Calling on the Mayor for more transparency


To the Editor:

Below is a letter that we jointly sent to the mayor of Chicago.

Dear Mayor Lightfoot:

The Aug. 5 meeting hosted by the City of Chicago to discuss the Obama Presidential Center’s potential impact on historic Jackson Park felt a lot like meetings past – an engineered agenda with a predetermined outcome, paying lip service only to the idea of an open meeting.

Your administration has promised transparency, accountability and openness to community input. Nothing of the sort occurred.

On July 29, the City of Chicago released an Assessment of Effects to Historic Properties report indicating that indeed the planned Obama Presidential Center (OPC) will have an adverse effect on historic Jackson Park. Nearly every aspect of the planned Center will have an adverse effect on Jackson Park – the 235-foot tower, the landscaping, the removal of 20 acres, the removal of hundreds of trees including many old-growth trees, the road closures, as well as moving replacement park land to the Midway Plaisance.

Under the federally mandated review process, there should be a full study and consideration of ways first to avoid, then to minimize, and then as a last resort to mitigate the adverse effects of the plans to build the OPC in historic Jackson Park.

Despite those findings, and a meeting ostensibly called to discuss such issues, virtually all the focus of the presentation was how the City was looking at mitigation. They completely skipped consideration of avoidance or minimization. As the City further explained, mitigation was exemplified by the option of amending Jackson Park’s National Register of Historic Places nomination and its history documented so that people could understand what was once there.

Such a narrow approach reflects the type of pre-determined, non-transparent and wholly improper manner of governing that prior administrations routinely utilized and which you have sworn to do away with.

During and after the mayoral election campaign, the people of Chicago heard your message that a new day was here, one where the light would shine upon and impact projects like the OPC.

This new day was not in evidence on Aug. 5.

There were a number of moments in the meeting that clashed with traditional 106 reviews, including the City’s contention that it did not have the technology to create visual effect perspectives for this process. That technology is readily available and not cost-prohibitive.

Visual effect perspectives are important for the review of a project that includes an uncharacteristically tall tower in the middle of a historic park.

This is truly a moment and an issue that demands transparency, accountability and equity. We encourage you to find solutions to the challenges with the current OPC plans that will benefit South Side reinvestment, protect parkland, protect historic landscapes and minimize displacement of affordable housing options.

Your problem-solving skills are legendary. We look forward to seeing them in action.

Respectfully submitted,

Ward Miller, Executive Director, Preservation Chicago

Brenda Nelms & Margaret Schmid, Co-Presidents Jackson Park Watch

Juanita Irizarry, Executive Director Friends of the Parks

Michal Safar, President, Hyde Park Historical Society

Karen Rechtschaffen, Co-Chair, Save the Midway