To the Editor:
Over the last four years I have gotten to know a lot of people who share the opinions expressed in Erin Adam’s letter in last week’s Herald: families from Jackson Park’s surrounding neighborhoods representing a diverse range of racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. They are, with Erin and myself, frequent users of Jackson Park’s amenities who also volunteer their time to keep the park clean, monitor and report its problems, and actively participate in implementing park improvements.
They also welcome the construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park. They don’t see the OPC placement on 19.3 acres of the park heralding the destruction of the park’s 550 acres. To the contrary, they all share hopes, as I do, for what the OPC will bring to the South Side: impetus for economic investment; new resources to maintain the park itself including a 1-for-1 replacement of trees that will withstand climate change in the decades to come; new free public spaces including a Chicago branch public library. Just as importantly, it will be a tangible example of hope for the next generations of South Side children (and all children).
As a lifetime resident of the South Side and user of its parks, my experience leads me to believe that Chicago’s decision to site major cultural institutions in its parks, where they are available to residents and tourists alike, is one of the best it has made. Accordingly, I see the OPC placement as a decision based in historical precedent. Nor do I see the project destroying Olmsted’s legacy. The building and landscape designs have been developed with great respect and understanding of the application of Olmsted’s design principles on the Jackson Park site and with an eye to expand the Olmsted ethos into the next century.
I know why I hold the views I do, but I am sometimes at a loss to understand the objections and ultimate goals of the small and vocal group of dissenters who find the project objectionable. Their actions fly in the face of public opinion which supports the Jackson Park siting decision made by the City Council more than two years ago, a decision built upon many community meetings, public hearings, and multiple opportunities for public input. But over the past three years, we have seen the progress of the Obama Presidential Center delayed by a small group of mostly older, white, predominantly non-residents of the South Side, who have poured tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars into law suits questioning one aspect or another of the city, state, and federal legitimacy to authorize the OPC in Jackson Park. A recent letter in the Herald from one of the members of this group was tantamount to a ransom note – just change the location out of Jackson Park and we will drop our lawsuit.
I agree we need more parkland in the neighborhoods surrounding Jackson Park as part of neighborhood development supporting housing, local businesses, and schools. So, I would ask the dissenters two questions. First, do you only care that the OPC is not sited in Jackson Park or do you have plans, and money, to support its future maintenance and improvement at a level commensurate with what the OPC could bring? Secondly, if parkland is all that sacred, would not those tens of thousands of dollars spent on litigation to delay the construction of the Obama Presidential Center have been better spent on expanding and improving our neighborhood parks?