American Elephants


There are Some Serious Objections to Obama’s Presidential Center. by The Elephant's Child

Back in mid-October, I posted a picture of former President Obama’s proposed presidential library in Chicago. It was to be built on the South Side of Chicago, and to do some neighborhood revitalization as well as be a park, a hub for artists like Springsteen, Chance, and Spike Lee. A lagoon would have paddle boats and skating in the winter, and Michelle wants a sledding hill, something she always wanted as a kid.

It is apparently not going to be a presidential library, but a celebration of Obama, and the papers and records will be somewhere else. The tall building looks like a takeout bag for a Chinese dinner, but I don’t know who the architect is. It has morphed from  a library into a 20 acre “private center.” The supposition is that the city will quickly approve it, since Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel used to be Obama’s Chief of Staff.

Well, not so fast. Behind the scenes, a heated battle is taking place.

Here’s our bottom line. If the Obama Foundation wishes to construct this center on Chicago’s South Side, that’s fine, but not on parkland held in public trust. The University of Chicago, which orchestrated the winning bid for the project, has plenty of land on the South Side that they could and should use. Instead, they’ve been adamant since day one that they must have historic public parkland for the purpose,” Charles Birnbaum, president and founder of D.C.- based nonprofit, the Cultural Landscape Foundation, told the Washington Examiner in a written statement Saturday.

There are other groups: Friends of the Parks, Jackson Park Watch, Openlands, National Association for Olmsted Parks, Save the Midway, Landmarks Illinois, and Preservation Chicago, all of whom have raised serious concerns about the project. Also 200 faculty members from Obama’s former employer, the University of Chicago, issued a formal letter stating its opposition to the presidential center being built at this location.

The Obama Foundation Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. will have to get approval from the Environmental Protection Agency under the National Environmental Policy Act and this is now the Trump administration’s EPA.

The problem is that this is historic parkland, originally designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted, Sr., and Calvert Vaux (New York’s Central Park fame), designed in 1871 and Olmsted wrote in 1895 that the Museum of Science and Industry was intended to be the only “dominating object of interest in the park. There was another Section 106 compliance review in 2012, and officials decided it should not be touched. They said the remaining defining characteristics such as the overall plan depicted on the 1905 map must be respected.

The Obama Foundation has made dozens of changes including road closures within the park, a revamping of the landscaping, and a redesign of the main building which is now 23 stories tall. Since the presidential papers are to go somewhere else, the 23 story building must have some other purpose, like classrooms for teaching community organizing or for instruction on the effort to ‘fundamentally transform the United States of America’. That one didn’t work out so well.

If this seems like a continuation of the theme of power and how it corrupts, you are correct.


2 Comments so far
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No surprises here at all

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Comment by Douglas Allen

“Since the presidential papers are to go somewhere else, the 23 story building must have some other purpose…”

Obama thought of himself as a great President, and so he must have an equally great monument. Think of the Great Pyramids at Giza; other than objects of curiosity (mainly to students of engineering), they serve no real function. This is Obama’s pyramid: pointless, purposeless, intrusive, planned without regard to history or reality. Come to think of it, a perfect memorial for Obama.

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Comment by Lon Mead




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