Last year, then President Barack Obama announced he would locate his presidential library in Jackson Park, on Chicago’s South Side. As a Next City op-ed pointed out in August, Obama is the first president to house a legacy library in the heart of a major urban center.
Now, the community around the park wants to make sure it has a say in the planning process — and one local leader is calling for increased transparency.
Alderman Leslie Hairston issued a letter Monday asking the Obama Foundation to talk more publicly about its plans for the library, DNAinfo reports.
“It is undeniable the reality of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park is welcomed news,” she writes. “For far too long, there has been little to no investment in South Side communities.”
Her primary concern, she writes, is “how the Obama Foundation plans to engage the community in the transformation of these neighborhoods.” Residents, she writes, “would like to know what is the plan for community outreach. They want to know who will be responsible for vetting and making decisions for all aspects of the OPC, including operations.”
Presidential centers have a legacy of spurring investment, she writes, citing the Clinton Presidential Center in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, an area that had previously been “an old boarded-up warehouse district.” With the possibility of large-scale investment in the future, residents want to know what the center will mean for jobs in planning and architecture, job training for construction, and retail opportunities, among other things.
Michael Strautmanis, the Obama Foundation’s vice president for civic engagement, said the foundation agrees with Hairston, DNAinfo reports.
“While our work has only just begun, we are committed to gathering robust community input at every step of the process,” he said.
Hairston and the Jackson Park Advisory Council, a volunteer group, began expressing concern about the amount of planning that they saw happening “behind closed doors” after “a proposal to close Cornell Drive south of 60th Street was floated to community leaders privately last week,” DNAinfo reports.
The full text of Hairston’s letter can be viewed here.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.