On July 27, President Barack Obama announced that Jackson Park, located in the South Side of Chicago, will be the site of his presidential library.
Since Herbert Hoover’s presidency, 13 presidential libraries have been constructed across the United States. This system is overseen by the Office of Presidential Libraries, a sector of the National Archives and Records Administration that focuses on preserving and providing access to historical records, supporting research and promoting education within communities through interactive exhibits.
The Obama Presidential Center will be located in Jackson Park in the Woodlawn community, just 9.5 miles southeast of the Loop. Woodlawn is one of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods and home to about 30,000 residents. Noah Toly, director and professor of the urban studies program at Wheaton, said, “The library is projected to bring massive levels of investment” to a neighborhood that has been “economically distressed” for decades.
Bordering Lake Michigan, the park is also the famed site of the 1893 World’s Fair Columbian Exposition.
Visiting instructor of urban studies Sean Young emphasized that he believes there is “a lot of ambivalence” about the decision. He notes that many people will likely be pleased with the decision to place a major institution in one of the neighborhoods rather than at a popular downtown site. The decision could attract attention, bring visitors and stimulate the economy in ways that could greatly benefit the community.
“But, on the other hand you have a decision that, at least to many on the South Side of Chicago, feels a bit like a slap in the face…” said Young. According to Young, this sentiment arises from the realization that only now — once the president is involved — will their complaints about a lack of resources and attention be recognized.
Neighboring Woodlawn are the University of Chicago and Hyde Park, which are generally recognized as more diverse and economically well off than the surrounding South Side counterparts. Young said that the introduction of the Obama library and museum to the Jackson Park area could play an interesting role in reshaping historically “high” racial and class tensions.
The center will include a library, museum and Obama foundation and is scheduled for construction upon Obama’s retirement from office in January 2017.