Now that it appears that the Jackson Park location for the proposed Obama Foundation Center (OFC) site may be in jeopardy, I am writing to express my hope that Woodlawn is ultimately selected. With lots of vacant land or dilapidated property located in Woodlawn, about a mile due west and a few blocks south of the proposed site, I can’t help but wonder why the OFC board is determined to locate the center in longtime overly congested Hyde Park. There is nothing like congestion to deter potential visitors to numerous places around Chicago.
The OFC board could probably acquire as much land as it needed in Woodlawn and in the process, garner little public criticism, and eliminating community hostility and a potentially long drawn out lawsuit from public parks’ groups. Moreover, the OFC site would serve as the cornerstone of gentrification in a long-neglected neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. This would be a win-win situation for the OFC and the City of Chicago.
Supporters of the proposed location point out that the section of Jackson Park they want is not overly utilized as one of their reasons for pursuing this site. While I don’t know if this is true or not, in my mind, that is a good thing. Hype Park residents need some visual and physical relief from typical congestion.
Supporters of the proposed location point out that this site is near the Museum of Science and Industry as if this would be a drawing point for visitors to the OFC. If the OFC site were located closer to the DuSable Museum of African American History, more likely there would be greater synergy between these two entities than the Museum of Science and Industry. Moreover, the OFC building would be equally accessible from both the Dan Ryan Expressway and South Lake Shore Drive reducing driving congestion, and close to public transportation including the 63rd street ‘L’ line.
Supporters of the proposed location point out that Obama has roots in Hyde Park and the University of Chicago. This is true, however, Obama touted his role as a ‘community organizer’ when campaigning. Locating the foundation center within the poorer African American community to the west of Hyde Park would re-organize and re-vitalize this Woodlawn neighborhood. Other organizations, including the successful Metro Squash program located at 61st and Cottage Grove, have blazed the trail, serving as an example of community redevelopment. Situating the Obama Foundation Center in this area would accelerate this process.
As the first African American U.S. President, situating the Obama Foundation Center within one of Chicago’s African American communities is most fitting for his legacy. It would be a visual reminder of Obama’s campaign slogan - ‘change we can believe in’ and serve as a beacon of hope for those most in need of it.