Obama Presidential Center Panned as 'Socially Regressive'

Current blueprint would cost taxpayers $100 million

Barack Obama
Barack Obama / Getty Images
January 10, 2018

The planned construction of the Obama Presidential Center near the University of Chicago has been criticized as "socially regressive" by over 150 faculty members.

In an open letter released Monday, the professors and lecturers echoed the concerns of multiple community organizations regarding the center's current blueprint, which would saddle local taxpayers with an estimated $100 million tab, and commandeer large swaths of beloved historic public parks for private development.

"The Obama Center as currently planned will not provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods," wrote the lecturers.

Rather than being a "bold vision for urban living in the future it will soon become an object-lesson in the mistakes of the past," they continued.

The seizure of 21 acres of Jackson Park, logged in the National Register of Historic Places, has been a source of particular frustration for locals. A park designed as a paragon of "democratic urban" living should not be relegated to private use, argued the faculty.

The professors also rankled at the Center having "abandoned its original plans to be a Presidential Library," with the site now planning on holding only an electronic database of President Barack Obama's records, no hard-copy manuscripts, and "no official connection to the National Archives." The change underscored the "intrusion" the Center would have on the daily lives of Chicagoans, with transportation and leisure both detrimentally impacted, for little to no return, wrote the faculty.

The Center has since capitulated to a separate complaint registered by the faculty against erecting an overground garage on the site of yet another historic urban park, and will reimagine the parking lot as an underground space on the Jackson Park campus.

The 165 professors and lecturers from diverse disciplines—including urban planning, medicine, music, literature, and philosophy—who have thus far signed the letter noted their theoretical support for the Center, contingent upon "significant revision."

The community organizations that have spoken out against the Obama Center as currently conceived include the Chicago Teachers Union, a legal activism group, and health and wellness groups.

In a statement to a local news outlet, Jeremy Manier, a spokesman for the university, said, "The Obama Presidential Center has the potential to be a powerful catalyst for economic development, civic engagement, and cultural opportunities across the Chicago region, especially in the South Side neighborhoods. As with all issues, University of Chicago faculty members are free to express their individual views and engage in discussions in any format they wish."

The Center, which Obama described as a "campus … for training young people in leadership," is slated for completion in 2021.

Published under: Barack Obama