To the Editor:
Yes, despite what you might have previously read, the Obama Presidential Center will be environmentally good for Jackson Park. Some would like you to believe that its construction will result in the destruction of a vibrant and enriched ecosystem. The truth is, the small swath of land between Stony Island and Cornell, which is the future site of the OPC, is currently in a state of environmental crisis, as are other parts of Jackson Park.
Trees are dying, not because they have reached their life expectancy, but because of factors that can be fixed only if a substantial, and invasive, approach is taken to fix it. There is hardly any biodiversity on the current site, which is mainly occupied by a deteriorating track, and there is a chronic, yet dire, issue with the water retention system that was designed over a century ago and is not working for today’s climate. Rainwater and snow melt cascade off of Cornell into the lagoon, bringing in trash, sediment, and other pollutants coming from the thousands of cars that rush by on Cornell. These are the facts.
Back to the trees: A recent study found that nearly one-third of the trees on the site are in “less-than-good” shape, and help isn’t on the way — further assessment found that additional trees are threatened by soil pathogens, including fungi that have already damaged the root structures. Sadly, there is no way to fix this without removing what is causing the problems and replacing with healthy soil, biodiverse microbes and yes, new trees. We can watch the current trees continue to die, or invest in making this a stable, enriched and diverse environment that our families (especially our children) will enjoy for decades into the future. This is the plan for the OPC.
The plans for the site dramatically improve Jackson Park’s environment, enhancing the diversity of trees and shrubs, providing a significantly improved environment for wildlife, including resident and migrating birds. All of this will make Jackson Park and its wild residents better able to withstand the extreme weather swings of climate change. As an aside, growing trees capture substantial carbon dioxide!
There are many of us who spend weekends, mornings and afternoons, helping to tend to the trees and landscape of Jackson Park through mulching and pruning. We know what is looming on the horizon. Jackson Park needs considerable investment and the OPC will bring that to at least one small part of Jackson Park. This is only one of the many major benefits the OPC will bring to our community. It is time to stop the stalling and move forward so that we all can enjoy this investment!
Erin Adams, President and co-founder of South Side Neighbors for Hope