Former President Barack Obama, who was once a community organizer himself, is now being tarnished by them for his choice to change the location of the proposed Obama Presidential Center from a neighborhood that needs economic revitalization, to a location that is aesthetically more pleasing, reports The Washington Times.
The Obama Foundation has rejected the proposed area of Washington Park, which would have put the center in a much-needed neighborhood that is also easily accessible through public transportation, to the lush Jackson Park area that overlooks Lake Michigan.
Charles Lipson, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, which sits just blocks away from the center’s future location, said Obama is “indulging himself” by building “a monument along the lakefront, where it will have a lot less positive impact than it could have had elsewhere.”
“Any community organizer worthy of the name would have put this museum on the west side of Washington Park, which desperately needs the economic revitalization and already has extensive public transportation in place, as well as easy access to the Dan Ryan [Expressway],” Lipson said. “That location, which President Obama rejected, would have been an unambiguous boon to the community and to Chicago.
Instead, Obama is choosing to opt for the fancier, high-profile site near to the lake that has virtually no public transportation close to it. Lipson is a part of a more than 100 faculty at the University of Chicago who signed a public letter asking Obama to move his library.
In its current location, the Obama Presidential Center will not provide “promised development or economic benefits” to the local community, the professors wrote in the letter, and will cost taxpayers as much as $100 million in infrastructure renovations to the surrounding area, reports The Washington Times.
This construction is also bad news for the natural surroundings of Chicago. The project is expected to annex more than 20 acres from Jackson Park, an urban park on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We urge the Obama Foundation to explore alternative sites on the South Side that could be developed with more economic benefits, better public transportation, and less cost to taxpayers,” the professors wrote.“We would be pleased to support the Obama Center if the plan genuinely promoted economic development in our neighborhoods and respected our precious public urban parks.”
In order to reach a middle ground, the Obama Foundation reached an agreement on Monday to move a 450-space-above-ground parking garage below ground, instead of taking up the slated five acres on the historic Midway Plaisance, another part of the Chicago park system.
A spokesperson for the Obama Foundation said the center has earned the support of “thousands of people in our community and across the city who have weighed in at public meetings, online, and in residential meetings around the area.”
The center will “bring upwards of 760,000 people to the South Side every year” and “strengthen the economic climate in the region.”
“While we don’t expect everyone to agree with every element of the plan, we look forward to working with people across the community and the city to make the most of the opportunity to create a global destination that will showcase the South Side to the world,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Despite this hopeful claim, eight community group on the South Side are demanding the Obama Foundation sign an agreement guaranteeing neighborhood involvement in the development and maintenance of the center.
The Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition says “low-income, working-, and middle-class communities” will be “directly impacted by the development of the Obama Presidential Center.”
The coalition wants the Obama Foundation to provide job-training programs for local residents, support minority-owned business development, improvements to neighborhood schools and affordable housing and property tax relief for longtime residents, reports The Washington Times.
The Obama Presidential Center is being financed with private contributions, but the center was initially sold to the public as Obama’s presidential library, which would have been administered by the federal National Archives.
Charles Birnbaum, president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit, said the Chicago park system is the only one outside of New York designed by Olmsted and Vaux, and is “terribly important as a designed park system.”
“We remain steadfast in our opposition to the confiscation of any of the parkland designed by Olmsted and Vaux,” Mr. Birnbaum said.
Lipson wishes that the former president had the conviction and courage to revitalize these southside Chicago neighborhoods that he always claims was a part of his success as a young lawyer and congressman. Perhaps it’s time that Obama finally gave back to those who began his career.