To the editor:
I wish to add my voice to the chorus of those who support the Obama Presidential Center. But I vehemently oppose its construction in Jackson Park.
As many others have pointed out, building the OPC in Jackson park will do tremendous damage to the park's natural areas carefully designed over a century ago by Frederick Law Olmstead; its huge tower will be an eyesore in the park and endanger migratory birds who flock there; it will create a traffic nightmare whose only remedy is hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of road reconstruction on Stony Island Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, taking away yet more parkland and for which we, the taxpayers, will have to pay; it will require the construction of a massive parking structure which, to avoid further aesthetic desecration, will be built underground, in an area very near Lake Michigan where groundwater will pose a constant problem; and it will be situated in an area that lacks any zoned commercial space for the kinds of businesses the OPC should have around it – restaurants and cafes, souvenir shops, and the like, which will create pressure to re-zone the existing stable neighborhood west of Stony Island.
The greatest mystery to me is why this plan is being pushed despite the fact that another, far superior, site is available at the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Garfield Boulevard/55th Street, immediately to the west of Washington Park. This site has ample open space, extending along both sides of Garfield Boulevard to the Green Line. It would take no precious green space or natural areas from our parks, and indeed an OPC 'campus' would be like a westward extension of Washington Park. It would require no major road construction, saving millions of taxpayer dollars, because visitors could reach it easily via the Green Line, or via existing CTA bus lines along MLK Drive and Garfield Boulevard (the latter connecting directly to Midway airport). For those coming by car, the OPC would be easy to reach by driving a short distance from the Dan Ryan Expressway. Construction of a parking structure could be above ground, or if an underground structure is deemed preferable, it is far enough from the lake to minimize groundwater problems. There is also nearby commercial space where the restaurants and shops that should accompany the OPC can be built. (And maybe a blues bar to attract people after hours ... why not?)
As if conserving parkland and Olmstead's historic plan, saving money, and easier access weren't already sufficient reasons to favor the Garfield/MLK location for the OPC, there is yet one more reason, which I don't believe other commentators have noted. A short distance away from the Garfield/MLK site, across Washington Park, is the Du Sable Museum of African-American History, a distinguished institution of which all Hyde Parkers and residents of adjacent communities can be proud. What better pairing can one imagine than the OPC and the Du Sable? Visiting them together would be a superb way for visitors to absorb the full arc of the African-American experience, from dire repression to glorious achievement, from cruel enslavement to a historic presidency.
It may be that the investors who have generated the plans for the OPC oppose the
Garfield/MLK site because they wish to place it in a neighborhood that is solidly middle-class. But this is wrong-headed. A neighborhood shouldn't be expected to sustain the OPC and make it viable; rather, the OPC should be situated so that it can help revitalize a neighborhood. This is what locating the OPC at MLK and Garfield would do, and it is exactly in keeping with Barack Obama's long work as a community organizer and his interest in improving the life of all Chicagoans. It would be a wonderful addition to his legacy.
I believe this vision for an OPC at MLK/Garfield, close to the DuSable Museum, is far superior to the ham-fisted idea of plopping it down on top of Jackson Park, and ruining that park in the process, simply because that neighborhood has higher property values. Siting the OPC at MLK/Garfield would be a huge boost to an area that has long been struggling--that's why there's so much vacant land there. The University may own a good deal of the vacant property at Garfield and MLK. If this is so, I urge it to donate the needed land to the OPC to get the ball rolling. It will benefit in the long term by the increased vibrancy of an area very close to its campus.
Fred M. Donner