Any park land occupied by the future Library must be replaced with an equal or greater amount of new green space nearby, identified and developed following input from the community.
Consistent with our guiding principles communicated to the Barack Obama Foundation in December 2014, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is pleased that the University of Chicago’s two proposed sites for the Barack Obama Presidential Library are near public transportation and in neighborhoods that will benefit from economic development and enhanced amenities. This is generally responsive to three of MPC’s four guiding principles.
MPC believes the Library belongs in Chicago, the only city in America that can lay claim to so many milestones in the President's illustrious career. We celebrated the Barack Obama Foundation’s September 2014 announcement that two of the four finalist applicants for the Library site are important institutions in our city: the University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Chicago.
Clearly the most vexing of our four guiding principles is the use of park land. MPC is listening to community residents who want this prestigious institution and all of its positive impacts for an area that has been too often bypassed. Although we have stated that park space should not be the first choice, MPC understands that locating the Library in or near either Jackson Park or Washington Park has great potential to bring value to surrounding neighborhoods—and the city and region as a whole. Any park land occupied by the future Library must be replaced with an equal or greater amount of new green space nearby, identified and developed following input from the community.
MPC reiterates that the chosen site must be well-served by public transportation, and that additional investments in nearby land and infrastructure should be coordinated to maximize public access and benefit. Restorations of the nearby parks, inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted’s original vision, is a prime example of such investments. A renowned landscape architect famous for designing New York City’s Central Park, Olmsted also laid out Jackson and Washington parks, connected by the ribbon of the Midway Plaisance, as oases of varied natural beauty. Restoring these public spaces to the splendor of Olmsted’s original vision would significantly enhance their value to the neighborhood and the entire South Side. We are grateful to Olmsted expert Vicky Ranney and her spouse, George Ranney, a long-standing MPC Board member, for their thoughtful contribution of a roadmap to do just that.
When its doors open, the Barack Obama Presidential Library will be one of only 14 presidential libraries in the nation. MPC stands ready—as we have for 80 years—to support quality, well-planned development in Chicago and across our region. There are critical, specific details that would need to be hammered out on commitments to improved transit, local economic development, enhanced neighborhood amenities, and replacement park space. MPC calls for a robust public planning process to maximize these and other opportunities and to address concerns raised by the community. We anticipate celebrating the Library’s Chicago home in the near future.