Obama Presidential Center

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Jackson Park Watch calls on the Obama Foundation to:

  • Provide a model for substantive community engagement in planning for the Obama Presidential Center and its impact on Jackson Park;
  • Become actively engaged in the search for a suitable, accessible replacement for the athletic field and other playing fields and parkland that the Center will displace;
  • Publicly urge the Park District to develop an overall comprehensive plan for Jackson Park;
  • Commit to fully supporting and participating in such a comprehensive planning process.

The Issues:

The decision by the City and the Park District to give prime parkland in either Jackson Park or Washington Park to the Obama Foundation was controversial. When the Obama Foundation chose the 20+ acre Jackson Park site across from Hyde Park Academy High School, it quickly became evident that the decision would have both immediate and long-term consequences for users of Jackson Park.

One immediate (and problematic) consequence: the Obama Presidential Center will displace the high-quality track and athletic field (see image at right below) and other playing fields used by the Hyde Park Academy and by other schools and community groups.

As part of its offer of parkland to the Obama Foundation, the City and the Park District committed to replace the green park space lost to the Obama Presidential Center and to replace the Jackson Park track and athletic field with a facility of comparable quality and accessibility. Although this is a major priority for many community groups, to date there has been no opportunity for community input on the issue, the Park District has announced no plans for an acceptable replacement, and the Obama Foundation has been silent

The design and exact location of the Obama Presidential Center are also of great significance. Issues such as parking – where, what sort, above or underground – the number, profile, and locations of the building(s), and how the site itself would be altered are all unknowns of great consequence. Earlier promises that there would be a process for community consultation have not yet been realized; here again decisions are being made without transparency and the community is not invited to the table.

Further, the Obama Presidential Center will have a transformative impact on Jackson Park beyond the narrow footprint of the facility. For instance, the Obama Foundation has “floated” the idea of closing Cornell Drive running through Jackson Park between 60th and 67th Streets (see graphic above).

While many may well applaud the idea of adding park space, the thorny question of what would happen to the myriad commuters who use that route daily has not been addressed.  Such a proposal makes plain the urgency to discuss the plans for the Obama Presidential Center not in isolation but in the context of an overall plan for the Park as a whole.


Charles Birnbaum, Cultural Landscape Foundation, President and CEO of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, an organization dedicated to Olmsted-designed parks, commented on the implications of the decision to locate the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, saying in part:

“We should use the fate of Jackson Park as an opportunity to rethink the value we place on open space and public parkland held in trust for future generations.”

Also, Chicago Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin commented on the proposal to close Cornell Drive for much of its course through Jackson Park here.