Parking in the Park
By Patrick F. Cannon
I see that they have made some changes to the plans for the Obama Presidential Center/Library/Museum that will be built in Jackson Park in Chicago. As my readers may know, I am not a fan of the ever-increasing scale of these monuments. Obama’s is estimated to cost $500 million now, but don’t be surprised if it ends up even higher. To be fair, construction money is being raised by private donations. The people of Chicago, Cook County and the State, however, will be on the hook for “infrastructure” improvements, which could well add hundreds of millions to the cost.
One positive in the new plan – parking is being moved underground, much as it was many years ago at the neighboring Museum of Science and Industry. But the complex is still being largely built on once sacrosanct park land. This makes it all the more confusing that Friends of the Park (FOTP), the organization formed to protect our sacred parks, has decided not to go to court to prevent the complex from being partially built on park land; what’s more, a park designed by the legendary landscape architects Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvin Vaux, who are most famous for their Central Park in Manhattan.
(One comment about the design: if it’s going to be in the park, then it should be as unobtrusive as possible. None of the structures should be above the tree line. The tower, or do they call it a Belvidere? has actually gotten taller in the redesign.)
As you may recall, FOTP was mainly responsible for preventing the proposed George Lukas’ – he of the Star Wars franchise – Museum of Narrative Art from being built on a parking lot just south of Soldier Field. Their reasoning had to do with the ordinance that decreed that the lakefront be “forever open and free.” As they saw it, this privately-funded museum was a completely different proposition than the privately-funded Art Institute, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium. Perhaps FOTP should change its name to Friends of the Parking Lot? At any rate, Lukas eventually tired of the delays and decided to build his museum in Los Angeles.
While I think former President Obama – a truly historic figure whose political career began in Chicago – should get his complex in Chicago, Jackson Park is not the best location. The argument that it will spur economic development is spurious. The community directly west of the site, Hyde Park, is home to the University of Chicago and is decidedly not in need of any economic development; if anything, it may be overdeveloped. Indeed, some 200 UC professors have signed a petition urging that a new site be found.
If you want to find a site that would spur development, you need only ride the CTA Green Line from Oak Park to 63rd and Ashland in Chicago. Keep your eyes open along the way and you’ll see any number of sites (many of them already vacant and owned by the city) where economic development is actually needed. Speaking of 63rd and Ashland, does not Englewood need development more than Hyde Park?
But it really isn’t about economic development, is it? Former President Obama wants his complex in Jackson Park because it’s the most attractive physically; and in a location where access would be considered relatively safe for out-of-town visitors. It will also be just down the street from the Museum of Science and Industry, forming its own “museum campus” with that busy venue. Of course, if you want to be near the ultimate museum campus, there is that parking lot just south of Soldier Field…
Copyright 2018, Patrick F. Cannon