To the Editor:
Carpe Diem. I am a resident of Chicago’s South Side – born and raised – with renewed hope as we usher in this era of our city’s first African American woman as our mayor. I congratulate Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Like many of our neighbors, I have this nervous kind of emotion stirring in me. I’m drawn into our new mayor’s push for economic growth of neighborhoods such as mine on the city’s South and West Sides.
Undoubtedly there is general agreement the South Side has suffered from decades of disinvestment, segregation and neglect. It is almost entirely absent from tourist maps and is avoided by many in other parts of Chicago. Yet our South Side communities are rich with culture and humanity and home to magnificent parks that were born out of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The architect of these parks, Fredrick Law Olmsted, meant for them to be used by everyone, particularly families of limited means that could not travel broadly and instead were bound by the hardships of a strictly urban lifestyle.
So, here again is a simple neighbor’s nervous plea: the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), as a tribute to the first African American President, is the first major investment to come to the South Side of Chicago since the World’s Exposition. Like the World’s Exposition, the OPC is a game changer for all of us. It’s a real acknowledgement that South Side communities shaped his assent to the presidency. It also might signal that, after all this time, the South Side of Chicago is a good place to invest.
There has been debate about the appropriateness of using ~3.5% of Jackson Park for the OPC’s location. Those who don’t use Jackson Park have weighed in, some with a lawsuit. They claim that park land should never be sacrificed for such a monument or museum, carefully ignoring the 11 other Chicago museums in the parks that bring many of our community and country to visit and learn. Also ignored are the resources that the OPC site will offer our South Side youth, including my son: amenities such as a new Chicago Public Library and Jackson Park improvements (picnic areas, a sledding hill, and a walking and biking promenade) replacing the six-lane Cornell “highway” that currently tears the park apart. The proposed OPC landscaping will better adapt to the climate crisis, such that our children and our children’s children can enjoy at least this part of the park for decades to come.
The low levels of private investment in the West and South Sides of Chicago is inequitable. So, please Mayor Lightfoot, let us all seize the day. Let’s take this critical immediate step developing the OPC on our South Side. This is a potential asset in our blighted neighborhoods and parks that our families just cannot afford to bungle.