Openlands Releases Statement on Obama Presidential Library Proposal

January 13, 2015

Statement by Jerry Adelmann, President and CEO of Openlands, to the Chicago Park District on the Proposed Obama Presidential Library

Opportunity to Inspire a 21st Century Plan for Chicago’s Olmsted Parks

Openlands believes that the proposal by the University of Chicago to locate the Obama Presidential Library in or adjacent to Jackson or Washington Parks on Chicago’s South Side is an opportunity for the City of Chicago, the Park District, and the University to honor, restore, and reinvigorate both the legacy and the future vision for Chicago’s historic parks and their surrounding neighborhoods. Chicago can give the Library a spectacular setting, and the Library can provide a catalyst for enduring benefits for the citizens of Chicago.

Openlands recommends creating a 21st Century Plan for the Olmsted parks in Chicago that sets out a bold vision for restoration and future needs for our diverse population.

In the late 1800s, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the designers of the parks, believed that urban parks provided refuge from the stresses of city life but also were democratic places for all classes of people to interact. This is still true today. Washington Park and Jackson Park can once again be vibrant community amenities for the neighbors as well as for people from all over the city and the world who will visit the Presidential Library.

Olmsted's gift was his ability to see the potential of a site and imagine a future suited for the residents of a given place. In Chicago that vision is vested in Washington and Jackson Parks and the Midway Plaisance, the only Olmsted parks in Chicago. The cultural value of these great park landscapes should not be underestimated nor should the value of the presidential library in providing the spark necessary for their restoration, rediscovery, and reinvigoration.

To celebrate its centennial, the Forest Preserves of Cook County adopted their “Next Century Conservation Plan.” This plan sets out an inspired set of goals to restore nature, engage people, and reap the economic benefits of public open space. Openlands believes the Obama Library can be the catalyst for a “next century plan” for our Olmsted Parks. The Library is an unprecedented opportunity to celebrate the value of these great parks by honoring the power of the original design. This can be achieved by engaging the community in developing a plan for their restoration that embraces Chicago’s diverse population, shares economic value inherent in public open space with the neighborhood, and guarantees long-term stewardship.

Openlands supports the five principles clearly articulated by Vicky and George Ranney (“5 ideas: How the Obama library could enhance Chicago's historic parks,” Chicago Tribune, January 9, 2015).

Principle 1: Minimize building in the parks

The Library building footprint should be minimal and in the case of Jackson Park, be placed where the design indicated a structure could be built or in the case of Washington Park, should be constructed outside the parkland on acreage owned by the University.

Principle 2: Replace any land used for buildings with new or reclaimed park acreage

Any taking of park land for building construction needs to be replaced with additional acreage of new park space and where appropriate the removal of service structures and underutilized buildings that populate both parks.

Principle 3:  Provide convenient public access and transportation

Seize the opportunity to create a regional transportation hub to serve multiple cultural and neighborhood amenities. All automobile parking for the Library must be outside the parks or underground. The road system should be improved for walkability and access to trail systems.

Principle 4:   Exploit synergies with existing community and cultural institutions 

The Library should integrate plans and enhance connections with nearby institutions. There is a unique opportunity to illustrate sustainability principles and practices (green infrastructure, native landscaping, energy efficiency, etc.) in partnership with the Museum of Science and Industry. 

Principle 5:  Restore and revitalize the parks

Chicago must renew its commitment to restoring and revitalizing Washington and Jackson Parks and the Midway Plaisance. If carefully considered and constructed, the Library could enhance prime features of these treasured public parks which in turn can provide amenities for local communities and spaces for people to connect to nature.

Openlands opposes the transfer of parkland to the City. Openlands supports the Park District maintaining control of the land in both Washington Park and Jackson Park to ensure that, as plans for the Library move forward, the park uses and intended purposes are maintained as a comprehensive park system. Parkland used for the library at either location should NOT be transferred to the City. The potential transfer of parkland to the City sets up a dangerous precedent of opportunistic planning, violation of public trust, and lack of engagement of local residents and stakeholders in community decisions.

The park system was created in order to provide the residents of Chicago with beautiful and inviting spaces for people to recreate, for wildlife to thrive, and communities to gather. The plan to build the Presidential Library should honor the legacy.


This statment was submitted to the Chicago Park District on January 13, 2015.

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