Woodlawn Scored The Obama Presidential Library, Now What?

I knew something was going on when my phone started blowing up.

Text message after text message started pouring in.  Private messages on social media accounts started piling up.  All of them said one thing:

The Obama Presidential Library would be in Woodlawn.

And not just any old spot in Woodlawn, a site that literally is two block away from my home.

The library will be so close that I’ll be able to hear (and probably see) most of the construction.

Of course this news is gleefully welcome in our little piece of the south side.  Those of us who live here already know the historic beauty of Jackson Park—the proximity to the lake front and beaches, the close-by enhanced shopping in Hyde Park (Hello Michaels & Whole Foods!) and abundant transportation options.

None of this is news to us and I’m confident in saying that we as a neighborhood welcome the rest of the world to discover it for themselves.

The OPL (Obama Presidential Library) is an asset.  I very much look forward to them being my neighbor.

But this is Chicago.

And living in our fair city means that you have to steel yourself to the realities of how things are done around here.  That means you have to either speak up or be prepared to get left out of the overall plan—the big picture.

It appears that the OPL has a large swath of community buy in; few people can dispute that.  What concerns me is what tangible benefits—other than the library itself—will Woodlawn see that has the potential to elevate the neighborhood?

I’m sure my future will be filled with sneaking out of work early to attend meetings about the library.  Nonetheless, since these types of things are usually decided in less than transparent settings, I figured I’d throw a few suggestions out there so I can be on the record.

1.  Streetscaping

What good is it to have a library of a barrier breaking President, if the roadway leading up to that library looks so basic?  I think it would be amazing to see planters and streepscaping from the Skyway exit all the way up to the library welcoming you to your destination.  To indicate that you’re in AND a part of someplace special.

2.  Community Planning

Pretty streetscapes and flowers mean nothing if there isn’t a comprehensive, multi year plan to bring businesses complementary to the stature of the library.  In short, the last thing Woodlawn needs filling it’s vacant lots on Stony Island are Currency Exchanges, fast food restaurants, urban clothing stores or cell phone stores that also sell plain white T-Shirts and grape flavored cigars.

Woodlawn has enough of that.  Lets not have more of the same.

Which brings up point my next point:

3.  Everyone has to be ALL IN!

In order for this library to be built and this section of Woodlawn revitalized, all sorts of public and private entities have to buy into this process.  Not just the city & the alderman.  Not just the SECC.  Not just the residents and the OPL Foundation, but everybody.  What does that mean?  That means be involved in the process.  Demand transparency of the process.  Listen to everything and everyone, then state your opinion.  Think of the greater good; not just what this may mean for your block or your neighborhood association

Think of Woodlawn.

This neighborhood has a unique opportunity to shine on an international stage.  Lets not blow it.
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