Via Flickr user John Kannenberg
President Barack Obama's presidential journey began in Chicago; his Presidential Library belongs here.
The Metropolitan Planning Council strongly believes that the Barack Obama Presidential Library is best suited for Chicago—after all, what other city can lay claim to so many milestones in the President’s illustrious career? The Library belongs here, and MPC’s staff and Board of Governors have committed to working with the Barack Obama Foundation and local partners to identify the strongest site possible.
The site’s selection has implications far beyond the Library itself. The development of the Library has great potential to advance a number of city and regional goals, shared by President Obama and the First Lady, including creating job opportunities and sparking economic development in disinvested communities, modeling energy efficiency, and expanding the reach of the region’s cultural and educational institutions. Any major development in Chicago should advance these goals, and the choice of the Library’s site is a fantastic opportunity to signal these priorities to potential investors.
In an Aug. 6 letter to the Barack Obama Foundation, MPC commended the Foundation for articulating Guiding Principles for site selection in its Request for Qualifications (RFQ). After reviewing the “Core” and “Program” principles and MPC’s own development priorities, we respectfully offered the following suggestions for translating the Foundation’s principles into action:
- The Library must be well-served by public transit, ideally by multiple services, which will ensure that the Library is accessible at all times of the day and week. As identified in the Foundation’s RFQ’s “Core” principles, the Library will be “attentive to site, infrastructure, [and] existing urban fabric.” Selecting a site near transit is essential to integrating the Library into the rhythm of the city and sparking economic opportunities by increasing tourism, building neighborhoods and encouraging greater the use of public transportation.
- The Library must be located where there is strong potential for surrounding growth while providing amenities to the surrounding community from opening day. As stated in the RFQ’s “Core” principles, the Library will catalyze economic development and anchor public and private investment. Nearby parcels should be dedicated to new or rehabilitated housing or commercial space that will attract additional investment in the immediate proximity and surrounding neighborhoods. Shops or cafés that are associated with the Library should be accessible from the street, not just the interior of the Library.
- Targeted investments to surrounding neighborhoods should improve pedestrian and bicycle access to the Library, and between the Library and nearby resources, such as parks, schools, public libraries, museums and business districts. The Library will serve as both a transformative community asset and tourist destination. As such, site selection that promotes a “healthy, wholesome environment” as identified in the “Program” should include infrastructure improvements that make the Library more accessible for visitors. The selected site must also connect visitors and residents to nearby amenities and attractions, extending its multiplier impact. Coordinating the site location with infrastructure that encourages walking, bicycling and access to public transit will encourage individuals to make healthy choices that positively impact themselves and the environment. We commend the Foundation’s commitment to energy efficiency by developing a structure that “exceeds LEED platinum standards.”
- The Library should not deplete the city's park space. Parks, including Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center on the South Side, should be maintained as precious assets to local communities that offer places for recreation, habitat, solace and sunshine. The Obama family values these types of urban environments, and, as noted above, the RFQ’s “Program” specifically calls on the Library to promote a “healthy, wholesome environment” and “a healthy lifestyle.” Park space should not be the first choice—finding a new use for vacant land would be ideal. However, if the chosen site depletes existing park space, we strongly encourage local partners, investors and the City of Chicago to replace that lost asset with new green space nearby, so that the Library is truly a net gain for everyone.
The Metropolitan Planning Council stands ready—as we have for 80 years—to support quality, well-planned development in Chicago and across our region. When its doors open, the Barack Obama Presidential Library will be one of only 14 presidential libraries in the nation. MPC welcomes the opportunity to offer feedback on a narrowed list of proposed Chicago sites and, upon final selection, to support a process that produces the most inspiring development.
Note: This statement was updated on Dec. 9, 2014. Read our media release about the update.