To the Editor:
After reading the letter from Eleanor Gorski of the City of Chicago to Arlene Kocher of the FHWA, I felt a response was mandatory. The letter makes a number of claims regarding the location of the OPC that are simply not true. I felt it is important to share my response with all those concerned about the OPC in Jackson Park. In my letter I wrote:
Dear Ms. Kocher,
I am writing to respond to the email, dated 6/25/2020, from Eleanor Gorski, City of Chicago, in regards to the citing of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.
As originally proposed, the Obama Presidential Center was to be a Presidential Library, holding the ex-President's papers, records, and administered by the NARA.
When the specifications of the NARA proved 'onerous', President Obama decided this would be a Center / Museum, instead, and He took on the task of fundraising, along with his foundation.
While there were a series of presentations by the City, these were more an 'unveiling' than any 'meeting'. There were virtually no opportunities to comment on the character, or design of the building, rather, attendees were asked about circulation, the layout of pathways around the OPC. No discussion of alternative locations was considered. No consideration of environmental impact, nor loss of Public Park land was discussed. I think it is disingenuous to describe these presentations as meetings, as the Public did not have any opportunity to comment.
As originally proposed, the OPC was to occupy a section of the Park bordered by Stony Island, the Midway Plaisance, and Cornell Drive. Later, Cornell Drive, also East bound Midway Plaisance was removed, calling for widespread road widening, and the central tower was moved North. The height of the central tower was also increased, from 180 up to 235 feet in height.
This plan has gone through a number of changes. For the city to now say this a final version, no changes will be made - this seems like more top-down planning, and does not constitute the type of governance we have come to expect. As I understand, avoidance, minimizing, these options should be available to us, but are not.
I would also point out that this list of museums, inside City Parks, fails to note that virtually All of these buildings were either re-purposed, (Art Institute, Notebaert, MSI, Dusable), or built on land which was then private (Field, Adler, Shedd) (the Parks coming later). This list fails to note the distinction between a museum and a political organization, and the connection of the benefactor to the Center. Did Marshall Field, or Julius Rosenwald, dedicate any part of their museums to their own history?
Ms. Gorski mentions the museum act. This deserves closer scrutiny, as this act was not 'amended', but rather 'changed', this to achieve an end run, around prohibitions against 'special legislation', under the Illinois Constitution. (Art.IV, Section 13 describes this as 'special legislation'). Further, the Illinois Constitution states "Public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes".
This has been described as a 'local decision', made by various branches of City government, including the City Council, Department of Planning, etc. In point of fact, this was a top-down decision, and the citizens of Chicago have had No input whatsoever. This is Park land, held in perpetuity for the benefit of all. Further, the area is largely natural, with trees, shrubs, lagoons, and has only seen temporary structures (Columbian Exhibition) ever located on it. If ever there was a natural area worthy of our protection, this is it.
We have a finite amount of Nature, of open Parks along our lakefront. These areas, if the City fails to protect them, I feel the Federal government needs to step in. This is corrupt, and this is why you have heard, all along, just how bad an idea this is. Have you considered the impact, of this 235 foot tall mid-rise building, directly in the flight path of migrating birds?
Based on the location, alone, this building will have a terrible environmental impact. It takes away public Park, and gives us not a museum, but an oversized community center.
There is no reason to take away our Park, when so many alternative locations are available.