Will Barack Obama pull the plug on the Obama Presidential Center?

The [Obama Foundation] may only be willing to fight for this for so long. Then we're back to where we were--begging businesses to come to our community" --Paraisia Winston, a South Side resident expressing fears that legal challenges will make Obama build his center elsewhere, as reported in the Chicago Tribune.

As the challenges to the Obama Center that the former president wants to build in Jackson Park seem more and more credible, Winston speaks the unspoken fear: Obama will become fed up with challenges to his shrine and decide to build it somewhere other than Chicago. Just like George Lucas who decided to build his Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles after a legal battle over his effort his own pantheon on precious, publicly owned lakefront parkland in Chicago.

Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if he did pull out. After all, he chose this choice lakefront site over other South Side sites that would would have benefited the underserved, impoverished communities better. It's this beautiful, treasured chunk of Chicago or nowhere, right?

The Obama Foundation and its backers repeatedly  claim that the  Jackson Park site is the best for the tormented and violent South Side. Not so.

The site is an appendix of the wealthy Hyde Park/Kenwood communities that are not lacking in grocery stores and other infrastructure needed for safe and stable neighborhoods.

Obama's Tower of Mordor

Obama's Tower of Mordor

In discussing benefits to the South Side, the center's backers sometimes make comparisons to the popular Museum of Science and Industry, located nearby in Jackson Park. Really? How has that museum revitalized the impoverished South Side? How often do visitors from that museum hang around to enjoy "nearby" restaurants and other attractions? Anyone who has visited the museum knows that the vast majority pile into their cars (parked in the underground garage) or tour buses to skedaddle back home. Very few continue on to the pleasant Hyde Park environment and hardly anyone would venture beyond into neighborhoods that are, like Winston's, four miles away.

One reason for the separation is the fact that the museum and the Obama site are cut off  from Hyde Park and the rest of the South Side by a busy roadway and elevated railroad tracks that make access uninviting if not difficult.

This is a case of urban planning* at its worst. The many urban affairs experts at the University of Chicago should be screaming from the rooftops about this costly mistake. As I have argued before, plenty of other sites within the struggling communities are available. They are available because they are vacant, where homes and businesses used to exist but were driven out by the deteriorating environment.

If Obama were as dedicated to helping those who are struggling in nearby neighborhoods, he would have chosen a better site than the controversial and less beneficial Jackson Park site.

But no. His ego requires this site. He is content to let the fear that he would pull out of Chicago build to pressure everyone to feed his conceit.

It's in Obama's hands to make the controversy over the site go away. Nobody is against building the center on the south side to help those forgotten neighborhoods. If he would decide to really help them, he could. The people who claims to represent.

The only objection to the center is his stubborn insistence that it be built in Jackson Park. Build it in the real neighborhoods and the opposition would disappear. Along with all the legal costs and delays.

Poof. Just like that.

*I know something about this. I have a masters degree in urban affairs from the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee.


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