On May 10th, Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry issued a statement to the press regarding developments with the Obama Presidential Center (OPC).
Juanita said in part:
Of course, everyone wants a black and white answer. What is the exact number of parkland that the Obama Foundation should give replace? But it’s more complicated than that.
The answer as to the amount of green space the OPC owes Chicago is premature. The Obama Foundation and the Chicago Park District would like Chicagoans to accept their premise based on the assumption that streets through the park will be converted to green space. But that issue is still being studied under the required Section 106/NEPA federal review processes. All potential alternatives are supposed to be considered in a thorough analysis that normally takes a couple of years for a project of this scope. Yet we are being asked to sign on with support this month. It begs the question whether we are being asked to accept a done deal that will be justified after the fact.
Additionally, they want us to accept the greening of Cornell Drive as adding parkland while they add a cement plaza on their campus. That doesn’t sound consistent. If it is grass that makes a space part of park replacement acreage, then their concrete plaza shouldn’t count in their figure of parkland added.
Meanwhile, the same National Park Service which the Obama Foundation and the Chicago Park District are citing as affirming their plan as a sufficient substitution for public parkland suggested at the most recent Section 106 consulting parties meeting that a baseball diamond that must be replaced could be located on the Midway Plaisance. That is ridiculous! So while there may be an effort to comply with the letter of the law to replace parkland, there doesn’t seem to be a priority to comply with the spirit of a truly park positive outcome. Upon hearing a few years ago of the plans for the OPC in a park and the Obama Foundation’s commitment to a park positive outcome, Chicagoans envisioned more than what we seem to be getting. We expected new parks to be created in the community, not just a reconfiguration of the spaces and uses within the current boundaries of Jackson Park.