To the Editor:
I have just finished a chronological rereading of newspaper coverage of the Obama Presidential Library proposals, beginning with a Chicago Tribune article in December, 2012.
Reading chronologically, at least two examples of the insidious effect of repetitious advertising jump out. First is the University of Chicago’s audacity, duplicity and arrogance in preparing a blatant attempt at a land grab, and then holding “public hearings” after the proposal is submitted. Second, even more appalling, is that the university’s barrage of slick sophistry has apparently somewhat succeeded. Not only do the mayor and the Chicago Park District seem to have succumbed to the barrage, so had the Tribune.
A stunning example of the subtle power of advertising is the shift in reporting from December, 2014, when Susan Sher told the Tribune that there are 270 acres of vacant land available in the immediate area of the Washington Park neighborhood, to January of this year, when the Tribune calmly wrote, without qualification, that “the university would need about 20 acres of public parkland to secure the library for Chicago.” At what point did “want” the library here become a “need” for parkland to get it? If there are 270 acres of vacant land in the vicinity? Surely that “need” should be questioned.
The two “public hearings” convened after the university had already submitted its official bid (which included using parkland the U. of C. hoped the “hearings” would endorse) were only held in a cynical attempt to offer a false choice: Either endorse the “need” for using parkland, or risk losing the library. As the Jan. 6 Tribune editorial said, such behavior on the part of the U. of C. is “no way to treat its neighbors.”
It is true that the university doesn’t yet own all the 270 acres Ms. Sher referenced, but they do own more than the 11 acres they have offered. It is also true that if they don’t have to offer any more, and instead succeed in stealing the public park space, the remaining acres they do still own will provide them substantial economic benefit when sold to a hotel or restaurant for development.
When did “want” become “need?” When the university decided it could sell a false choice, and could convince the mayor and the Park District tot go along with the scheme. I am reminded of a quote from a LeCarre novel: “When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses …. The truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.” By deftly replacing “want” with “need,” the U. of C. has tried to portray the park advocates as raving lunatics. The truth is, nothing justifies taking public parkland for a building when other land could be available. Parks are not land banks. If Chicago loses the library because of the duplicitous nature of the University of Chicago’s proposal, the fault will lie directly at the door of the University of Chicago. I believe the president and first lady will not be deceived by this chicanery.
I believe most South Siders would really, really like the Presidential Library on the South Side of Chicago. I also believe that had the university acted as good neighbors, held public hearings and workshops and planning sessions in a truly open and transparent “working together” process, starting at least two years ago, compromises and plans could/would have been made that would have created a magnificent plan or two without trying to invade our so valuable public open space. Unfortunately the U. of C. is not noted for its willingness to honestly engage the community, and especially not for its willingness to compromise.
Wanting the library in the Washington Park neighborhood is definitely NOT the same as wanting to take public land to bring it here. As the U. of C. knows full well, the “hearings” made that plain.