OPC plans would be welcomed if they genuinely promoted development of our neighborhoods

To the Editor:

I have been a resident of Hyde Park for 25 years and I love the neighborhood. When I first learned that the Obamas wanted to develop a Presidential Center in Chicago I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to develop our South Side neighborhoods.  But from that perspective, the current plans could not be worse.  Instead of placing the OPC adjacent to gorgeous Washington Park — and thus opening up prospects for new businesses to start up nearby — the planners have placed it in the heart of one of the few areas in South Side that does not need development — and has no room for development.  By nestling the OPC right in between the University of Chicago campus and the Museum of Science and Industry, the OPC would help to create an enclave — further dividing the developed and less developed parts of our neighborhoods. No wonder neighborhood groups are joining the CBA Coalition.

And then there is the disruption of our beautiful parkland.  If Chicago has a history to be proud of it is one of forming and preserving our parks.  This is historic public land that the City is proposing to give away to a private entity.  The Obama Foundation has said about its plan to turn a park into a parking lot that this part of the Midway Plaisance is “underutilized”.  In whose eyes?  Historically, it is not uncommon for those who take land from others to say that the land was underused.   No wonder the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council and the Friends of the Park are opposed.

This also raises the issue of economics.  The city not only plans to give away public land, it plans to pay for substantial redevelopment of roads in the area.  This will cost millions of dollars — and it is we the taxpayers who will pay for it.  So, we citizens are being told we will lose our public parks and pay for the redevelopment. And yet, the mayor has shut down schools throughout the South Side allegedly because the city cannot afford them.  What are our priorities?

This situation is a shame because there would have been widespread welcome if the plans genuinely promoted development of our neighborhoods.

Jonathan Lear
Professor, The University of Chicago