By JAY TRAVIS
While there is great enthusiasm regarding the University of Chicago’s proposals to locate President Barack Obama’s presidential library in either Washington Park or Jackson Park, the concerns of residents about the bid should not be dismissed. At two separate public hearings, in which people arrived on foot, by car and by charter and coach buses, the eagerness for the library to be located in Chicago was palpable. However, many people including residents from Washington Park, members of the Committee to Revitalize Dyett, Friends of the Park, and the Trauma Care Coalition articulated concerns that should be addressed before plans move forward. It is my sincere hope that the hearings are not like the disingenuous hearings held by Chicago Public Schools regarding school closings, and that the concerns raised are actually addressed.
Barely one week after the U. of C. revealed its intentions of using 20 acres of park land located in either Washington Park or Jackson Park, the Chicago Park District hurriedly scheduled two public hearings to solicit public input as it weighs whether to transfer 22 acres of park land to City Hall in support of the U. of C.’s bid. While one hearing was held in the evening at Hyde Park High School, the hearing at the Washington Park Field House was held at noon. While both hearings were well attended, scheduling a hearing in the middle of the work day in one of the communities that will potentially be most impacted is not conducive to receiving community input.
The U. of C.’s public statement (aired on the 10 p.m. news on major television stations) that the hearings indicated that there is overwhelming support for its proposals, did not reflect the concerns voiced by many in attendance at the hearing. For example, several Washington Park residents in addition to members of Friends of the Park asked that the university build the library on the acreage that it owns adjacent to Washington Park; spurring the investment in the Washington Park neighborhood that will no doubt accompany the construction of the library; and leave the park land undisturbed. It is important to note that the actual library is projected to cover approximately 3 to 5 acres of land, which means that it could be placed on the additional 11 acres outside of the park that is also included in the U. of C.’s proposal.
Additionally, members of the Committee to Revitalize Dyett requested that Dyett High School remain intact; as its building sits at the tip of the proposed site. The committee also requested that Dyett be included in a benefits agreement signed by University leadership. While the Washington Park Advisory Council and Washington Park Residents’ Advocacy Council submitted a request for a benefits agreement that includes Dyett, the plan has not been publicly signed onto by the university.
Also the Trauma Care Coalition, which has vigilantly fought for the University of Chicago to operate a level one adult trauma unit on its medical campus, expressed concerns about this critical issue at both hearings. This coalition also held a protest outside of the hearing at Hyde Park High School. While many feel that this issue is not connected to the library bid, it speaks directly to the University’s unwillingness to invest its resources to address the vital need for a trauma center.
Concerns regarding the process of how the U. of C. selected and revealed its proposed sites, suggestions for alternative locations for the library and other concerns should be welcomed and not framed as antithetical to the desire to see communities that have endured disinvestment developed.
Many people called for unity at the hearings. Let’s build that unity based on a willingness to hear and address the concerns that were expressed at the hearings.
Jay Travis is a former candidate for the 26th legislative district and former head of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.