Huffington Post: The Obama Library Is Going in Jackson Park – What That Means

Written by Charles Birnbaum, president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation

The last major remaining question about the Obama Presidential Library—which Frederick Law OlmstedCalvert Vaux-designed park would become the building site for the facility—was answered yesterday when news leaked out that the First Couple had decided on Jackson over Washington Park.

This is a good-news/bad-news result…..

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Jackson Park Watch Update – July 27, 2016

Greetings all,

Breaking news

The Tribune and Sun-Times are both reporting today that the Obama Presidential Center will be located in Jackson Park. In response to these reports, we sent the following message to Michael Strautmanis, vice-president of civic engagement of the Obama Foundation, with whom we met last week (see below):

“If indeed the Obama Presidential Center is to be located in Jackson Park as reports indicate, as coordinators of Jackson Park Watch we wish to welcome the Obama Center to Jackson Park. In keeping with President Obama’s personal commitment to community engagement and history of community involvement, we ask that the Obama Foundation convene a community engagement process to create a common vision for the future of the Obama Presidential Center in our great park, and also ask that all pending plans for changes in the park be set aside in favor of the outcomes of this vital community process.”

Meetings around town

Margaret and Brenda met recently with the leaders of the Friends of the Parks and of Openlands  to discuss shared concerns for the preservation and enhancement of the city’s parks, including in particular JPW concerns about Project 120 proposals.  Such periodic conversations are wonderful opportunities for JPW to bring these organizations up to date on the latest developments in our efforts to promote community input in planning for Jackson Park and to learn from similar issues and efforts in other parks around Chicago.  We greatly appreciate their wise counsel and words of encouragement.

Margaret and Brenda also met last week with representatives of the Obama Foundation – Michael Strautmanis (VP of Civic Engagement) and Roark Frankel (Director of Planning and Construction) – to acquaint them with JPW’s role in promoting community engagement and transparency in planning for Jackson Park and to share community concerns about Project 120 proposals.  While they did not reveal the site for the Obama Presidential Center (surprise, surprise), they did affirm their commitment to including the full South Side community in planning for the Center, wherever it is located.  We look forward to working with them as their plans evolve.

Taking community views to the Park District Commissioners

Knowing that the Park District’s seven appointed commissioners can’t be aware of all that is happening in all of the city parks, Brenda and Margaret have become regulars at the monthly meetings of the Board of Commissioners.  At the July 13 meeting, we used the “People in the Parks” spot on the agenda to share community concerns about Project 120s’ proposed pavilion/music venue and to underscore the need for Project 120 to develop a proposal for a revised, downsized, relocated pavilion without a music venue feature.  We also raised questions about the reasonableness of Project 120’s plan to install Yoko Ono’s “Sky Landing” on Wooded Island this fall when the island may be fenced off entirely, and when, even if the fence were down, the closure of the Darrow Bridge means that Wooded Island has no access to parking or public restrooms.  Look under the “Key Documents” section on the JPW website ( to see the complete statements to the Commissioners.

Welcome developments in The Trib

The Chicago Tribune seems to have become a forum for discussion of questions relating to the proper usage of public parks. This is a development to applaud!

Following the article on opposition to proposed music venues in Jackson, Douglas and Montrose Parks ( and the editorial on “Parks and the sweet sound of silence,” ( the Tribune also published last week a follow-up letter by birder Nancy Tikalsky, “Chicago’s parks are for nature — not noise.”

(You can read it at

We know that many other JPW participants submitted letters to the Tribune that were not printed due to space constraints or the pressures of breaking news.  We are very grateful for those efforts, which even though unpublished were important indicators to the editorial staff of  interest in the issue.  In the future, to be sure to get our messages out there, we may want to both send letters to the editor via e-mail and also (for those who are digital subscribers to the Trib) add to the ‘Comments” section following any park-related article.

JPW participants may also be interested in Sunday’s column by Blair Kamin, urging Mayor Emanuel to transform the lakefront site once proposed for the Lucas Museum into a proper park space, green and accessible, without either an intrusive structure or the current sprawling parking lot.

( )

What’s new on the JPW website?

You may want to check out additions and improvements to the JPW website.  We’ve redone the opening page to better reflect community views on Project 120 proposals.  We’ve improved the Key Documents page, adding a section with the statements to the monthly meetings of the Park District Board of Commissioners.  And we’ve added the recent Tribune pieces.  Take a look for yourself, and then share with friends who haven’t yet signed on to the JPW g-mail list.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch
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Chicago’s parks are for nature – not noise

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the recent editorial “Parks and sweet sound of silence.” Finally, a voice of reason for these places that are set aside for people to enjoy as green spaces away from the noise and chaos of the city, many of which have naturalized areas that enhance our opportunities to engage our curiosity and love of the natural world beyond the rats in the concrete village. Montrose Beach, Douglas Park, Jackson Park and Douglas Nature Sanctuary are precious respites from the city noise. Bravo for the idea that other open spaces (maybe even the brownfields?) are available for these concert venues in the outer reaches of the city that aren’t the city parks.

— Nancy J. Tikalsky, Zion
Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune

Jackson Park Watch Update – July 8, 2016

Greetings all,

Another positive development

It was good news last week when Alderman Leslie Hairston announced that she plans to use a community engagement process to further review of the plans for Jackson Park currently being advanced by Project 120.  In another positive development for the community, the Chicago Tribune published a major article on Tuesday, noting the controversies about proposals for music venues in Jackson Park and several other city parks.  The article mentioned Jackson Park Watch and included a lengthy statement by Margaret outlining concerns about the need for and appropriateness of Project 120’s proposed pavilion.  Of equal importance the article highlighted a significant public policy issue:  are our public parks meant to be free and open for the public, or should they be seen as tourist attractions or commercial ventures that can generate revenue for the Park District and the city?

This question has been at the center of controversies throughout the history of our city, with notable conflicts over proposals to erect buildings in public parks along the lakefront.  Many of us know of Montgomery Ward’s long, lonely, and successful struggle to prevent construction in Grant Park.  The fight over building the Lucas museum on the lakefront is the most recent example.  Community voices calling to keep Jackson Park free of an out-sized visitors center/music venue and to preserve large numbers of healthy trees slated for destruction to create a “Great Lawn” echo many of these themes and assert the need for transparency and community input in Park District planning.

(Read the article at

JPAC monthly meeting, Monday, 7/11

Note special location:   Iowa Building (on 56th Street, across from Montgomery Place)    —-6:30 p.m., Picnic (potluck);  7:00 p.m., Business Meeting

At its June meeting, the Jackson Park Advisory Council considered a proposal to amend its bylaws regarding the definition of voting members.  Concerns were voiced about the imprecise wording of the amendment, and there was also a suggestion for an alternative proposal.  JPAC officials decided to bring a revised proposal to the July meeting.  Here are the variations, as we understand them:

  • Current rule:  A member may vote if s/he is attending at least the second meeting in the preceding 12-month period.
  • Change proposed by JPAC board:  A member may vote if s/he is attending at least the fourth meeting in the preceding 12-month period.
  • Alternative proposal from the floor:  A member may vote after having attended two meetings in the preceding 12 months (i.e., may vote at the third meeting).

If this is an issue on which you wish to weigh in and you are qualified under the current rule, please come to meeting so that your vote for or against can be counted.  We will be there.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch
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Jackson Park Watch Update – July 1, 2016

Greetings all,

Alderman Hairston favors community engagement process as next step for Jackson Park 

Just one month ago many of us attended the meeting Alderman Hairston convened at La Rabida to discuss the future of Jackson Park.  As those who were there recall, it was an overflow crowd, full of people with many questions, all supportive of the Park.

At her monthly ward meeting on Tuesday, June 28, the Alderman reported on that May 31 meeting.  Recounting that she had called the meeting to offer clarity and defuse misperceptions, she noted the differing opinions that had been voiced, but that all who were there showed their concern for the Park.  Continuing on, Hairston said she is now putting together a plan in conjunction with the Park District for next steps.  Reflecting the voices of many in the community, she said she would like to create a community engagement process to further explore what the community wants to see in the Park in the future.  Jackson Park Watch has offered to work with her office to help make this a reality.

Worth a thousand words

Local architect Jim San has created a graphic juxtaposing the rendering of the pavilion that Project 120 wants to put on the parking lot at the north end of Jackson Park with Olmsted’s drawing of the same area.  Jim says “My only comment is that the old saying ‘a picture’s worth a thousand words’ is true.  Olmsted’s drawing is a document that directly conveys his intentions and it must be properly understood.”

(Look for Jim’s highly informative graphic under “worth a thousand words” at the end of the Key Documents portion of this website)

And an appreciation for Olmsted’s vision for theWooded Island

Eric Ginsburg’s recent letter to the Hyde Park Herald also addresses Olmsted’s intentions and recognizes the continuing relevance of Olmsted’s focus on natural spaces.  You can read it at:

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch
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