Jackson Park Watch Update – October 17, 2017

Greetings all,

A lot is happening!  Here is a rundown of recent developments and major news items.

BUT FIRST – please donate!  Jackson Park Watch fund-raising is off to a promising start but major challenges are ahead.  Although the Chicago Park District has slowed development of a new Framework Plan for Jackson Park and South Shore, the Obama Foundation continues to say it will submit its proposal for the Obama Presidential Center to the Chicago Plan Commission before the end of the year.  JPW is seeking expert counsel to ensure that community concerns are heard and have impact, and your tax-deductible financial support is needed to make that happen.  Send checks made out to “Jackson Park Watch” to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  E-mail jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com with any questions.

Another land grab? Community members have launched Save the Midway, a campaign to oppose the Obama Foundation’s proposal to build an above-ground parking garage on the eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance.  Visit their website to sign their virtual postcard. Read about the background of the initiative in the Hyde Park Herald .

What will be in those OPC buildings? The Tribune recently examined the implications of the fact that the OPC will not be a research library or public archive, but rather will be an entirely private enterprise.  Plans for the Obama Museum (that really tall building) were recently described by Louise Bernard, the Museum’s founding director, at a panel discussion at the DuSable Museum:  there will be a large public lobby, five levels of museum displays, a “sky room” on the top for community viewing, and in between, a suite for the use of the Obamas.

Golf course plan still unknown:  The Tribune editorial board has taken the City and Park District to task for trying to orchestrate a “secretive rush job” for approval of the proposed golf course merger.  While praising the Park District’s decision to slow down the review process, the editorial calls for the Park District to heed and address community concerns about the course’s affordability and accessibility and about the threatened nature sanctuary.  JPW raised these questions in its Aug. 4 open letter to the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance and Park District without any response to date.

OPC still rushing ahead:   On a related note, JPW also praised the Park District at its October Board meeting for slowing down the South Lakefront Framework Plan process.  At the same time JPW noted  the disconnect between the Park District schedule and the OPC’s determination to rush ahead with its plans:

Spokesmen for the Obama Foundation and OPC architects have stated on more than on occasion their aim to fully integrate the OPC with Jackson Park.  If they are sincere, then they should delay the submission of the OPC plans to the Plan Commission until the Framework planning process is complete.  And they should participate in the active dialogue and give-and-take of the Framework Plan process and be prepared not only to advance their ideas and vision but also to adapt those ideas on occasion to the community’s vision for the park.  Until there is such active conversation and collaboration, this is just another case of the park being sliced and diced into unconnected segments for special interests, with no regard for Olmsted’s holistic vision.   The Park District and its Commissioners should not acquiesce to the distortion and undercutting of the Framework Plan process.

About trees and accountability:   A commentator in the Sun-Times, highlighting the need for the OPC to be more transparent in its planning and fully accountable to the public, lamented the untold number of mature trees in Jackson Park that may be sacrificed to the OPC.  (And indeed the OPC landscape architects stated at an invitation-only meeting in August that most of existing trees on the site would be cut.)  The writer concluded:  “The city has given decision-making control over a large section of public land to a private entity that is not accountable to the public. . . . I would argue, however that the situation must change, and soon.”

More news coverage:

Jackson Park under threat: The Cultural Landscape Foundation has included Jackson Park in its Landslide 2017 listing of threatened public spaces across the United States.  Noting the historic stature of the Olmsted-designed park system, the TCLF designation highlights the threats posed both by the sizable and shifting footprint of the now-private Obama Presidential Center and by the proposed golf course merger that will remove existing recreational facilities and curtail access by local golfers.   The recognition brings national attention to issues and questions that are already being recognized and raised locally, with increasing urgency.

What about the broken walkways? Amid all the focus on new projects, the ongoing and long-neglected maintenance needs of Jackson Park and neighboring parks were the initial focus of an investigation by Carol Marin of NBC5 News that aired on October 4.

Might be interesting:  On Monday, Oct. 23, 7:30 – 9:00 p.m., Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, and Alex Goldenberg, executive director of Southside Together Organizing for Power, will discuss issues surrounding the proposed construction of the Obama Presidential Center.  The meeting at the First Unitarian Church (5650 S. Woodlawn Ave.) is sponsored by Indivisible Chicago South Side.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-founders, Jackson Park Watch

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