To the Editor:
It seems clear now: After five years of fighting community resistance and lawsuits, the Obama Foundation is going to “break ground” in historic Jackson Park this fall. South Siders will be treated to the spectacle of clear-cutting century old trees and closing of streets. When I bring this up, the usual answer I hear is a sigh of resignation. “It’s a done deal,” or, “Too bad. But it is what the Obamas wanted.” This is often accompanied by a wistful bit of optimism about the imminent destruction. No worries; it’s “creative destruction”; it will “improve the park.” It will bring money and glory to the South Side — we hope.
Use your imagination, folks. Sometime in September, the trucks and the bulldozers will arrive. The major arteries for commuters will become construction sites. The normally horrible traffic will be beyond belief. It already backs up to 35th Street at afternoon rush hour. The beautiful groves of a 150-year-old public landscape garden will be bulldozed deep enough to hide a 400-car garage. Trucks will jam the surrounding streets carrying the severed trunks of irreplaceable trees planted over a century ago. It is not going to be a pretty sight, but one that we will have to get used to, because it will go on for about 4-5 years.
I was a fervent supporter of Obama, and still admire his grace, intelligence, and human sympathy as a person and as a President. But I think he and Michelle made a historic mistake in selecting Jackson Park as the site for this ambitious project. All their ambitions could be much better realized on an alternate site. The obvious alternative is the sector of vacant lots at the corner of MLK and Garfield Boulevards. Directly on public transportation, a historic address, a commercial strip, and adjacent to a magnificent park. Washington Park was also the site that was preferred by the Obama Foundation’s own consultants.
I understand why the Obamas chose Jackson Park: it is beautiful as it is. Perhaps they imagined the Center somehow “in” the existing park. But it was a mistake with deep consequences for Obama’s legacy, which will not be helped by the trauma that is about to be unleashed on this neighborhood. Perhaps the Obamas now feel that they are also trapped by their own decision. Too many contracts have been signed. Too many federal regulations surpassed. Money will be lost if they were to reconsider the site, and move their project to the better (and cheaper) location. So it’s a done deal.
Two years ago I invited the Foundation to send representatives to a debate at the University of Chicago on the problems with the Jackson Park location. They declined. So far as I know, they have never engaged in public debate over their choice of the park. They announced their decision, and then launched a massive marketing campaign (aka “public outreach”) to sell it to the public.
This is our “eve of destruction” here on the South Side, a final opportunity to review the wisdom of locating the OPC in Jackson Park when a superior site is clearly available. If you agree that this a matter worthy of a public discussion, please write to the Hyde Park Herald (cc-ing the Obama Foundation) expressing your support for a debate on the future of Jackson Park. It could take place on “Chicago Tonight,” or right here in the pages of the Hyde Park Herald. Please don’t tell me it’s a done deal.