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The Obama Presidential Center will not provide the “promised development or economic benefits” to surrounding neighborhoods,

President Obama  shops for books with daughters Malia and Sasha

University of Chicago faculty tell Obama to move ‘socially regressive’ library

Letter from Faculty Concerning the Obama Center

We members of the University of Chicago faculty who sign this letter support the idea of establishing the Obama Center in our neighborhood, in the South Side. However, as details of the plans have become public we share concerns expressed by neighborhood groups throughout the South Side. The neighborhood groups are diverse. They include the Community Benefits Agreement Coalition whose active members include the Black Youth Project 100, the Bronzeville Regional Collective — which itself includes Blacks in Green — the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, the Poor People’s Campaign, the Southside Together Organizing for Power, UChicago for a CBA, the Westside Health Authority and Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; and whose allied members include the Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Women in Trades, Friends of the Park, Metropolitan Tenants Association, Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors, Chicago Jobs Council, Chicago Rehab Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and many others. Other groups opposed to the current plans include the Midway Plaisance Park Advisory Committee, Save the Midway, Jackson Park Watch, and South Shore Nature Sanctuary. The concerns of these groups are different. But taken together they form an intelligible whole.

First, there are concerns that the Obama Center as currently planned will not provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods. Because the current plans place the Center next to the Museum of Science and Industry and across the street from the University of Chicago campus, there is no available adjacent land in which to start a new business, set up a new café or restaurant, bring another cultural center to the neighborhood. It looks to many neighbors that the only new jobs created will be as staff to the Obama Center, hence the widespread support for a Community Benefits Agreement.

Second, the current plan calls for taking a large section of an historic public park and giving it to a private entity for development. Jackson Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most important urban parks in the nation. Construction of a permanent architectural monument violates Olmsted’s vision of a democratic urban park. On the current plans the intrusion into the park is huge: twenty-one acres, the size of two large city blocks. At a time of increasing complexity and pressure in urban life, Chicago should be dedicated to preserving our public parks as open areas for relaxation and play for all its citizens. We also note that the Obama Center has abandoned its original plans to be a Presidential Library. It will be a private entity with no official connection to the National Archives.

Third, because of the planned location of the Obama Center, the Obama Foundation plans to take over a section of another historic, public park — Midway Plaisance, also designed by Olmsted — and turn it into an above-ground parking garage. They have to date rejected many pleas of neighborhood groups to place the garage underground. The planners say they need the parking lot there so that visitors can walk directly across the street to the Obama Center, but that raises problems of its own. (1) The planners also intend to close Cornell Avenue to traffic, thus making Stony Island Avenue the only major north-south thoroughfare on the South Side, other than the Interstate Highway. So every visitor who comes by car or by Metra will have to cross the busiest street on the South Side. And those of our neighbors who depend on driving north or south for their livelihoods will inevitably be significantly held up. This is a traffic-jam in the making. (2) Those who can walk straight across the street to the Obama Center can also walk straight back to their cars and go home. Given the location, if they do any visiting at all it is overwhelmingly likely they will visit those areas that are already well developed, the Museum of Science and Industry and the University of Chicago campus. (3) A parking lot, of course, privileges cars and those who can afford them. Parking is expensive, and though public lands are being given away, all the profits from this parking lot will go to the Obama Foundation. None of the funds will go back to the City to improve train lines and public transportation infrastructure. Overall, this is a socially regressive plan (4) Again, this is a precious, historic urban park that ought to be preserved for future generations not given to a private entity for development into a parking lot.

Finally, it is the taxpayers of Chicago who are going to be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for this project, according to estimates by the Chicago Department of Transportation. The required widening of Lake Shore Drive alone is estimated to be over $100 million. Not only are public lands being given to a private entity but the public will pay to have Cornell Drive closed and Stony Island Avenue and Lake Shore Drive widened. We are concerned that these are not the best ways to use public funds to invest in the future of Chicago.

We University of Chicago faculty who sign this letter are ourselves a diverse group and different issues will matter more to some of us than to others. But we share with so many of our neighbors the belief that the current plans need significant revision. We are concerned that rather than becoming a bold vision for urban living in the future it will soon become an object-lesson in the mistakes of the past. We urge the Obama Foundation to explore alternative sites on the South Side that could be developed with more economic benefits, better public transportation, and less cost to taxpayers. We would be pleased to support the Obama Center if the plan genuinely promoted economic development in our neighborhoods and respected our precious public urban parks.

(Please sign below. The list of signatures will be updated each day.)

Jonathan Lear, Professor, Social Thought and Philosophy
W. J. T. Mitchell, Professor, English, Art History, and Visual Arts
Tara Zahra, Professor, History
Richard Strier, Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, English
Martha Feldman, Professor, Music and Romance Languages
Mark Siegler, Professor, Medicine
William Mazzarella, Professor, Anthropology
Bruce Lincoln, Caroline E. Haskell Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Divinity School
Michael Geyer, Samuel N. Harper Professor Emeritus, History
Jessica Stockholder, Professor, Visual Arts
Rosanna Warren, Professor, Social Thought
Matthew Jesse Jackson, Associate Professor, Art History and Visual Arts
Emilio Kourí, Professor, History
Marshall Sahlins, Charles F. Grey Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Emeritus
Frances Ferguson, Professor, English
Linda Zerilli, Charles E. Merriam Distinguished Professor, Political Science
Elizabeth Helsinger, John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, English
Gabriel Lear, Professor, Philosophy and Social Thought
Robert Pippin, Evelyn Steffanson Nef Distinguished Service Professor, Social Thought
Susan Gal, Professor, Anthropology and Linguistics
Susan Goldin-Meadow, Beardsley Ruml Distinguished Service Professor, Psychology
Jonathan Levy, Professor, History
Dipesh Chakrabarty, Professor, History
Daniel Brudney, Professor, Philosophy
Robert Richards, Morris Fishbein Distinguished Service Professor, History
Catherine Sullivan, Associate Professor, Visual Arts
David Wellbery, LeRoy T. and Margaret Deffenbaugh Carlson University Professor, Germanic Studies and Social Thought
Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions, Divinity School
David Levin, Professor, Theater & Performance Studies and Germanic Studies
Haun Saussy, University Professor, Comparative Literature
Eric Santner, Philip and Ida Romberg Distinguished Service Professor, Germanic Studies
Nathan Tarcov, Professor, Social Thought
Elaine Hadley, Professor, English
Annie Dorsen, Visiting Assistant Professor of Practice, Theater and Performing Studies
John Muse, Assistant Professor, English and Theater & Performance Studies
Steven Rings, Associate Professor, Music
Heidi Coleman, Senior Lecturer, Theater and Performance Studies
Thomas Pavel, Professor, Romance Languages
Florian Klinger, Associate Professor, Germanic Studies
Anne Robertson, Claire Dux Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Music; Dean, Division of the Humanities
Françoise Meltzer, Professor, Comparative Literature (Chair) and Divinity School
Philip Bohlman, Ludwig Rosenberger Distinguished Service Professor in Jewish History, Music
Danielle Roper, Provost’s Career Enhancement Postdoctoral Scholar, Romance Languages
Nicholas Rudall, Professor Emeritus, Classics
Richard Neer, William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor, Art History
James Conant, Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities, Philosophy
Catherine Baumann, Director, Chicago Language Center
Margareta Christian, Assistant Professor, Germanic Studies
Andrew Abbott, Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor, Sociology
Kimberly Kenny, Senior Lecturer, Norwegian Studies
Michael LaBarbera, Emeritus Professor, Organismal Biology & Anatomy
Andrei Pop, Associate Professor, Social Thought
Salikoko Mufwene, Frank J. McLoraine Distinguished Service Professor, Linguistics
Agnes Lugo-Ortiz, Associate Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures, HLBS
Ben Laurence, Lecturer, Philosophy
David Finkelstein, Associate Professor, Philosophy
Itamar Francez, Assistant Professor, Linguistics
James Wilson, Assistant Professor, Political Science
Daisy Delogu, Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures
Lauren Berlant, George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor, English
Patrick Jagoda, Associate Professor, English and Cinema & Media Studies
Charles Lipson, Peter B. Ritzma Professor, Political Science
Loren Kruger, Professor, English
James Chandler, Barbara E. and Richard J. Franke Professor, English
Aaron Turkewitz, Professor, Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology
Mark Berger, Collegiate Assistant Professor, Humanities
Adom Getachew, Assistant Professor, Political Science
Amy Dru Stanley, Associate Professor, History
Mario Santana, Associate Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures
Kristen Schilt, Associate Professor, Sociology
Spencer Bloch, R.M. Hutchins D.S. Professor Emeritus, Mathematics
Adrian Johns, Maclear Professor, History
Bozena Shallcross, Professor, Slavic Languages and Literatures
Francois Richard, Associate Professor, Anthropology
Petra Goedegebuure, Associate Professor, Oriental Institute
Norma Field, Robert Ingersoll Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Elena Bashir, Senior Lecturer, South Asian Languages & Civilizations
Veronica Vegna, Senior Lecturer and Coordinator, Romance Languages and Literatures
Lucia B. Rothman-Denes, A. J. Carlson Professor, Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology
Choudhri Naim, Professor Emeritus, South Asian Languages & Civilizations
Christopher Skelly, Associate Professor, Surgery
William Sites, Associate Professor, School of Social Service Administration
Joel Isaac, Associate Professor, Social Thought
Na’ama Rokem, Associate Professor, Comparative Literature and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Howard Stein, Professor Emeritus, Philosophy
Daniel Yohanna, Associate Professor and Interim Chair, Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience
William Sewell, Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Political Science and History
Laura Letinsky, Professor, Visual Arts
Leora Auslander, Arthur and Joann Rasmussen Professor of Western Civilization, History
Paola Iovene, Associate Professor, East Asian Languages and Civilizations
David Orlinsky, Professor Emeritus, Comparative Human Development
Moishe Postone, Professor, History
Michael Bourdaghs, Robert S. Ingersoll Professor, East Asian Languages and Civilizations
William Tait, Professor Emeritus, Philosophy
Anna Mueller, Assistant Professor, Comparative Human Development
Hans Schreiber, Professor, Pathology
Michael Silverstein, C. F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology, Linguistics, and Psychology
Fred Donner, Peter B. Ritzma Professor, Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations and Oriental Institute
Matthew Boyle, Professor, Philosophy
James Hopson, Emeritus Professor, Organismal Biology & Anatomy
Allan Rechtschaffen, Professor Emeritus, Psychiatry and Psychology
Jim Lastra, Associate Professor, Cinema and Media Studies
Joshua Scodel, Helen A. Regenstein Professor, English
Janet Johnson, Hull Professor of Egyptology, Oriental Institute and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations
Jennifer Cole, Professor, Comparative Human Development
Godfrey Getz, Emeritus Professor, Pathology
Seth Brodsky, Associate Professor, Music
Elizabeth Asmis, Professor, Classics
Nicole Marwell, Associate Professor, School of Social Service Administration
Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky, Assistant Professor, Cinema and Media Studies
Daniel Morgan, Associate Professor, Cinema and Media Studies
Robert L. Kendrick, Professor, Music
Jason Grunebaum, Senior Lecturer, South Asian Languages and Civilizations
Janel Mueller, Dean of Humanities Emerita, William Rainey Harper Distinguished Service Professor Emerita, College
Daniel Johnson, Professor, Pediatics
John Woods, Professor, History
Rachel DeWoskin, Lecturer, Creative Writing
George S. Tolley, Professor Emeritus, Economics, and former Director of the Center for Urban Studies
Anna Di Rienzo, Professor, Human Genetics
Michael I. Allen, Associate Professor, Classics
John McCormick, Professor, Political Science
Ralph Austen, Emeritus Professor, History
Neil Harris, Preston and Sterling Morton Professor Emeritus, History
Joel Snyder, Professor, Art History
Kenneth Warren, Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor, English
Eve Ewing, Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar & Assistant Professor, School of Social Service Administration
Catherine Kearns, Assistant Professor, Classics
James Shapiro, Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Travis A. Jackson, Associate Professor, Music
Mark Bradley, Bernadotte E. Schmitt Distinguished Service Professor, History
Douglas Bishop, Professor, Radiation and Cellular Oncology
Jessica Baker, Assistant Professor, Music
Christian Wedemeyer, Associate Professor, Divinity School
Patchen Markell, Associate Professor, Political Science
Hussein Ali Agrama, Associate Professor, Anthropology
Andreas Glaeser, Professor, Sociology
Alida Bouris, Associate Professor, School of Social Service Administration
Joseph Masco, Professor, Anthropology
Wadad Kadi, The Avalon Foundation Distinguished Service Professor Emerita, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Miguel Martinez, Assistant Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures
Julie Orlemanski, Assistant Professor, English
Darryl Li, Assistant Professor, Anthropology
Cornell Fleischer, Kanuni Süleyman Professor of Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies, History and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Yali Amit, Professor, Statistics
Maria Anna Mariani, Assistant Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures
Jennifer Scappettone, Associate Professor, English, Creative Writing, Romance Languages and Literatures
Elissa Weaver, Professor Emerita, Romance Languages & Literatures
Gary Herrigel, Paul Klapper Professor, Political Science
Larissa Brewer-García, Assistant Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures
Colm O’Muircheartaigh, Professor, Harris School of Public Policy
Jenny Trinitapoli, Associate Professor, Sociology
Chad Broughton, Senior Lecturer, College
George Tolley, Emeritus Professor, Economics, and Former Director, Center for Urban Studies
Ross Stolzenberg, Professor, Sociology
Kaushik Sunder Rajan, Professor, Anthropology

2 thoughts on “The Obama Presidential Center will not provide the “promised development or economic benefits” to surrounding neighborhoods,

  1. LOL University of Chicago faculty have figured out what the rest of America already knew.
    Hope & Change has become I Hope they don’t figure out nothing has Changed.

  2. the cost of this library just went up exponentially. The amount of hands that are out that are mentioned here is incredible. And the document even says “many more”. This library is not going to be cheap – may checks need written.

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