To the Editor:
Is it too late to change the course of the Obama Center? Is it a done deal? Probably. But we should not stop trying.
W.J.T. Mitchell in his letter in last week’s Herald got it exactly right. Now that construction seems imminent, we’re in for several years of community disruption and then, once the OPC is built, the disruption will be permanent. I admire the Obamas as much as anyone, but this time they got it wrong. I have seen no persuasive arguments that replacing beloved parkland with a tourist draw that will significantly change the nature of our community is worth it.
Parks are often seen by powers that be as free land to be developed for more intensive uses. They’re not. They provide serene spaces to commune with nature, perhaps to play outdoor games, to breathe decent air, to be alone. A huge unattractive building with all its appurtenant facilities and its crowds in every way conflicts with these goals.
The project in that location was sold with the dubious arguments of community development. A few hundred jobs might be available during construction but then will drop considerably once doors open. How many of the skilled jobs will be open to members of the community? Will restaurants open nearby? Will there be new hotels, particularly now that new hotels have recently opened a few blocks away? These arguments are almost always overblown, rarely come to pass.
The availability of transit-accessible vacant land just west of Washington Park puts the lie to every claim that the Jackson Park site is the best.
With so much energy and money already invested, I don’t know if it’s too late to make the switch. But we need to try. The downsides to our neighborhood are too great. The upsides to the shift are too compelling.