Some of Chicago’s lakefront and park activists seem to have lost their voice when it comes to plunking the Barack Obama presidential library into a lakefront park.
Friends of the Parks, which fought bravely and successfully against that Lucas Museum monstrosity on the lakefront farther north, has diplomatically said further study is needed before commenting on the library design, unveiled by Obama himself. (Friends previously had opposed a park site.) Friends of Jackson Park seems to like the idea of giving up valuable lakefront parkland to accommodate Obama’s narcissism. Blair Kamin, the Chicago Tribune’s highly respected architecture critic who came up with an imaginative off-lakefront alternative location for the Lucas museum, called the Obama library plans “promising.”
I’m not a lakefront purist and I’m opening up myself to all kinds of nasty charges by suggesting
that a different, non-park site should have been selected from the beginning. But there are other, preferable sites available. Locating the library on some of the ample available vacant land that’s the spawn of abandoned neighborhoods would have been powerful statement. Just follow Garfield Blvd. west or look in parts of Englewood to find places where vacant land could have been assembled with little dislocation. The Metropolitan Planning Council estimates that vacant or underused land near transit could accommodate about 80 million square feet of retail, commerce and manufacturing space, with no changes in zoning provisions for those areas.
There are other pluses to not using Jackson Park, some powerfully symbolic and others more powerfully economic. Obama has made much of his community organizing history, and placing the library in some of Chicago’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods would have had a significant economic multiplier effect–more than a lakefront site. Anxillary activities–restaurants, touristy shops–would have sprouted up virtually next to the library, unlike in Jackson Park. And the library’s design would have brought an active park-life to a deserving neighborhood, one that’s more accessible to nearby residents.
An Obama library in one of those neighborhoods would have been a unifying statement, that the president is “one of us,” instead of one of the elites that aren’t interested in venturing west of Hyde Park. Or who fear that people wouldn’t feel safe venturing into an off-lakefront South Side location.
The Jackson Park location has its own problems with access. A western site would be closer to the CTA’s Red Line. Instead of adding traffic to the already congested South Lakeshore Dr. serving the Museum of Science and Industry, the inland site would be served by the Dan Ryan Expressway. Despite what Obama and others say, creating more traffic problems by shutting down Cornell Drive isn’t worth the extra five acres that would be opened up to new parkland. But that’s easy to say because anything having to do with roads or cars is automatically labeled by planning elites as gawd awful. Being a “few steps” away from the Museum of Science and Industry isn’t really a plus either; doing both those attractions in a single day is unlikely.
By the way, doesn’t Chicago’s Lakefront Protection Ordinance say something about not putting up tall buildings along in the lakeshore parks?
I don’ know; maybe opposing anything that Obama wants is too much to ask of the liberals who usually can be counted on to protect the lakefront and Chicago’s parks. Altogether, putting the library on the lakefront is a slap in the face of Chicago’s troubled interior neighborhoods. It is the preferred site of the establishment, who show little interest in venturing west of the lakeshore and Hyde Park. It is hardly as “populist” as Obama and others say it is.