To the Editor:
Re: Upset with Logan Foundation’s donation – April 3, 2019
Proponents of clear-cutting Jackson Park’s woodland to build the Obama Center are “just glad that Olmsted has not been around to witness the demise of his creation and the cynical efforts now being employed in his name to keep out the very people his park was intended to serve.” Have these folks read Olmsted’s writings? A landscape architect, not a land developer, Olmsted foresaw parks as places with “graceful undulating greensward and scattered growths of trees” that promoted “a sense of tranquility.” Olmsted believed the rural, picturesque landscape contrasted with and counteracted the confining and unhealthful conditions of the crowded urban environment and served to strengthen society by providing a place where all classes could mingle in contemplation and enjoyment of the pastoral experience. The natural landscape-committed Olmsted would be distraught if a complex of buildings replaces mature, historic urban woodland in Jackson Park.
When Olmsted created New York’s Central Park between 1858 and 1861, he wrote, “The time will come when New York will be built up, when all the grading and filling will be done, and when the picturesquely varied, rocky formations of the Island will have been converted into formations for rows of monotonous straight streets, and piles of erect buildings. There will be no suggestion left of its present varied surface, with the single exception of the few acres contained in the Park. Then the priceless value of the present picturesque outlines of the ground will be perceived, and its adaptability for its purpose more fully recognized.”
“We can see, now, what he meant,” noted a 1972 New York Times article. “But just barely. For the fact is that although the park has not been entirely paved over or otherwise improved, it is badly junked up and all too often overwhelmed with crowds bent on mass entertainment …… Politicians were ever willing to trade off chunks of Olmsted’s great work in order to placate voter groups, please influential individuals, provide public works projects to employ jobless constituents.”
Enter the 2019 letter writers who evidently share the Obama Foundation’s stated goal of creating a Millennium Park-style Jackson Park with crowds bent on “mass entertainment.” In furtherance of their anti-Olmsted goal, the letter writers hurl insults and describe the lawsuit seeking to protect the woodland as “sleazy” and “cynical.” “Shame!” they cry. “Ever willing to trade off chunks of Olmsted’s great work in order to placate voter groups,” the letter writers advocate clear cutting an entire urban woodland to “please influential individuals [like Mayor Emanuel and the Obamas].” The letter writers demonize and scold the Logan Foundation for not using its grant money on the letter writers’ personal projects. These include “provide public works projects to employ jobless constituents” and “pay for construction job training, transportation to job sites, tool sets and work gear,” or “help victims of gun violence and trauma in Chicago” These projects may be excellent, but do not preclude other equally excellent projects, including protecting public park land from development.
The letters writers’ verbal picture vividly depicts the atmosphere of intimidation that dramatizes why so many Hyde Park residents fear publicly voicing their personal objections to the Obama Center in Jackson Park. Many Hyde Park residents dislike being publicly denigrated as “sleazy” if they dare mention their enjoyment in walking outdoors in this allegedly “ignored” wooded portion of Jackson Park. Others are unwillingly to face public condemnation and insults because they object to constructing, in their local park, a 15-20 story tall Tower, a CO2 and car-exhaust producing 450-car garage and a vast plaza specifically designed to host fast food trucks. And many Hyde Parkers silently object to the proposed disruption to the area’s streets that will destroy their peace and quiet, but fear speaking out.
Also, many Hyde Parkers privately decry Mayor Emanuel’s decision to pay $224 million on Obama Center associated costs including his commitment of $172 million state funding to widen Lake Shore Drive to comply with Obama Foundation demand to close Cornell Drive. Few Chicago taxpayers know they risk a property tax add-on due to the 2016 General Assembly Amendment of the Illinois Museum Act, directed by Mr. Emanuel. And many Hyde Parkers believe It is reckless fiscal policy for Chicago to pay millions of dollars on infrastructure to accommodate a Center that the Obama Foundation insists must be in Jackson Park. For example, $276 million is due now, and $1.2 billion is due by 2013 to bankroll city employees’ four pension funds, plus the city’s corporate fund’s shortfall is $251.7 million next year and $362.2 million in 2021, plus the cost of new contracts and back pay for police officers and firefighters. The public had no vote when the city decided to redo infrastructure to accommodate the Obama Foundation’s requirement that the Center be built in, and only in, Jackson Park.
New York politicians of 1972 would be right at home in the 2019 clout-ridden atmosphere of Mayor Emanuel’s Chicago. Maybe the election of Lorrie Lightfoot will restore respect for fiscal responsibility and for the natural environment that includes urban woodlands that serve as carbon sinks absorbing and sequestering CO2 and helping offset global climate change that some consider an existential threat to human life. These woodlands also support local butterflies and birds, and enable local people to enjoy the unbuilt natural outdoors. Not everyone is willing to experience being ostracized for caring “passionately” about protecting Jackson Park. Not everyone has the Obama Foundation’s ability to “spend a billion dollars” on their choice of goals.
With a secret ballot, plenty of Hyde Parkers and other Chicago residents would vote to require the Obama Foundation to build the Obama Center in a South Side neighborhood where it will be accessible and convenient for the local people, displace weedy empty lots and boarded up buildings, and not displace beautiful urban woodlands located in the unbuilt, Olmsted designed Jackson Park.
Plaintiff, Protect Our Parks lawsuit