's not here. There are no movie theaters, for example, and not much commerce generally. There's nowhere to buy a pair of pants or shoes.
As someone who's spent four of my seven Chicago years in Hyde Park, I can legitimately (and surprisingly) recommend this essay from the Weekly Standard by Andrew Ferguson as a thumbnail portrait of the neighborhood. If you don't know that much about the history of urban renewal in Hyde Park, pay attention.
Also, kind of amazing to see a conservative magazine getting to the heart of why the Rezko thing, as it stands, just isn't that big a deal. (via Andrew Patner, who's quoted in the article)