Obama non-library 'presidential center' in Chicago devolving into a fiasco
The first community organizer to become president has managed to anger community groups so much with his planned personal monument, aka a "presidential center," that part of the plan was just scrapped.
Lolly Bowean of the Chicago Tribune reports:
Bowing to community pressure, the Obama Foundation has scrapped its plan for an above-ground parking garage and will instead build an underground facility below the presidential center in Jackson Park, officials said late Monday.
The original plan would have grabbed a treasured part of Chicago's park system, the Midway (site of Chicago's World's Fair), for a two-story garage. The group Save the Midway sprang up to protect the historic public park land from a private developer (the Obama Foundation) appropriating the land for a private purpose (the Obama Center will not be part of the National Archives System):
The embarrassment is palpable:
After numerous meetings with the community and other valued stakeholders over the past months, the Foundation understands that many of those voices feel strongly that the parking for the OPC should be located within the OPC campus in Jackson Park. The Foundation has heard those voices, and has decided to locate the OPC's parking underground in Jackson Park.
But Jackson Park, whose land is being appropriated, is also a park, designed by the great Frederick Law Olmstead, and occupies a premier Lakefront site. No less than the Midway, it is a precious legacy of the "City Beautiful" movement of the late nineteenth century that transformed Chicago from a raw and often ugly product of rapid growth into a rival of Paris when it comes to parks and vistas. An open letter from over one hundred faculty members of the University of Chicago, which neighbors the Obama monument along with the Museum of Science and Industry, lays out these concerns:
First, there are concerns that the Obama Center as currently planned will not provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods. Because the current plans place the Center next to the Museum of Science and Industry and across the street from the University of Chicago campus, there is no available adjacent land in which to start a new business, set up a new café or restaurant, bring another cultural center to the neighborhood. It looks to many neighbors [as though] the only new jobs created will be as staff to the Obama Center, hence the widespread support for a Community Benefits Agreement.
Second, the current plan calls for taking a large section of a historic public park and giving it to a private entity for development. Jackson Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most important urban parks in the nation. Construction of a permanent architectural monument violates Olmsted's vision of a democratic urban park. On the current plans the intrusion into the park is huge: twenty-one acres, the size of two large city blocks. At a time of increasing complexity and pressure in urban life, Chicago should be dedicated to preserving our public parks as open areas for relaxation and play for all its citizens. We also note that the Obama Center has abandoned its original plans to be a Presidential Library. It will be a private entity with no official connection to the National Archives. ...
[I]t is the taxpayers of Chicago who are going to be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for this project, according to estimates by the Chicago Department of Transportation. The required widening of Lake Shore Drive alone is estimated to be over $100 million. Not only are public lands being given to a private entity[,] but the public will pay to have Cornell Drive closed and Stony Island Avenue and Lake Shore Drive widened. We are concerned that these are not the best ways to use public funds to invest in the future of Chicago.
We University of Chicago faculty who sign this letter are ourselves a diverse group and different issues will matter more to some of us than to others. But we share with so many of our neighbors the belief that the current plans need significant revision. We are concerned that rather than becoming a bold vision for urban living in the future it will soon become an object lesson in the mistakes of the past. We urge the Obama Foundation to explore alternative sites on the South Side that could be developed with more economic benefits, better public transportation, and less cost to taxpayers. We would be pleased to support the Obama Center if the plan genuinely promoted economic development in our neighborhoods and respected our precious public urban parks.
Aside from the issue of imposing costs on taxpayers and mauling the work of America's foremost park designer (Olmstead designed Central Park in New York), the monument is taking on what David Brooks of the New York Times might call "lowbrow" functions so undignified that the hard-left Guardian raises its eyebrows:
In Chicago, where Obama began his audacious political journey, there is concern about plans to include in his library a digital archive rather than stacks of papers and books. More than that, the suitably modern, $1.5bn edifice in the city's Jackson Park will include a basketball court, a yoga space[,] and a test kitchen.
In a scathing column in the Chicago Tribune, Ron Grossman called out the plans as unworthy of the tradition. "Mr President, I've got to tell you: the renderings for your museum are … more likely to congeal than stir blood," he wrote, adding: "Is [this] how you want to be remembered? As the healthy-eating and meditation-advocating president … That's not how I want the story to come down to my grandchildren's children."
As for that "suitably modern" design, it appears to my eyes to be designed in the tradition known as "brutalism" for its use of raw concrete and blank facades:
To my eyes, the main structure looks like a cenotaph with wide hips (a tribute to Michelle O?) that Godzilla emerged from the Lake Michigan waters and took a bite out of, exposing a little corner of what hides inside behind the blank concrete.
Has nobody involved in planning this structure ever heard of the wind effect on tall buildings? Placing a tall structure next to an open plaza right off Lake Michigan seems like a good way to ensure that the plaza will be windy and, in the winter, covered with ice. People coming to the monument to play basketball or cook food risk being blown off their feet if the inevitable ice cover is not salted heavily, causing runoff into the lake.