High-handed Obama Presidential Center is losing community support

Irony abounds in the struggle taking pace on the Southside of Chicago, where Barack Obama first cut his teeth as an Alinskyite community organizer.  His desire to have a monument to himself in the form of the "Obama Presidential Center" (not a library, and not part of the National Archives System) is roiling community organizations who are not convinced that their park should be sacrificed to build a large shrine to the 44th president.

In fact, revisions to the initial plans have not mollified the opposition.  Revised plans unveiled made the project even taller and more grandiose (and less white):

 

When plans for the privately financed and privately controlled center were announced, evidently, it was presumed that the grateful citizens of Chicago would be thrilled to offer their city-owned park land in tribute.  But the community organizers were not so sure that reducing the amount of park space is in their interest.  In fact, Friends of the Parks, a well established civic organization that had previously prevented appropriation of park land by a museum to honor filmmaker George Lucas, expressed its concerns, as did other groups representing neighborhood residents.

Ex-president Obama was so concerned that he addressed concerns in a talk with community organizers at the end of February:

  

Friends of the Parks was not impressed.  In an email to members yesterday, the organization seemed to feel that Obama was talking down to them:

Friend of the parks,

There is so much to say in response to Mr. Obama's speech last week. Unfortunately the tone of the dialogue about the Obama Presidential Center is not living up to the standards that the Obama Foundations says it cares about in terms of disagreeing with one another while still being civil.

We are thankful for a number of people who have made their voices heard recently, challenging some of the inaccuracies of many of the accusations that have been put forth and calling for a different kind of discourse.

Statement from Our Executive Director Juanita Irizarry

"Friends of the Parks remains extremely excited about the Obama Presidential Center coming to Chicago's south side.  And we're glad that our hometown, former president considers equitable investment in Chicago's parks to be important.  We agree with him on that.  What we don't agree on is the appropriateness of long-term disinvestment in parks that culminates in the all-too-common argument that the only way to fix a park is to build a building in it.

We are thankful that Obama's visit included a public announcement of the Obama Foundation's intent to pay for a turf field to make up for the one that will be displaced by the OPC.  And we appreciate that the Obama Foundation had given Friends of the Parks a heads up on that in follow up to our conversations with them about the issue.  But since it is an element of the CBA Coalition "Sustainability" platform, we wish the foundation would also sit down and talk with our allies who are leading the charge for a community benefits agreement.

We are saddened by Obama's dismissiveness toward the many Chicagoans who dare to express opposing views or the need for appropriate vetting and review, not the least of which is the federally-required Section 106/NEPA review.  Apparently, he's been away long enough that he has forgotten how the "City that Works" works. On a daily basis, we Chicagoans suffer the consequences of poor public policy decisions that stem from inadequate long-term planning, transparency, and oversight.

In the end, Friends of the Parks has absolutely no argument with the idea that our first African-American president merits a prominent site.  But we believe that refraining from building on parkland would more fully honor the legacy of a former community organizer who sought Friends of the Parks' advice years ago on expanding the amount of green space on Chicago's south side and later made it a point of his presidency to protect public lands.

And so would leading a process that would engage the community in a much more healthy discourse than what Chicago is experiencing at this time.  We remain hopeful that Obama will be the change in this regard."

Stay tuned.

Irony abounds in the struggle taking pace on the Southside of Chicago, where Barack Obama first cut his teeth as an Alinskyite community organizer.  His desire to have a monument to himself in the form of the "Obama Presidential Center" (not a library, and not part of the National Archives System) is roiling community organizations who are not convinced that their park should be sacrificed to build a large shrine to the 44th president.

In fact, revisions to the initial plans have not mollified the opposition.  Revised plans unveiled made the project even taller and more grandiose (and less white):

 

When plans for the privately financed and privately controlled center were announced, evidently, it was presumed that the grateful citizens of Chicago would be thrilled to offer their city-owned park land in tribute.  But the community organizers were not so sure that reducing the amount of park space is in their interest.  In fact, Friends of the Parks, a well established civic organization that had previously prevented appropriation of park land by a museum to honor filmmaker George Lucas, expressed its concerns, as did other groups representing neighborhood residents.

Ex-president Obama was so concerned that he addressed concerns in a talk with community organizers at the end of February:

  

Friends of the Parks was not impressed.  In an email to members yesterday, the organization seemed to feel that Obama was talking down to them:

Friend of the parks,

There is so much to say in response to Mr. Obama's speech last week. Unfortunately the tone of the dialogue about the Obama Presidential Center is not living up to the standards that the Obama Foundations says it cares about in terms of disagreeing with one another while still being civil.

We are thankful for a number of people who have made their voices heard recently, challenging some of the inaccuracies of many of the accusations that have been put forth and calling for a different kind of discourse.

Statement from Our Executive Director Juanita Irizarry

"Friends of the Parks remains extremely excited about the Obama Presidential Center coming to Chicago's south side.  And we're glad that our hometown, former president considers equitable investment in Chicago's parks to be important.  We agree with him on that.  What we don't agree on is the appropriateness of long-term disinvestment in parks that culminates in the all-too-common argument that the only way to fix a park is to build a building in it.

We are thankful that Obama's visit included a public announcement of the Obama Foundation's intent to pay for a turf field to make up for the one that will be displaced by the OPC.  And we appreciate that the Obama Foundation had given Friends of the Parks a heads up on that in follow up to our conversations with them about the issue.  But since it is an element of the CBA Coalition "Sustainability" platform, we wish the foundation would also sit down and talk with our allies who are leading the charge for a community benefits agreement.

We are saddened by Obama's dismissiveness toward the many Chicagoans who dare to express opposing views or the need for appropriate vetting and review, not the least of which is the federally-required Section 106/NEPA review.  Apparently, he's been away long enough that he has forgotten how the "City that Works" works. On a daily basis, we Chicagoans suffer the consequences of poor public policy decisions that stem from inadequate long-term planning, transparency, and oversight.

In the end, Friends of the Parks has absolutely no argument with the idea that our first African-American president merits a prominent site.  But we believe that refraining from building on parkland would more fully honor the legacy of a former community organizer who sought Friends of the Parks' advice years ago on expanding the amount of green space on Chicago's south side and later made it a point of his presidency to protect public lands.

And so would leading a process that would engage the community in a much more healthy discourse than what Chicago is experiencing at this time.  We remain hopeful that Obama will be the change in this regard."

Stay tuned.