“Construction of the Obama Presidential Center is expected to begin this fall in Chicago after years of debate over whether the complex will benefit low-income residents of the surrounding neighborhoods.
“It will be located in Jackson Park on the South Side of Chicago – one of the most historically significant parks in the city, and originally designed for the 27 million visitors to the 1893 World’s Fair. The roughly $500m Obama Presidential Center (OPC) will feature a museum, playground, public library and an open plaza.
“But the development, expected to break ground this fall, has not arrived without controversy. Over the last six years, the Obama Foundation, which will fund the OPC, and the city of Chicago have courted scrutiny from two groups: park preservationists upset at a private development being built on public land, and community organizers who fear that low-income Black neighbors will be displaced by rising rents and land speculation.
“Since 2018, Protect Our Parks has waged legal battles to prevent the park’s construction in Jackson Park, the second largest park on the South Side and home to more than 250 species of birds. The non-profit maintains that the development could be built at an alternative site about two miles from Jackson Park with minimal damage to the environment.
“‘This is a world-class park put together by Frederick Law Olmsted … and now somebody wants to gut it when, in fact, they can put it in a perfectly serviceable [location somewhere else],’ said Richard Epstein, a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago who represents Protect Our Parks.
“Neighbors’ response to the Obama Presidential Center has been cautious. Woodlawn, Washington Park and South Shore are predominantly Black low-income neighborhoods that have experienced the brunt of housing demolitions, discriminatory lending practices, and disinvestment since the 20th century. For residents used to empty promises, this new development could propel the community forward – or leave it behind.
“A major flashpoint has been affordable housing. A University of Illinois at Chicago study found that housing prices in the area rose between 2010 and 2017. ‘While rents vary, there is clear evidence of rising rents in newly renovated and new construction units, which the majority of current renters cannot afford,’ researchers wrote.
“Dixon Romeo, an organizer in South Shore, said some ardent OPC supporters have mischaracterized such calls as opposed to the development itself. ‘Most folks you talk to understand that the issue isn’t [with] Barack Obama,’ said Romeo. ‘We’re for the Center but not for displacement,’ echoed Paru Brown, a coalition organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.
“To Alderwoman Jeanette Taylor, who was elected in part because of her advocacy around the OPC, these policy shifts are personal. Before she was elected in 2019, she was an organizer and mother priced out of Bronzeville, another South Side neighborhood. When the OPC was first announced, she feared being displaced from Woodlawn. ‘I [couldn’t] afford to live anywhere else in the city,’ she said.” (Moore, The Guardian, 5/24/21)
The Obama library is coming to Chicago. Will local residents be displaced? Complex slated for South Side’s Jackson Park prompts fears that low-income Black residents will be displaced, Taylor Moore, The Guardian, 5/24/21
To Make Obama Presidential Center Succeed, Local Business Leaders Must Support It, Former President Says Ahead Of Construction; The former president compared his center’s plans to “great civic projects in Chicago” like Millennium Park in an appearance with economic leaders, Maxwell Evans, Block Club Chicago, 6/7/21