Jackson Park Watch Update – November 2, 2019

Greetings, all!

The Obama Foundation Summit
Protect Our Parks Appeal Brief Filed
Those Trees:  Worth saving?  Dying?  Healthy and mature?

The Message from the Obama Foundation Summit – Trust Us

The Obama Foundation hosted its third annual invitation-only Summit earlier this week, featuring celebrities, donors, and participants in its Obama Scholar programs.  Interviews with President and Mrs. Obama headlined the agenda, which had the theme of “Places Reveal our Purpose.”   As reported in BlockClubChicago and Crain’s, the Obamas reiterated their goal of replacing Jackson Park as it now is with a South Side version of the Museum Campus and Millennium Park.  They dismissed Jackson Park today as “underutilized” except by golfers and failed to acknowledge Olmsted’s vision for the park as an exceptional natural and open area offering respite from the congestion of urban life.   The Obamas repeated their assertion that the OPC would be an economic catalyst for the South Side, but offered no actual information as to how that could happen. Interestingly, when former President Obama described the OPC he stated “… we want this to be a university for activism and social change.”

In connection with the meeting, the Obama Foundation released revised designs for the Obama Presidential Campus, showing minor tweaks to the interior of the public library and the children’s playgrounds and some changes to the exterior of the massive 235-foot museum tower meant to make it less intimidating and more “elegant.”  The Tribune’s Blair Kamin concluded “there’s more work to be done,” and the architects have already said they are working on further refinements. 

So where do things stand? The federal reviews are on-going, albeit apparently stalled for now.  Community members continue to express strong reservations about the plans in letters and interviews.  The Protect Our Parks appeal continues (see below).  All in all, while there is overwhelming support for having the OPC on the South Side, the consequences of a top-down planning process that imposed an inappropriate design and major tax-payer-funded road changes on historic Jackson Park continue to play themselves out.  Had the Obamas chosen a different location, construction would be well underway.  Under the circumstances, “trust us” isn’t sufficient.

POP appeal brief filed

The Protect Our Parks brief outlining its appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was filed October 25, emphasizing the core issue of appropriate stewardship by the City of invaluable public trust land.  It is this issue that JPW has consistently pointed to as making the POP efforts worthy of note.  A second issue highlighted in the appeal is whether, in leaving all decisions about the site selection and design of the OPC up to the Obama Foundation, the City engaged in an improper delegation of its authority and responsibilities.

The POP appeal brief is posted on the POP Lawsuit page on the JPW website.   The City and Park District now have until November 25 to file their response.  POP must then file a reply by December 16.  Sometime after that submission a date will be set for oral arguments, likely for late winter.  It will be heard by a panel of three appellate judges drawn from among the judges on the Seventh Circuit.  The identity of the designated judges will not be known in advance of the hearing.

On a related note, as reported in the August 16 JPW Update, after the Section 106 Assessment of Effects (AOE) report was released in late July, POP filed a motion to reopen the initial review under Judge Blakey to take into account the AOE report.  That motion is on hold pending action by Judge Blakey.

Dead and Dying OR Alive and Healthy?

Sharply divergent perspectives on the actual status of the proposed OPC site today were offered up in recent Crain’s Chicago Business pieces by two community members.  As is so often the case in public pronouncements made in our era, one had to wonder if the protagonists had the same space in mind. 

On the one hand was Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, with   “The dirty little secret….”

And on the other hand was JPW’s Margaret Schmid with “I don’t recognize that park….”

 (A note to readers: we recognize that not everyone can get past Crain’s paywall.  We apologize in advance.  Schmid’s article refers to a professional study of the trees that now grow on the proposed OPC site that includes details about specific trees and maps of tree locations. We highly recommend it even if you cannot link to the Crain’s pieces.)

Divergent perspectives on the proposed OPC site were also evident on October 26 when a group of preservationists – led by Ross Peterson, former president of the  Jackson Park Advisory Council, and Herb Caplan of Protect Our Parks – gathered  there to tie red ribbons around the many mature trees throughout the park that would be removed to construct the OPC campus and the roadway reconfigurations it requires.   Seemingly unable to tolerate the demonstration, some community members removed the ribbons as rapidly as they were wrapped around the trees.  The Hyde Park Herald captured the standoff and the varying opinions.  The debate goes on.


As always, we welcome your financial support.  You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602, ATTN Kevin Winters.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

Once again, we thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

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