Obama defends his presidential library from criticism it ‘gentrifies’ Chicago

Obama defends his presidential library from criticism it ‘gentrifies’ Chicago
A federal review concluded that the Obama Centre would pose ‘no significant impact to human environment’

Former president Barack Obama defended the decision to choose the Jackson Park neighbourhood of Chicago as a site for his legacy project Obama Presidential Centre ahead of the groundbreaking scheduled for Tuesday.

The 44th presidential centre sits on the 19-acre of the Jackson Park and will include a museum, forum building, public plaza, athletic centre, play area and a branch of the Chicago Public Library. It had been mired in controversy over gentrification concerns along with those surrounding the damage to the environment.

“The truth is, any time you do a big project, unless you’re in the middle of a field somewhere, you know, and it’s on private property, there’s always going to be some people who say, ‘Well, but we don’t want change. We’re worried about it. We don’t know how it’s going to turn out’,” Mr Obama told ABC News.

“Which is why we’ve gone through such an exhaustive process to encourage and elicit comments and concerns and criticism and suggestions from the community,” he said.

The construction of the project officially began last month along Lake Michigan, near the Obama family home where the former president started his political career. The place also holds special significance for Obamas as this is where the couple got married and raised their two daughters. It is likely to take about five years to complete.

Mr Obama, who is slated to attend the groundbreaking ceremony along with former first lady Michelle Obama, said: “With your help, we can make this centre a catalyst for economic opportunity, a new world-class destination on the South Side and a platform for young people to drive change.”

The initial cost of the project was estimated to be at $500m but according to the recently released documents, the price is likely to go up by another $330m.

Earlier last month, the federal appeals court denied an effort by preservationist group Protect Our Parks, who were seeking to block the construction of the project on the grounds that it will lead to the downing of hundreds of trees and harm the environment.

The legal challenge came even as a four-year federal review concluded in February that the new Obama Centre would pose “no significant impact to the human environment”.

The federal review, however, found that the centre would diminish Jackson Park’s “overall integrity by altering historic, internal spatial divisions that were designed as a single entity”.

The 551.5-acre park was designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to host the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“When it came time to plan the Obama Presidential Centre, we wanted to give something back to the place that gave us so much,” Michelle Obama said in a video announcement.

Additional reporting from wires