Opposition Growing Against Obama Museum Eating Jackson Park

Just a day after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the feds are going to examine the placement of the Barack Obama Presidential Center on a prime chunk of public park, neighbors are getting organized to save their green space.

Potential park in peril by proposed presidential parking plan (via Apple Maps)

Potential park in peril by proposed presidential parking plan (via Apple Maps)

“Save the Midway” has been formed to protect the city’s beloved Midway Plaisance from a parking garage and charter bus staging area that the Obama Foundation wants to build at the head of the historic strip of vegetative oasis.  It’s made up of a number of individuals and neighborhood groups who think that hacking up the city’s parks for a private enterprise is a bad idea.

The group has put out an open letter to the Foundation, voicing its concerns.  Overtly, it seems to think it has a leg to stand on because the Plaisance is on the National Register of Historic Places.  The undercurrent in the letter seems to be that they don’t want the Obama museum sucking up part of Jackson Park, either, but know there’s not much they can do about that.

Just as everyone assumed this project was a foregone conclusion, things are starting to look interesting.  Read the open letter from Save the Midway below.


Open Letter To: The Obama Foundation, Obama Foundation Inclusion Committee, the Woodlawn, Washington Park and South Shore Community and Economic Development Organization, and Mr. Tod Williams and Ms. Billie Tsien

Dear Messrs. Simas, Strautmanis, Kaplan, Duncan and Williams; Ms. Spann-Cooper and Ms. Tsien,

As you may be aware, local park advocates, preservationists, environmentalists, and concerned citizens have formed, “Save the Midway” (savethemidway.org). We are excited to welcome the Obama Presidential Center to Hyde Park, support its mission to develop new generations of civic leaders, and look forward to its proposed programming in support of this mission. We have, however, launched a local and national campaign to stop the construction of a parking garage, bus staging area, and transit center on the Midway Plaisance. We wish to keep the Midway free and clear and oppose your proposed uses of this important park for the following reasons:

1) The Midway is on the National Register of Historic Places and is thus an important part of our national heritage. The National designation signals to the world that a place is worthy of preservation.

2) The Midway was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and serves as an integral section of his South Park System—a treasured and beloved South Side gem. Notably, Olmsted designed New York’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. We wish to preserve this treasure intact for the South Side.

3) Public parks should not be given over to the ancillary service uses of private foundations but should remain in the public domain. Notably, the Obama Foundation will not be building and hosting a national archive.

4) We believe that taking land for a private development from an additional park sets a bad precedent for the absorption of public land. We trust that any parking and bus solutions will not involve additional parkland and will work well for local residents and the surrounding communities as well as for the OPC and its visitors.

5) We reject the rationale that by putting a green roof on top of the garage that one can call it a park. A garage will diminish park land.

6) Urban areas are in especial need of open, quiet spaces. Olmsted’s ideal park vision was a democratic one: parks are to give urban dwellers from every background respite from urban stress and noise. The Midway does not need what we have been repeatedly informed is the purpose of this structure– a garage to “activate” or “enliven” our communities.

7) Today, environmentally conscious planners seek to eliminate garages from new developments. Research has shown that the availability of parking spaces incentivizes and increases driving—thereby decreasing the use of public transportation and increasing carbon emissions. The nearby parking lot of the Museum of Science and Industry rarely reaches capacity. In short, not only will a garage on the Midway mean a decrease of green space, it will mean an increase in air, light, and noise pollution.

8) We wish the park to continue all of its current uses: a resting and feeding location for migratory birds, soccer, kite flying, sledding, band practice, picnics, dog walking, exercise and simple play. In short, we wish for it to remain a park. Any enhancement to the park should be in accordance with the community approved 2000 Midway Plaisance Framework Plan, which did not contemplate a parking garage on any portion of the Midway.

Our efforts are supported:

1) By the immediate community, most notably the local park stewards: both the Nichols Park and Midway Plaisance Advisory Councils have formally opposed the use of the Midway for auxiliary, non-park purposes.

2) By individuals within Chicago and beyond: Our petition to Save the Midway has hundreds of signatories from the affected neighborhoods as well as from most Chicago zip codes. We also have signatories from 41 Illinois municipalities, nineteen states and several countries.

3) By preservationists and park activists: We have the support of Friends of the Parks, the Cultural Landscape Foundation, leadership of the National Association for Olmsted Parks, and the scores of individuals who have provided us written comments in advocacy to Save the Midway.

We hope that you will take the time to read the attached enclosure which provides a representative sample of comments that we have received as part of our efforts to Save the Midway. Please preserve the Midway for everyone and keep it free and clear for generations to come.


Michael McNamee
Karen Rechtschaffen
Save the Midway

Location: 1501 East Midway Plaisance Drive, East Hyde Park

Author: Editor

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

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