A rendering of the north-facing view of the public plaza and museum building, as viewed from the roof of the Chicago Public Library building.

Protect Our Parks (POP) attorney Richard Epstein took on four attorneys for the city, Chicago Park District, Obama Foundation and federal government on July 20 over the nonprofit’s request for a preliminary injunction to block the groundbreaking of the Obama Presidential Center, scheduled for Aug. 16.

Judge Robert Blakey of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois — the same judge who ruled against POP in their first lawsuit seeking to block the OPC’s construction in Jackson Park — did not issue a ruling on Tuesday, recessing the court at the end of arguments.

Blakey asked Epstein if the court’s role was a “de novo” review — a review of the process from the beginning — or whether it should defer to the City Council’s legislative choice of the Jackson Park site and federal reviews of that site. He also asked if it was his role to revisit the merits of an alternative selection, namely locating the OPC in the Washington Park neighborhood, as POP has suggested.

David Gehlert, an attorney representing the federal defendants, said the city looked at alternative locations before deciding on Jackson Park and that the question before the court is whether it has the authority to second-guess a non-federal action.

Fundamentally, Gehlert argued that the OPC is the Obama Foundation’s project being built on city land. “We simply have no obligation to consider alternatives to Jackson Park,” he said.

Blakey did say that the 789 trees that will be removed is a “large” number, but Gehlert said they are far from the lakefront, which he said migratory birds are more likely to use, and that there are thousands more in Jackson Park.

He said the to-be-felled trees will be replanted at a greater-than 1-to-1 ratio, with the plantings bigger than saplings. David Hoffman, the Obama Foundation's attorney, said that 80% of the trees to be taken down are either immature or in bad condition.

Ann Danson Navaro, another lawyer for the city, said Chicago agrees that the federal agencies have taken a hard look with the reviews that any construction-related harms that POP identified would be temporary or speculative.

Epstein, in his rebuttal, said there would be positive neighborhood effects in Washington Park should the OPC be located there, that there would be no bad environmental effects should the OPC be located in Washington Park and argued that the City Council had not taken into account bad repercussions for Indiana motorists who traverse Jackson Park and the roadways through it that will be permanently changed.

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J, Hoyt

According to HPH’s story, “David Hoffman, the Obama Foundation's attorney, said that 80% of the trees to be taken down [in Jackson Park to make room for the Obama Presidential Center] are either immature or in bad condition.” However, Bartlett Tree Experts, hired by the Obama Foundation to survey the trees in Jackson Park, found that only “3% of the trees were dead and 5% were in poor condition” (Bartlett Tree Experts, 2018). In fact, Bartlett “estimated the cumulative value of all 640 trees [in Jackson Park] inventoried is $3,512,857.00. The value of the top 10 trees inventoried is $273,792.00” (Bartlett Tree Experts, 2018).

In addition, “environmental services of the [Jackson Park] trees were calculated with results indicating that the trees are estimated to store 203.8 tons of carbon, sequester 5.8 tons of carbon per year and remove 341.5 pounds of air pollution per year“ (Bartlett Tree Experts, 2018).

That’s important for our Southside communities and our children. “In Chicago, one in eight families have a child that has been diagnosed with asthma. In fact, the rate of asthma in Chicago children surpasses state and national levels” (Luire Children’s Hospital of Chicago, 2020). However, “park trees can produce significant air quality effects at the local scale, both within and near parks, related to air temperatures, air pollution, ultraviolet radiation, and carbon dioxide (a dominant greenhouse gas related to global climate change)” (Nowak & Heisler, 2010). That’s because “trees have a strong association of fewer emergency asthma cases in very polluted areas” (University of Exeter, 2017). In fact, “people living in polluted urban areas are far less likely to be admitted to hospital with asthma when there are lots of trees in their neighbourhood” (University of Exeter, 2017).

Replacing the cut down mature trees of Jackson Park with other commercially available trees is not the answer. That’s because “large healthy trees greater than 77 cm in diameter remove approximately 70 times more air pollution annually (1.4 kg/yr) than small healthy trees less than 8 cm in diameter (0.02 kg/yr)" (Nowak, 2002). Furthermore, “in one year, a mature tree will absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen in exchange" (Stancil, 2013).

We need to find sustainable ways to support clean air efforts in Chicago. “Chicago’s PM2.5 pollution ranks 79th nationally out of 1517 metropolitan areas in the US. This ranking places Chicago air quality in a slightly worse position than Los Angeles air quality” (IQAir, 2021).

Replacing the 800 trees in Jackson Park that the Obama Foundation is planning on cutting down with younger trees is not a solution. Lying about their size and condition is not a solution. Ignoring the value of Jackson Park’s trees and their pollution mitigating capabilities is not a solution, either.

Chicago’s Southside deserves the Obama Presidential Center and to keep Jackson Park whole, viable, and tree filled. Let’s find a better location for the Obama Presidential Center near Washington Park.


Bartlett Tree Experts. (2018). Obama Presidential Center Tree Inventory and Management Plan | 2018. https://www.chicago.gov/content/dam/city/depts/dcd/supp_info/jackson/OPC-Tree-Study.pdf

IQAir. (2021, July 11). Chicago Air Quality Index (AQI) and Illinois Air Pollution | AirVisual. Www.iqair.com. https://www.iqair.com/us/usa/illinois/chicago?fbclid=IwAR1nnYwfXE-7M9EvpxK9bce_7_P7BYI_jCfOxMB5HgzMqPlqWXvoVPDy6lU

Luire Children’s Hospital of Chicago. (2020, July 31). Rate of Asthma in Chicago Children Surpasses State and National Levels. Www.luriechildrens.org. https://www.luriechildrens.org/en/news-stories/rate-of-asthma-in-chicago-children-surpasses-state-and-national-levels/?fbclid=IwAR0_OEYEId8RDs88YZhuKwHdxQ4YYZcjaBOzIiogfg5fx2fFhsLhe35RLxM

Nowak, D. (2002). THE EFFECTS OF URBAN TREES ON AIR QUALITY. https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/units/urban/local-resources/downloads/Tree_Air_Qual.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1fRCBZ31MlT9nMFvRVHL56zvxQUwLOZMBsRgItJIygmuw8UpizTwHubXU

Stancil, J. (2013, March 13). The Power of One Tree - The Very Air We Breathe. Www.usda.gov. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2015/03/17/power-one-tree-very-air-we-breathe?fbclid=IwAR0eYuup50UBi3PCj3v_b45bi-e_SkTo1ttedaZSqeyiLpbWkV0LYQjDpF8

University of Exeter. (2017, November 17). Asthma attacks reduced in tree-lined urban neighborhoods. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171117103814.htm?fbclid=IwAR26kNNCHIzsvqItDZ_bZCFdC0TIqNRBqNg9O-noLkNx3bpFajmowTTzjnI

Nurse Casey

The Washington Park Neighborhood would greatly benefit from the presidential library. Logistically the area is perfect for visitors, not to mention the boost it could give local businesses in the area. I'm curious why is the Obama foundation so dead set on building in Jackson Park, when Washington park seems to be an excellent choice that would provide more community benefits??

Keith H

So now, the argument is that it will be bad for Indians motorists? “Protect our Parks” is arguing that a freeway SHOULD run through a park.

Ross Petersen

No, Protect Our Parks supports returning Cornell Drive to its original configuration, with two lanes of traffic in both directions. This works, elsewhere in the Park. I'm also disappointed that the City understated their own studies (Bartlett, CDOT) that estimated "over 1,000 trees would have to be removed" - cut down. This, in an age of global warming? The argument is about the environment - and is this really the best location for this?

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