Chicago profs blast 'socially regressive' Obama Center plan

Carla Harmon
January 12, 2018

The Obama Foundation has released statements defending its plans for the Presidential Center, in a week of heightened denunciation of the charity's intention to commandeer public park space for a construction plan that some expect will harm the local economy.

Grass-roots activists, conservationists and academics on Chicago's South Side say the Obama Presidential Center, as now planned, does not do enough to benefit neighborhoods badly in need of economic revitalization.

The centre will split into three main buildings: a library and a forum - both partially buried - and a stone-clad "landmark" tower that will host a museum. A two-level athletic center includes basketball courts (for playing the president's favorite sport) alongside workout rooms and multipurpose space. "Because the current plans place the Center next to the Museum of Science and Industry and across the street from the University of Chicago campus, there is no available adjacent land in which to start a new business, set up a new café or restaurant, [or] bring another cultural center to the neighborhood". Parking facilities, a children's play area and an athletics centre are also included in the masterplan. Because, according to the professors, the Obama Presidential Center wastes millions of taxpayer dollars in an already broke state, destroys a public park and is "socially regressive" to the affluent community. We actually designed it with this photo in mind - of hands coming together - and so each facade of the tower will be a little different from the next.

Obama stressed that public input has and will continue to be central to the design process. We've taken your thoughts and concerns, and reconsidered and reconceived various aspects of the campus design and the details of the architecture.

The foundation released a video Tuesday night, in which Obama made numerous same comments repeated in the email, and called his Center an example of "what ordinary people have the power to do together".

"From community meetings, to online surveys, we've heard from literally thousands of people about their hopes for the center", he said. "The economic impact to the people who live there now would be unbelievable". And Michelle and I are grateful to all of you for being a part of it.

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