Jackson Park should stay free of OPC


To the Editor:

We Chicagoans have been quite fortunate that our lakefront is mostly public park, open and free to all, with no few rises creating walls between us and our lakefront.

We have been fortunate to enhance these areas for wildlife, creating nature areas, such as the Burnham Sanctuary at 47th and Lake Shore Drive in Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center’s Nature area. These nature areas have enhanced the park for people and wildlife.

These nature areas rely on volunteers to tend them. They get very little attention from the park district, or their ‘privatized’ contractors. We have been working on these nature areas for the last 20 years or longer.  Volunteers do this because they care for these areas.

This has been a cooperative effort between the community and the park district. The plan to build an OPC inside Jackson Park and the plan to remove the nature area at SSCC are deeply flawed.

The OPC’s plan for a 235-foot tower is especially troubling. Located at the edge of the park’s nature area, this location could not be worse, as far as impact on wildlife. It is covered in stone, largely windowless. The Tribune’s critic described it as ‘funereal,” the Sun-Times critic described it as “foolishness.” Suffice to say it is a bleak monolith.

The OPC started out as a presidential library. Then, it wasn’t. It was now going to be a center, a museum of Obama’s presidency. There is a library component, but this is a small, branch library, and it appears to have been added solely to say: “and library.”  It is NOT a presidential library.

It is a big mistake to build this inside of our park, when there are so many vacant lots throughout the neighborhood. The location of this mid-rise building is wrong, and will result in the loss of formerly open, free park land. It will be a hazard to wildlife.

This plan came to us by way of the University. Here, I am suspicious of their motives – they do not have the ‘best interests’ of the community in mind, but rather increasing the value of their endowment. Consider the damage the U. of C. has done, through urban renewal, ‘slum clearance’ and the like. Look at what they are doing to Harper Court. Is this the type of planning we want for our community?

What you are witnessing is a chorus of voices now saying: “not so fast.”

These parks belong to all of the people. You should not just say the park is the best location for this, when there are so many locations the OPC could be built. The park provides no benefit, no “magic ingredient,” to the plans. It would bring benefits, wherever it is built.

Were the foundation to move the OPC, the controversy would evaporate. We welcome an OPC to the South Side of Chicago, but we feel the park plan is wrong. We do not want to lose 600 trees, nor lose 20 acres of the park, to get the OPC.

I’d like to think we live in more enlightened times. We’ve learned the importance of our environment, of an open, clear lakefront. We need to preserve these open parks.

Ross Petersen