Fed’s Report on Jackson Park Obama Center a Little Rough; Here Are the Highlights

A draft of the federal government’s report on the proposed construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Center is out. It was prepared for the National Park Service, the Federal Highway Administration, and IDOT by the City of Chicago. The report spells out what happens if the Obama Center is built in Jackson Park, and what it really means.

Obama Presidential Center model (Courtesy of the Obama Foundation)
Obama Presidential Center model (Courtesy of the Obama Foundation)

It’s a lot of words, and if you have the time, you can read it here. It gives some interesting insights into the park and its design that are not common knowledge.

Since this is the age of InstaFaceTube, the vast majority of people won’t read the report. So we read it for you. Here are the points we found interesting. Some parts you may already know. Some may be new to you. All are quotations from the report.

  • Certain changes proposed by the City do not involve Federal funding and therefore only require local approval.
  • The decision to locate the OPC in Jackson Park, the design of the OPC site and the buildings within it, and the closures of roadways in Jackson Park do not require any federal approvals.
  • The additional roadway closures will reduce the number of multilane roadways that currently divide Jackson Park to allow for a more continuous park.
  • As a result of proposed changes in Jackson Park, recreation opportunities will be impacted… NPS will consider opportunities lost and gained as part of its decision-making analysis.
  • Opportunities related to the existing track and field will be replaced at a new track and field facility within Jackson Park.
  • The Picnic Grove is used for picnicking and sitting, walking, gathering, pick-up games (such as soccer), play, and special events. Because it will be displaced by elements of the OPC project, the Picnic Grove’s uses will be recouped through multiple picnicking opportunities available across the several areas on the larger-OPC site amenable for picnicking. These include the Lagoon View Lawn, the Great Lawn, and an area for picnicking in and around the Library roof, among others. There will be a minimum of one acre of picnicking space.
  • The Perennial Garden/Women’s Garden is used for gardening, aesthetic enjoyment, and commemorations and for sitting, walking, nature observation, meditation, gathering, and play. It will be temporarily impacted by construction. The garden will be replaced with improved accessibility upon completion of the OPC.
  • Opportunities for informal recreation will also be impacted by the OPC construction. Such areas have no formal uses, but are used informally for sitting, walking, gathering, pick-up games (soccer, other), play, and for landscaping or as buffer between recreation areas and sidewalks, paths, and roadways. These opportunities will continue to exist on the OPC site as well as in new landscaped areas made available by the closure of certain roads on the site.
  • The 62nd Street playground will be relocated and expanded by the Foundation as part of the OPC construction to the immediate northwest of the current location, with an enlarged footprint and all new equipment, including custom-made experiential play features.
  • The Program, Athletic and Activity Center will provide a new opportunity for public recreational programs. Other new recreation amenities proposed for the OPC project include: a sledding hill, great lawn, nature trail, and woodland walk.
  • As part of the OPC site development, the City intends to close certain roadways within Jackson Park and convert those roadways into open space. The City proposes to make these new areas of open space available to provide replacement recreation opportunities.
  • As long as the City identifies adequate recreation replacement to account for public recreation losses associated with the OPC and roadway improvements, NPS will amend the original UPARR agreements to exclude areas no longer in recreation and expand the boundary to include the recreation replacement.
  • Loss of recreation must be replaced with new recreation opportunities that ensure adequate recreation properties and opportunities of reasonably equivalent usefulness and location.
  • Proposed bicyclist and pedestrian improvements include five underpasses, additional trails, and enhanced access accommodations.
  • Within the Historic Architecture APE, the HPI identified seven districts and 29 individual properties listed or eligible for listing on the NRHP.
  • Substantial increases in traffic volumes as a result of closing roadways within Jackson Park are not anticipated to occur on surrounding minor roadways.
  • The OPC Museum Building will be partially visible at street-level from some historic properties along 60th Street, west of the ICRR viaduct… Views to and from the Midway Plaisance have been and will continue to be an important part of the setting that contributes to the significance of these properties. However, views to Jackson Park do not contribute to the integrity of the properties’ setting due to the visual barrier of the ICRR viaduct and the properties’ substantial distance from Jackson Park.
  • As community needs have changed, alterations to the park have been necessary to sustain its purpose, but the park continues to retain historic integrity because the overall effect of previous alterations retained consistency with the original design principles.
  • The undertaking will have an adverse effect [emphasis theirs] to Jackson Park Historic Landscape District and Midway Plaisance because it will alter, directly or indirectly, characteristics of the historic property that qualify it for inclusion in the National Register.
  • The undertaking diminishes the historic property’s integrity of design, materials, workmanship, and feeling.
  • The changes alter the legibility of the design of the cultural landscape in ways that diminish the overall integrity of spatial organization in the property as a whole.
  • While most impacts to the cultural landscape occur in a limited spatial area, they diminish the historic property’s overall integrity by altering historic, internal spatial divisions that were designed as a single entity.
  • The undertaking alters the shape, form, and function of the historic primary entrance to the property
  • Spatial organization and the landscape setting of some contributing resources (Cheney-Goode Memorial and Statue of the Republic) are transformed in ways that are inconsistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
  • New materials with modern functions differ from historic materials at a scale and intent that does not conform to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards.
  • The size and scale of new buildings within the historic district diminish the intended prominence of the Museum of Science and Industry building
  • The combined changes diminish the sense of a particular period of time within the historic property and impact the integrity of feeling. The changes impact how Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance reflect conscious decisions made by the Olmsted firm in determining the organization, forms, patterns of circulation, relationships between major features, arrangement of vegetation, and views.

Location: 6225 South Stony Island Avenue, 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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