OPC is a threat to environment


To the Editor:

The entire world is concerned about uncontrolled urbanization that is slowly contributing to global warming and climate change. It is known that preserving and protecting existing natural areas and planting trees to absorb polluting CO2 are part of a solution to the environmental challenge.

Yet the city and the Obama Foundation intend to cut down more than 400 existing old-growth trees Jackson Park to make room to build an egregiously misplaced Obama Center – misplaced because so many ideal non-park areas in need of investment and development are ready, available and willing in nearby, long-underserved inner-city neighborhoods;  misplaced because former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s one-time chief of staff, chose instead to concoct a plan to honor his former boss by gobbling up 20 acres of Jackson Park land and gifting it to him for $10 to construct a so-called “Obama Presidential Center.”

This “Center” is also notably not a Presidential Library with all the original official records of the Obama administration, as it had been originally advertised, that properly located on the UChicago campus would have been a truly valuable, easily accessible research and study facility.

In place of those trees, there has been proposed an intrusive, 235-foot-high pharaonic tower, surrounded by additional buildings to provide enclosed meeting rooms, auditorium, restaurant, food trucks, exercise room, and gift shop. All this without any apparent understanding or concern for its detrimental effect upon the public park and the environment. Moreover, the tower, conspicuously, is directly in the flight path of seasonal migrating birds.

The Audubon Society reports that more than three-fourths of all bird species seen in Illinois pass through or pause to rest and feed in Jackson Park. The vegetation along the lakefront provides the rest and shelter birds need as they are migrating along Lake Michigan, which is on the Mississippi Flyway. In April, May, August, and September you can count at least 25 species of warblers here, many in sizable numbers, along with orioles, grosbeaks, hummingbirds, vireos, flycatchers, sparrows, swallows and martins. Myriad duck species, scoters and loons also fly along the shoreline during migration. Peregrine Falcons hunt for shorebirds and other species.

By any objective standard, the tower is an invasive bird killing obstruction.

The clear cutting of hundreds of trees and replacing natural park space with buildings is environmental lunacy.

This attempted taking of dedicated public park land for an Obama Center lacks all reason, is thoughtlessly destructive, and brazenly in violation of the “Public Trust.”

People who live in teeming, congested, polluted, and overbuilt urban cities know why that public park is needed and the priceless open, clear and free public space it now provides; and every unbiased person knows what a public park should NOT be used for.  Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, 126 years ago, created Jackson Park, a  jewel of a public park on the South Side of Chicago, to meet a real outdoor recreational need; and thereafter Daniel Burnham, and generations of inspired public leaders, have championed this park and labored to create and preserve a unique 24-mile-long Chicago lakefront public park system that embraces Jackson Park.

Then Emanuel and the Obama Foundation came to town. If Emanuel and Obama should somehow succeed in the legal challenge working its way to a final Supreme Court decision, the legacy of former president Obama will forever include not only the dishonorable trashing of Jackson Park but a defiant opposition to protecting our natural environment.

Herb Caplan

President, Protect Our parks