President Barack Obama’s presidential library and museum has found its home. It has been long decided that President Obama’s presidential library would be in his adopted hometown of Chicago rather than his birthplace of Honolulu, Hawaii, but the presidential center’s exact location was just announced on Friday: the center will be located in historic Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side, where First Lady Michelle Obama grew up. NPR reports that the location of the new presidential library was also the location of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
The Barack Obama Foundation released an official statement on Friday through its chair, civic leader Martin “Marty” Nesbitt, describing the Obamas’ happiness with the decision and why it is so significant for their family and their legacy. The statement also briefly discusses why Jackson Park edged out Washington Park, the other potential location for the presidential center that was heavily considered.
“For the first time, a presidential center will be in the heart of an urban community. The President and First Lady are proud that the Obama Foundation is developing the Obama Presidential Center in the South Side, a community that they call home. The President and First Lady believe that locating the Presidential Center at Jackson Park will have the greatest long term impact on the combined communities. With its aesthetics, iconic location, and historical relevance from the World’s Fair, we believe Jackson Park will attract visitors on a national and global level that will bring significant long term benefits to the South Side.”
The Obama Presidential Center will be located walking distance from the University of Chicago, where the president taught constitutional law. NPR‘s Cheryl Corley explained that the neighborhood surrounding Jackson Park is less isolated than the area surrounding Washington Park, the other finalist for the center’s location, and that Washington Park ultimately did not make the cut at least partially because that area is significantly “more economically depressed.”
President Obama and Michelle Obama also released a statement through The Barack Obama Foundation about the Jackson Park decision.
“Michelle and I are thrilled that the Obama Presidential Center will be developed in the heart of Chicago’s South Side, a community we call home and that means the world to us. We are proud that the center will help spur development in an urban area and we can’t wait to forge new ways to give back to the people of Chicago who have given us so much.”
The presidential library’s future location in Jackson Park has received much praise, but the Chicago Tribune is reporting on some concerns about potential negative impact that The Barack Obama Presidential Center may have on the lives of local residents around Jackson Park — not to mention the rest of the South Side.
The Tribune‘s Blair Kamin describes Jackson Park as “bucolic” and a “safe” choice, as Jackson Park already has the Museum of Science and Industry off which the new presidential library can “piggyback” to create what Kamin envisions as “Museum Campus South” — whereas the “scruffier” Washington Park would be more difficult to navigate and a harder draw for suburban and overseas visitors.
However, Kamin describes the Jackson Park location for the presidential library and museum as potentially “crammed” and a challenge for architects due to its narrowness. Some ingenuity will be required to develop a transit system that provides easy access to all elements of a museum campus that includes the Museum of Science and Industry and The Barack Obama Presidential Center.
Additionally, a concern for the South Side as a whole that would be present regardless of whether Jackson Park or Washington Park had been chosen is that public works in inner cities often unintentionally drive up rents and result in gentrification — driving longtime residents of the area out. Kamin points out that controlling gentrification will have to be a high priority in the development of the new presidential library and museum in order to ensure President Obama’s goals in giving back to the South Side residents who live in the area now.
Both Jackson Park and Washington Park were designed by legendary architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The architects who have been chosen to design the new presidential library and museum are Tod Williams and Billie Tsien of New York City.
[AP Photo/Paul Beaty File]