By LINDSAY WELBERS
Residents of Woodlawn and Washington Park say that the Obama Presidential Library would bring jobs, economic prosperity and increased attention to the greater South Side.
Many in Woodlawn and Washington Park see the library as a real opportunity to bring economic development to their neighborhood, while finding uses for vacant lots, reducing crime and bringing greater attention their cultural institutions.
Liz Gardner, a Woodlawn resident and founder of the Woodlawn Summit, said she would like to see the library come to the area.
“The Mid-South has a plethora of natural resources to compliment the library: Our parks, museums and the lakefront are major assets. Additionally, we have a community that is interested in an economic renaissance that the library would bring to the community,” Gardner said.
Michael Sorkin, a University of Chicago graduate and architect living in New York City, chose the neighborhoods for his unofficial first draft for the Obama Library.
Sorkin’s pitch, which was created as a gift for a lunch he shared with Michelle Obama, would put a disassociated library, museum and several institutions for education and advocacy centered on 63rd Street between South Ellis Avenue and South Woodlawn Avenue.
“These communities are in need of a sensitive infusion of capital,” Sorkin said. “There is a great deal of unconstructed land available and I think the relationship to the university is a logical one and it seems the institutional development of the South Side is a worthwhile economic and social project.”
Sorkin’s plan would put 12 new buildings in the neighborhoods in addition to a winding community garden that connects Jackson Park to the library campus and goes further west past Washington Park.
Sorkin said he sees the library as a place where Barack Obama could continue the kind of community organizing work that helped his rise to political fame.
While his proposed plan would demolish homes, Sorkin stressed that eminent domain and removing people from occupied homes would not benefit the community. The plan is a first-draft that if implemented would have a planning process that involves the community.
Architect and Woodlawn resident Dave Walker recently spoke to a group of Woodlawn and Washington Park residents about the economic effect presidential libraries, museums and other major institutions can have on their neighborhoods.
Walker said the South Side has some major, often undiscovered, cultural institutions, including Kennedy-King College in Englewood, the DuSable Museum of African American History and the University of Chicago, that could benefit from the library’s presence.
To be of the most benefit to its community Walker said it should revitalize the retail in the neighborhood. When President Clinton opened his library in Little Rock, Ark., it helped foster an outdoor shopping market, amphitheater, hotels and restaurants to revitalize the city’s downtown.
Walker sees the 63rd Street retail corridor, with its proximity to Metra and the Green Line, and 55th Street and Garfield Boulevard, as excellent centers for the library, in part because of their retail component, vacant space and access to transit.
“There are creative ways we can use the land, in the effort to make sure that the retail corridor grows and thrives and make sure the library is used as a catalyst for economic development,” Walker said.