When Bronwyn Lodato began pushing to prevent a portion of a Chicago park from being developed into a parking garage by the Obama Foundation, she never expected to be criticized as racist.
She is an African-American woman who has spent her life fighting for the black community.
Lodato has lived in Hyde Park for more than a decade. She is more than sensitive to both the city’s racial tensions and the needs of her neighbors.
“All I wanted to do was make sure my kids could play with no garage in their park,” Ms. Lodato told the Chicago Tribune. “I have three young children and we live in a condo and the Midway is our yard. My story is simply, how can we keep the park so our kids could play there?”
What happened after Ms. Lodato spoke out against plans for the Obama Presidential Center is insanity at its finest.
Lodato, who believes the South Side deserves what she calls “jewels” of open space, has found herself under fire. Some accused her of siding with her well-off white neighbors. Others say she is taking a stance that hurts the struggling communities around hers.
Juanita Irizarry, an activist affiliated with Friends of the Park, said residents in favor of Obama’s library have accused anyone who disagrees or asks questions. They must be white, they must not care about black people. They must not care about economic development on the South Side.
“To make it all about race is inappropriate — that’s not what Obama stood for,” said Ms. Irizarry, who is Hispanic. “There needs to be more nuance.”
The Obama Foundation’s plan to build the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park had descended into chaos.
It has sparked an emotional, conversation about race, class, segregation, privilege and power on the South Side.
More than 200 faculty members from the University of Chicago signed a public letter. It denounced plans for the center as “socially regressive.”
The professors say the library could do more good in a neighborhood in need of economic revitalization.
Activists have also taken issue with the Obama Foundation’s unwillingness to sign a community benefits agreement, which would guarantee jobs and other benefits for residents on the South Side.
Then came news that the Obama Presidential Center will not be Mr. Obama’s official presidential library and will not house documents from the Obama White House.
The Chicago Tribune explains:
The conversation has raised delicate and fragile issues: who gets a voice in the discussion, who gets heard, who gets action, and how does the history of racial and class segregation shape expectations.
There are those who see the development as an opportunity for longtime homeowners to finally get investment and an increase in property values.
Others worry that rising rents will push out poor African-Americans. They fear development will cater to elite, highly educated blacks while working-class families lose access to lakefront communities. Residents who are pushing for a community benefits agreement — a contract guaranteeing property tax freezes and jobs — have been told they should find entrepreneurial ways to benefit from the coming attraction.
Meanwhile, white Hyde Park residents have been accused of being silent about displacement, affordable housing and unemployment — while using their voices to save birds, butterflies and nature sanctuaries, or to object to longer commute times. And when black residents have voiced their desire to preserve park and green space, they have been told that with all the inequities African-Americans have to deal with, parkland should be the least of their worries.
Chicagoans are venting their displeasure with former President Barack Obama’s planned library in droves.
It has been called an “ugly waste of taxpayer resources” and a “dangerous precedent.”
Recent letters to the editor published in the Chicago Tribune overwhelmingly have panned the Obama Presidential Center. It will consume nearly 20 acres from historic Jackson Park. The cost to taxpayers will be $100 million in renovations to the surrounding area.
The egg-shaped main tower and surrounding buildings have been called “garish monstrosities that ruin the aesthetics of the surrounding parkland stolen from the taxpaying public.”
Jerry Bruti of Chicago expressed outrage that the library is “taking valuable and irreplaceable park land that belongs to all the people of Chicago” in order to erect an “empty monumental edifice.”