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The Obama Library is coming to Chicago. Will local residents be displaced?
The planned South Side Jackson Park complex raises concerns that low-income black residents will be displaced by Barack Obama with a preview of plans for the Presidential Center in 2017. Over the past six years, the Obama Foundation and the City of Chicago courted scrutiny on the proposals. Photo: Nam Y Huh / AP Construction of the Obama Presidential Center is set to begin this fall in Chicago after years of debate over whether the complex will benefit low-income residents of surrounding neighborhoods. It will be located in Jackson Park on the south side of Chicago – one of the city’s most historically significant parks, and originally designed for the 27 million visitors to the 1893 World’s Fair. Obama Presidential Center (OPC), worth about $ 500 million, will include a museum, playground, public library, and open plaza. Such presidential complexes are seen as the physical embodiment of a president’s legacy, and although the OPC does not house the archives of a traditional presidential library, the center is notable for its nod to Obama roots. Barack began his political career in the area and Michelle grew up in the nearby South Shore neighborhood. But the development, which is set to begin this fall, has not come without controversy. Over the past six years, the Obama Foundation, which will fund the OPC, and the City of Chicago have courted the scrutiny of two groups: park advocates thwarted by 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 been waging legal battles to prevent construction of the park at Jackson Park, the second largest park on the south side and home to over 250 species of birds. The nonprofit says the development could be built on an alternative site about two miles from Jackson Park with minimal damage to the environment. “It’s a world class park put together by Frederick Law Olmsted… and now someone wants to hollow it out when in fact they can put it in a perfectly usable place. [location somewhere else]Said Richard Epstein, professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago who represents Protect Our Parks. A Protect Our Parks lawsuit against the city was quashed in 2020 by Amy Coney Barrett, then a U.S. circuit court judge, and the organization’s Supreme Court review request was recently dismissed. . In April, the nonprofit alleged in a second lawsuit that the construction of the OPC would “permanently destroy the roads, trees and general integrity of Jackson Park” and that the four regulatory reviews Federal authorities to which the site was submitted did not sufficiently take into account other sites. A track and field in Jackson Park is seen on the site of the future Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. Photograph: Jose M Osorio / AP In response, the Obama Foundation said it was “ready to defend itself against this Protect Our Parks lawsuit” and that it plans to plant more trees there than it needs to. currently exist. The spokesperson told The Guardian that “a rigorous selection process has been carried out and completed regarding the location of the museum’s campus.” Alderman Leslie Hairston, who represents some of the affected neighborhoods, criticizes the attempt by defenders of the park to reverse the development. “[The Protect Our Parks case] was found not to be credible by a court, ”Hairston said. Neighbors’ response to the Obama Presidential Center has been cautious. Woodlawn, Washington Park, and the South Shore are predominantly black low-income neighborhoods that have been hit hardest by house demolitions, discriminatory lending practices, and divestment since the 20th century. For residents used to empty-handed, this new development could propel the community forward – or leave it behind. Affordable housing is a major critical issue. A study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that housing prices in the area increased between 2010 and 2017. “Although rents vary, there is clear evidence of rising rents in units of newly renovated and new construction, which the majority of current tenants cannot afford ”. the researchers wrote. Some residents and community organizers have spent years saying the city, the Obama Foundation and others should come to a deal that sets aside jobs for residents, protects affordable housing, and supports black businesses. Dixon Romeo, a South Shore organizer, said some staunch OPC supporters misinterpreted the calls rather than the development itself. “Most people you talk to understand that the problem is not [with] Barack Obama, ”said Romeo. “We are for the Center but not for displacement,” echoed Paru Brown, a coalition organizer with community organization Kenwood Oakland. An artist’s impression of the new center. Photograph: The Obama Foundation Obama himself spoke out against these proposals in 2017. “I’m not a stranger here,” he said on a video conference at the time. “I know the neighborhood. I know the minute you start saying, “Well, we’re thinking about signing something that will determine who gets jobs and contracts and this and that. The next thing I know is that I have 20 organizations coming out of the woodworking industry, some of which I had never heard of before. Even so, the Obama Foundation will require 50% of contract suppliers to be “diverse” and fund $ 850,000 in workplace development training for 400 apprentices in the South and West, according to a spokesperson. And in September last year, Chicago City Council passed an ordinance committing millions of people to redevelop vacant buildings and land, fund home improvements and refinancing for landlords, and help tenants find their way. low and middle income to become homeowners. Under this agreement, tenants also get the right of first refusal if their landlord sells the building. For Alderman Jeanette Taylor, who was elected in part because of her advocacy with the OPC, these policy changes are personal. Before being elected in 2019, she was an organizer and evacuee mother from Bronzeville, another South Side neighborhood. When the OPC was first announced, she feared she would be moved from Woodlawn. “I [couldn’t] afford to live elsewhere in the city, ”she said. Taylor was instrumental in passing the housing ordinance. Since then, she says her office’s interactions with the Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago, a major presence in the region, have been productive. “We don’t move without talking to each other. It’s a relationship where we learn to trust each other. But getting to that level of transparency has been a battle of several years. “I don’t care if it’s the first black president or Queen Elizabeth or Beyoncé. We have to hold people accountable. “