Park Pals Pass on Protesting Presidential Plan

Aerial view of Jackson Park (via Apple Maps)

Aerial view of Jackson Park (via Apple Maps)

A couple of days ago, the Obama Foundation announced that Chicago’s Jackson Park will be the location of the Barack Obama Presidential Center. The decision came as a surprise to some observers who believed that Washington Park was a lock. The Jackson decision now leaves them with neighborhood revitalization plans unrealized.

Also not happy with the choice is Friends of the Parks. You may remember it as the N.G.O. that scared George Lucas away from making a $700 million dollar investment in Chicago’s lakefront.

But the Park Pals are less unhappy about Mr. Obama’s choice than they were with Mr. Lucas. Which means: No lawsuit.

So, go ahead and build, Mr. President. And since we know you’re going to go the Oprah route and ditch Chicago the first chance you get, you can follow the project’s progress from your new home in New York by keeping an eye on a certain Chicago Architecture blog.

Friends of the Parks statement follows:


Friends of the Parks warmly welcomes the Obama Library to Chicago’s South Side, but reiterates dismay at the use of existing parkland in Jackson Park rather than abundant vacant land nearby.

“However, the organization will not sue as it is our understanding that the site that was chosen apparently is not public trust land—unlike the proposed sites for the Lucas Museum,” said Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry. “Friends of the Parks’ analysis suggests that there is no realistic legal remedy at this time to protect this public open space from this development.”

Since the public discussion began in 2014 about the possibility of Chicago being chosen as the site for the Obama Presidential Library, Friends of the Parks has said that the organization is excited about the “once in a lifetime” opportunity to host Obama’s presidential legacy on the south side where the President and First Lady have a deep connection to the community. Friends of the Parks has also said from the beginning that Friends of the Parks objects to the use of existing parkland for the Obama Library. We will continue to voice that concern.

Chicago ranks 12th on a list of the most-densely populated cities in the country in terms of parkland per 1000 residents. President Obama is familiar with these statistics and knows the importance of parks in the lives of ordinary people. In fact, as a young community organizer, Mr. Obama came to Friends of the Parks and asked how we might work together to increase park space in South Side communities.

“We admire President Obama’s record as a champion of the environment. Friends of the Parks similarly has a deep commitment to the protection and preservation of the public’s use of and access to open space,” said Friends of the Parks Board Chair Lauren Moltz. “Friends of the Parks looks forward to working with the Foundation, the City, the Chicago Park District and the University of Chicago to protect and promote parkland, public space and public access. We would like to ensure that any impact on historic Jackson Park will be minimal and preserve the integrity of Frederick Law Olmsted’s design.”

Since the announcement was made in May 2015 that the Obamas chose Chicago for the library and would pick a site in either Washington Park or Jackson park, we have urged the Obama Foundation to take any and all necessary steps to ensure the impact on either park is minimal and that any construction fits with the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted’s design. In that respect, we continue to urge the Obama Foundation to conduct a study by outside and independent experts to assess the possible adverse environmental impacts in the construction of the library on open land and on the original artistic design of the park. To that end, Friends of the Parks hopes to work with the Foundation, the City and the University to find ways to protect and add to parkland and public space and public access, to offset any adverse environmental impacts or loss of open space.

“The design of the Obama Library should maximize the use of available vacant land and underground space, and be truly ‘park positive’ by adding parkland to the surrounding community,” said Juanita Irizarry. “Furthermore, any design should upgrade the park’s facilities and preserve existing recreational uses by the public.”

Moving forward, Friends of the Parks urges the Foundation to work closely with the surrounding community to address community benefit agreements, public access to these parks as well as regular communication with all stakeholders. We look forward to working with the Obama Foundation, the City, the Chicago Park District, the University of Chicago and the community on implementing the recommendations of an open space coalition and as a consulting party for any historic preservation assessments of Jackson Park.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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