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?

Mary Anton

(1) comment

Ross Petersen

An Obama Presidential Center does not Need a Park location to succeed. It could be located on any number of sites. The impetus for improvement comes whether you build this in the Park, or any other location.. A number of sites are available.

I wonder if you lived in Chicago, during the 50's and 60's, and do you remember the architectural gems we tore down, what we lost? We are facing the same threat, all over again. You seem surprised over public outcry - yet most Chicagoans clearly identify with an open, free and clear lakefront. It is in their civic identity.

You promise 1 for 1 tree replacements. Yet the trees you are cutting down are three feet in diameter, over a century old. You will replace these with saplings, 3 inches in diameter. The fact is, between 800 to 1,000 trees will be lost, Cut down. These saplings will take a century to equal what we have, right now. Have you considered global warming? The impact to wildlife? The loss of tree canopy?

You are proposing a huge, 235 foot tall building, smack dab in the middle of one of the most sensitive migratory flyways in the City. This flies against what we have been trying to achieve in these Parks - for decades. Safe, inviting habitat areas. This takes away the Park, from the people. There is NO make up land. You also ignore the impact from road widening projects, throughout the Parks. The impact of the OPC goes far beyond their campus. That's why so many people are opposed to this. It's completely contradictory, to everything he did while in office. How is this being sensitive to our environment?

I'd like to think we have made huge steps, in protecting our environment, fighting pollution, preserving our planet for future generations. The location of the OPC flies against this, We have nothing against the OPC. We just don't think the Park is the best location. What kind of legacy is this?

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