The OPC: A complaint and a response

To the Editor:

We wish to comment on two points: one, something that was not included in the recent Hyde Park Herald; the second, something that was.

First, the omission.

We were surprised that the HPH declined to cover the news of the submission on Tuesday, Jan. 15, of three “friends of the courts” briefs in the Protect Our Parks (POP) lawsuit.  One brief, by Preservation Chicago and our organization, Jackson Park Watch, rebuts the claim of a “tradition” of building museums in Chicago’s public parks; the second, by U. of C. Professor Richard Epstein, asserts that the taking of parkland for the OPC violates the public trust doctrine and merits stricter scrutiny; and the third, by The Cultural Landscape Foundation, says that building the OPC in Jackson Park would result in irrevocably harming the public benefits now provided by this nationally significant park.  All argued against the City’s motion to dismiss the Protect Our Parks lawsuit.  The hearing on that motion will take place on Feb. 14. Links to the briefs and information on the POP lawsuit can be found on the JPW website,, on the “Obama Center” page.

Second, the assertions concerning Cornell Drive contained in Frances Vandervoort’s Jan. 16 letter require comment.

Far from being a relatively recent addition, as Vandervoort asserts, the roadway now known as Cornell Drive was an integral part of Olmsted’s 1895 plan for Jackson Park.  It connected with other park roadways to provide a scenic, 40’-wide circuit though the park for visitors, riding at first in horse-drawn carriages and in cars by the early 1900s. The roadway was indeed widened unnecessarily in the 1970s to its present state, where it is sometimes 6-lanes wide.  In fact, CDOT engineers now admit that it was overbuilt.

The Obama Foundation argues for complete closure of a portion of Cornell Drive, coupled with the CDOT-recommended conversion of Hayes Drive into a high-volume, high-speed east-west roadway with an elevated concrete median.  In this plan parking on Hayes would be banned, and pedestrian access to adjacent recreational area would be dramatically impeded

A far better choice would be to narrow and calm the existing Cornell Drive and to improve and expand pedestrian crosswalks (or underpasses) throughout the park, modifications that were proposed in the Park District’s 2000 South Lakefront Framework Plan, Phase 2, and in its Jackson Park Projects and Framework Plan of 2016.  Such adaptations would improve circulation throughout the park (by car, bike and foot), yet would not require the destructive and expensive ($175M) tax-payer-funded road changes now proposed to accommodate the OPC’s current design — widening Lake Shore Drive and South Stony Island Avenue by chopping off wide strips of parkland on the east and west sides of the park and bisecting the park anew by transforming Hayes Drive into a 4-lane speedway.


Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch