January 16, 2015

Local Library Lives On

University’s bid for Obama library holds promise for South Side cultural and economic growth, but first, community concerns must be addressed.

In the coming months, the Barack Obama Foundation will choose a winning bid for the Obama presidential library. This month, the University has gained support from local aldermen, mayor Rahm Emanuel, and many community groups. However, the University’s bid for the Obama Library has not been without setbacks. Questions have been raised by community members and the Barack Obama Foundation regarding the University’s potential use of Chicago park lands. The University’s current plans incorporate the use of park land, which it justifies by touting both the economic and educational benefits the library would bring to the greater South Side community. The editorial board would like to extend its support for the University’s bid for the presidential library. However, the concerns of voices within these communities are valid, particularly with regard to the issue of park land and must be addressed as the process towards selection draws nearer.

The main concern brought up by community members is that the library will encroach upon available park land in Chicago—a concern that the editorial board shares. The two proposed build sites, in Washington Park and Jackson Park, are both between 20-30 acres. However, the Washington Park site would combine 20 acres of park land with 10 acres of land already owned by the University. The editorial board supports the University’s bid for the Obama library, but does not believe this bid needs to entail the further removal of Chicago’s limited park lands. There is historical precedent to suggest that the 10 acres the University already owns next to the Washington Park site are sufficient to house the library. The John F. Kennedy library sits on a 10 acre lot, while the library building itself takes up little more than three acres. By restricting construction to its current 10 acre lot, not only will the University protect valuable park space in an urban area, but it will also further encourage the support of community members who question the University’s dedication to supporting its surrounding community.

Regardless of building site difficulties, if the University’s bid is successful the South Side will reap the benefits. Building the library on the South Side would benefit both the University and the surrounding communities. Whichever of these sites is chosen, it will be a hub for community activity, providing educational and business opportunities. The library will create 1,900 permanent jobs, according to an economic study commissioned by the University, and increase local earnings by $56 million per year. The study estimates that 800,000 visitors will visit the library each year, drawing a new wave of tourists and visitors who would not otherwise visit the historic South Side. If the University’s bid is selected, the library has the potential to become a national landmark and a source of great pride for the community. By tailoring its bid more closely to the interests of local community members, the University will be able to be foster support for the library while also forging a closer relationship with the surrounding community.

—The Maroon Editorial Board

Ankit Jain recused himself from this editorial.