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OLMSTED PARKS IN CHICAGO THREATENED BY OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY PROPOSAL

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 | Posted by lalh

The University of Chicago recently unveiled its plan to locate the Obama Presidential Library in either Washington or Jackson Parks, both of which were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the 1870s. Promoting the plans as a way of invigorating the South Side and even adding to the city’s park land, University officials seem to have forgotten that the parks are historic, designed landscapes and works of art in their own right.

Jackson Park Bird Trail, Chicago, Illinois

Jackson Park, bird trail, Chicago, Illinois.

LALH vice president Ethan Carr has spoken out against infringing on the Olmsted designs by destroying park land for a building. As Carr explains, “The park doesn’t need an institution, it is an institution, with a purpose and a design. We’ll lose an historic Olmsted park if we strip it of its purpose by making it the setting for a library.”

Olmsted, Vaux & Co.'s Report Accompanying Plan for Laying Out the South Park

Olmsted, Vaux & Co.’s Report Accompanying Plan for Laying Out the South Park (1871), Chicago, Illinois.

Although the choice to use over twenty acres of park land as a building site appears to have garnered considerable public support, the Chicago Tribune published a January 11th editorial criticizing the choice.  The Tribune noted the importance of revitalizing the South Side, but questioned the value of conscripting “invaluable public space in either of the two parks that are among Chicago’s crown jewels.” LALH Director Robin Karson points to the battles fought over Central Park in the early twentieth century. “If it hadn’t been for Samuel Parsons Jr.” she notes, “Manhattan’s beloved green space would have been lost to speedways, buildings, and who knows what else. Chicago should stand up for its parks.”

The Cultural Landscape Foundation and Chicago’s Friends of the Parks join Karson and Carr, who is also chairman of the board of the National Association for Olmsted Parks, in condemning these sites as possible choices for the presidential library. Share your opinion by adding a comment below.

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4 comments

  1. I live in an Olmsted designed neighborhood and understand the incredible value of the parks and other landscapes designed by this preeminent American landscape design firm. Knowing the work of this firm so intimately, as well as from other iconic places like New York’s Central Park, I was shocked and terribly distraught to learn that the University of Chicago is contemplating taking Olmsted park land for an Obama presidential library.

    While I look forward to an Obama presidential library in the Chicago area, it would be a tragedy to the public to ruin such magnificent parks and open space for a building. Another site must be found. Chicago and the nation can have both.

    If President Obama truly stands for the environment as I have been led to believe, then desecrating a magnificent public landscape would forever cloud his memory and legacy. I can just imagine tour guides telling tour groups that Obama said he was an environmentalist but he claimed 22 acres of public open space for his personal vanity library.

    Please find another location for the Obama library. Chicago must stand up for its historic landscape gems.

    Comment by Walter Scott Peterson on January 29, 2015 at 10:08 pm

  2. Taking away a public park space, that can never be replaced or duplicated, for political purposes is a sad commentary of priorities by the City administrators of Chicago. A city administration that destroys it’s history and the access to that history shows little regard for it’s citizens. A city administration that eliminates the opportunity for all the world’s citizens to celebrate and learn from the art of the masters is short sited at best and initiates vandalism at worst. The citizens of Chicago would not allow the destruction of the Chicago Art Institute and should not allow the destruction of this treasured and valuable landscape art. Thank you for raising your objection.

    Comment by Diane Gibson on January 30, 2015 at 9:45 am

  3. Thank you for taking this principled stand on this issue. With block after block of blighted areas near the University of Chicago, why this park has been short-listed is troubling.

    Comment by David Heller on January 30, 2015 at 9:47 am

  4. Walter Scott Peterson, Thank you for clarifying that it does not have to be one or the other. This is not a stand against what would be a wonderful addition to Chicago, or any city, but a stand against the destruction of the parks as they have been designed and enjoyed for over a century.

    Diane Gibson and David Heller, We must always be vigilant when it comes to park land. Far too often cities see the open space they own as ripe for further recreational development. It would be a great thing for Chicagoans if this library could find a place that rejuvenates land that is not already serving another purpose. Thank you for joining the discussion.

    Comment by lalh on February 10, 2015 at 3:45 pm

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