Rebutting arguments against the OPC


To the Editor:

We respect Charlotte Adelman’s contributions over the years to nature conservation and share many of her broader environmental concerns.  We also respect Frederick Law Olmsted’s idea of urban parks as democratic gathering spaces for all classes of people to interact. The Obama Presidential Center is both true to this ideal and consistent with Olmsted’s grander plan.

It is therefore difficult to reconcile Ms. Adelman’s preservationist arguments with her opposition, on the grounds of “fiscal irresponsibility,” to the closing of Cornell Drive. Nothing could be further from Olmsted’s intentions than the six-lane highway that currently bisects the northern extremity of the park. In the matter of the Center itself and its exact location in the park, it appears she either misunderstands, or has been mislead about, many of the facts.

Ms. Adelman accuses us of advocating for “clear cutting entire urban woodland.”

Fact: Nowhere have we advocated for the “clear cutting” of anything.  Furthermore, there is no woodland habitat on the proposed three-and-a-half-acre site that sits at the north-west corner of Jackson Park and west of Cornell Drive and which is only a tiny fraction of the 544-acre park. Instead, much of the site is occupied by a running track that is in dire need of repair. The site vegetation is typical park lawn and individual scattered trees.  Because of disease and other afflictions in recent years, numerous damaged, dead or dying mature trees have had to be removed and replaced. To prepare for the building of the OPC, the Obama Foundation has undertaken a Tree Inventory and Management Study to understand the quantity and health of the trees within the proposed site. They discovered that nearly one-third of the trees are in less than “good” shape.  While it may be necessary to remove some healthy trees in addition to those that are diseased or failing, the landscape architects’ plans for the OPC call for planting trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses that will be able to grow and thrive as our climate changes in the 21st century.

Ms. Adelman writes that we have ”publically denigrated as ‘sleazy’ [residents who] dare mention their enjoyment in walking outdoors in the allegedly ‘ignored’ wooded portion of Jackson Park.”

Fact: Again, we have directed no such insult towards anyone who enjoys the park, as indeed we ourselves do. On the contrary, we want many more people to enjoy it, but lack of access and consequential neglect since the construction of Cornell Drive in the 1960s have conspired to keep away all but the most determined of park users. Cornell Drive, which forms the eastern boundary of the Presidential Center site, is a busy six-lane highway that discourages access to the recently restored Japanese Garden and Wooded Island that are both situated in the center of the lagoon. As the only woodland nearby, we assume that Wooded Island is the area Ms. Adelman is most concerned about. This pleasant woodland area lies well to the east of the proposed site and is not a part of the Center’s site plan. But closing Cornell Drive to motorized traffic, is part of the plan. Its closure would reintegrate both sections of the park back into the original whole, restore the original footprint of Olmsted’s bridle path, and create safe and easy public park access. It would also increase the total amount of usable green space in the park for the enjoyment of all.

From her far north Chicago suburban home, Ms. Adelman presumes to speak for what she imagines to be the “many Hyde Park residents [who] fear publically voicing their personal objections to the Obama Center in Jackson Park for fear of “intimidation.”

Fact: The image of Hyde Parkers being too frightened to voice an opinion is so far from the reality as to be almost comic. The Obama Presidential Center has been a topic of lively public debate with multiple views openly and passionately expressed, not only in Hyde Park but also throughout the entire 5th Ward including South Shore and especially Woodlawn, where the Center will be most closely situated. Our organization, South Side Neighbors for Hope represents and includes residents of these and other nearby neighborhoods, as well as Hyde Park. Through our daily interaction with the different communities we are confident that the vast majority of Chicago’s south side residents embrace the coming of the Obama Presidential Center to the proposed site in Jackson Park.

The Jackson Park Advisory Council, which has been responsible for the many park improvements in recent years, and South Side Neighbors for Hope have organized a walking tour of the Obama Presidential Center site in honor of Earth Day, on Saturday, April 27.  We hope all readers of the Herald, and Ms. Adelman in particular, will join us to see how the Obama Presidential Center will enhance our beloved Jackson Park.


Paraisia Winston,

Candice Washington,

Alisa Starks, Elizabeth Moyer, Judith McCue, Kineret Jaffe, Mary Anton, Erin Adams