As required by federal law, The National Park Service (NPS), which has a duty to review anything that would degrade historic Jackson Park, has just released for public comment a proposed environmental assessment for the construction of an Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in the Park, a really simple task. All it had to do under the law was honestly examine the availability of the remedy of “avoidance”, by examining all the many superior non-public park locations available for the proposed project — which, conspicuously, it has not done. So now the National Park Service, instead of protecting public parks from environmental harm, has allowed itself to be sucked into becoming just another corrupted pawn in the wrongful taking, exploitation, and degradation of a long treasured Park. Time for all those who need and use the park to set them straight.
With world famous Jackson Park always so near and so inviting to local residents for 127 years, perhaps it is understandable that many people could forget and be deceived about why it is so special, so priceless, and so greatly needed. All lakefront public parks in Chicago exist and enjoy hard fought special legal protection to keep them out of the hands of greedy land developers and misuse by private entities. The key protective Park District statute is the controlling Park District statute, 70 ILCS 1205/10-7, and the related legal doctrine of Public Trust, which by telling misdirection have been deliberately disregarded and breached by all the conspirators involved in the uncompromising effort to build a 235 foot towering Obama Office building in that Park, that has triggered the ongoing Protect Our Parks public interest lawsuit against the Park District and City now slowly progressing to a final Supreme Court court ruling.
Sadly, from the very beginning, the desire to honor former president Obama in some way in Chicago has, under the misguided direction of former Mayor Emanuel, and active connivance of UChicago, become ensnared in the notorious Chicago way of doing business. The Obama Foundation could have already been well along in constructing an OPC if it had not tried to defy the law and violate the duties of public trust and simply sited the project just a few blocks west in a demonstrably superior — and legal — location for an OPC along Martin Luther King Drive, in the Washington Park neighborhood, which has acres of available land already mostly owned by UChicago and the City, and where such a development by Barack Obama could, in the public interest, be further enhancing his legacy by directly serving the economic needs of a deteriorating south side community AND NOT inviting the shame of becoming a despised tool of environmental destruction by clearcutting near 800 mature trees in a world of challenging climate change.
But the mandatory environmental assessment finally opens the door to public understanding why open, clear and free public parks are so critical to public health and well being. We all can remember why mothers made park visits so important in raising children. Now there are scientific studies that confirm that mother and Mother Nature were right. Here's what the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy (ANFT) has to say: Countless studies have compared the psychological effects of urban walking vs. nature walking and have found that nature walks tend to correlate with greater mood improvements, relief of stress, anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.
In addition, since walking in the park lowers stress hormone production and elevate mood states, in a 2007 study, men taking two hour walks in natural settings exhibited a 50% increase in levels of the body's disease fighting agents. While more research is needed, some preliminary research is even suggesting possible anti-cancer benefits by stimulating production of anti-cancer proteins.
Protect Our Parks is preparing a comprehensive report on this growing number of studies and findings on the need for more and expanded public park acreage in urban areas.
The simple question that has never asked about the OPC is “ why would former president Obama even consider and want to despoil an existing world famous attraction and existing tourist destination, that would destroy a unique and much needed urban environmental oasis in this time of a pandemic and climate change for no better reason than blind ego?”
Herb Caplan, president, Protect Our Parks