Barack Obama Defends Presidential Center Site, Vows Litigation-Mired Project to ‘Benefit Community’
The 44th US President’s planned Presidential Center in the historic Jackson Park neighborhood has generated controversy, slammed by critics as an “ego trip”, while Barack Obama has described the center as a future hub aimed at jumpstarting the economy on Chicago's South Side, parts of which are impoverished.
Former President Barack Obama
has defended his choice of the historic Jackson Park neighborhood on Chicago's South Side as a location for the Obama Presidential Center, reported ABC News.
The ex-POTUS said he was “absolutely confident” the planned centre to honour his legacy, which will include a library, museum, gardens, and a children's playground will benefit the community.
“The truth is, any time you do a big project, unless you're in the middle of a field somewhere, you know, and it's on private property, there's always going to be some people who say, Well, but we don't want change. We're worried about it. We don't know how it's going to turn out”, Obama said on Good Morning America.
Jackson Park is a public gardens on the National Register of Historic Places, designed by New York Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted. The presidential project, estimated to cost $500 million, has been mired in controversy due to a legal battle with park preservationists and protests from neighbourhood activists.
"…We've gone through such an exhaustive process to encourage and elicit comments and concerns and criticism and suggestions from the community," said Obama.
Project Mired in Litigation
Concerns have been voiced by some community organisers that development of the presidential centre could lead to gentrification of the neighbourhood and displace black residents.
To address these apprehensions, Illinois passed a housing preservation ordinance providing $10 million in financing to help preserve affordability in the communities around the centre.
Preservationists have also challenged the project in court citing environmental concerns. Protect Our Parks nonprofit organisation filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to block construction in 2018, warning that construction "will tear up this Frederick Law Olmsted masterpiece."
A follow-up suit was filed in April, challenging the four-year federal review, concluded in February, that determined that the new Obama Center would pose "no significant impact to the human environment."
After the US Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal by Protect Our Parks on 21 August to block construction, the group filed a brief with the US Court of Appeal for the Seventh Circuit on 20 September, seeking support for its preliminary injunction request, reported ABC News.
Obama dismissed the ongoing litigation challenges in the ABC interview.
"The overwhelming majority of the community has been not just OK with it, but are hugely enthusiastic about it," he said.
The Obama Presidential Center will include a library, a four-building campus, gardens, a children's playground, underground parking, besides a museum displaying former First Lady Michelle Obama‘s dresses, posters from Obama’s presidential campaign and other artefacts from his White House tenure.
Organisers have touted the future venue as a way to bring investments and jobs to the community.
"The Obama Presidential Center will connect the economy of the South Side of Chicago with the rest of the city, creating new jobs and opportunities. It will breathe new life into a park that has long been protected and loved, but underused. And it will uphold our commitment to this vibrant community," stated the Obama Foundation, which is funding the project.
Ahead of Tuesday's ceremonial groundbreaking
, attended by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker besides Barack and Michelle Obama, a spokesperson for Protect Our Parks said:
“On this visit, though, we hope they will mourn the devastation of the initial clear-cutting of the mature trees and the destruction of the Women's Garden in Jackson Park, in addition to the long-term environmental and public health dangers that will ensue."
People on social media responded to the groundbreaking news by questioning both the site chosen for the Obama Center and the 44th President’s legacy.