Obama Drama

Parking for Obama library may wipe out five acres of historic green space

Architecture Midwest News Newsletter
Parking for Obama library may wipe out 5 acres of historic green space. Pictured here: Concept designs for the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. (Obama Foundation)
Parking for Obama library may wipe out 5 acres of historic green space. Pictured here: Concept designs for the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. (Obama Foundation)

Barack Obama’s Obama Presidential Center, a three-building complex designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien on Chicago’s South Side, has made its intention to embrace its neighborhood very clear—specifically Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance, the historic Frederick Law Olmsted–designed greenways that have hosted, among other things, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, a.k.a. the “White City.”

But what the Center hasn’t made as clear is that the complex’s footprint is growing, with its leaders recently proposing an aboveground parking garage that could take up about five acres of the Midway. The library’s concession for eating into this space is a green roof, which opponents claim should not be considered green space at all.

Original plans for the center, released in May, did not include any building on the Midway. The land is owned by the city’s Department of Transportation, and the move would need to be approved by the Chicago City Council.

(AN/Matthew Messner)

The footprint of the Obama Presidential Center, with proposed parking garage. (AN/Matthew Messner)

“To say it’s ok to carve up a work of art and replace it with something else is ridiculous,” said Charles Birnbaum, president and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation. “The issue is not whether a green roof is considered green space; what’s disconcerting is the Obama Center’s insistence that they need more parkland.”

When completed, the Obama Center—whose footprint currently measures roughly 20 acres—will consist of a tall, stone-clad, geometric presidential museum, a green-roofed library, and a forum for events, all clustered around a broad plaza. The greenery is meant to blend with the existing park, but will not, say critics, make up for the amount of space it is taking from the famed parks.

A spokesperson for the Obama Foundation told AN: “The parking facility on the Midway will revitalize underutilized section of the Midway Plaisance. The facility will be covered and surrounded by a new park that will be open to the public.”

The Chicago Park District has called three meetings for citizens to weigh in on the planned changes, particularly to Jackson Park and the Midway.

“We thought a comprehensive planning process was in order,” Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry told CBS Chicago. “Now it’s happening so quickly that we don’t believe it possibly can be a real, transparent process.”

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