Diverse Contenders for the Obama Presidential Library

Source: http://chicagolakesidedevelopment.com/

Source: http://chicagolakesidedevelopment.com/

The process to decide the location for the Barack Obama Presidential Library is currently under way. June 16th was the deadline for official bids for the Barack Obama Presidential Library. To oversee this process and the library’s future, the Barack Obama Foundation a 501(c)(3) was established in January 2014. The four member all volunteer board will spend the next several months reviewing bids and working with the Obamas to pick a group of finalists. The Obamas will then choose the final site from the foundation’s recommendations. A final announcement is expected in early 2015.

Although officially not publically available, there are reports of 12 official bids listed here:

  • University of Illinois at Chicago: UIC has two locations at the university, one on the east campus at Harrison Field located at Harrison and Halstead, and a site on the west campus located at Ashland and Taylor Street. UIC has also worked with the nearby local community of North Lawndale for a third proposed site. The North Lawndale proposal is located on a former industrial site, which could create many jobs for Chicago’s west side.
  • Chicago State University: The university has two sites, which draw on the legacy of the President’s community activism due to its location near the Greater Roseland community. Both proposed sites are located near diverse modes of transportation and are on university owned property. The library on these sites could do a lot to provide jobs to Southside communities that need them.
  • University of Chicago: U of C has three Southside locations at 55th and King, 6220 S. Stoney Island, and 7059 S. Shore Drive at the South Shore Cultural Center. President Obama is a senior lecturer in the U of C Law School, and may return to teaching, post-presidency. Keeping the library close to home may appeal to the President.
  • Columbia University: Manhattanville Campus in West Harlem, New York City: Columbia is where Obama received his undergraduate degree. New York is also a rumored location of a post-Presidential home for the Obamas.
  • Chicago’s Bronzeville: Community stakeholders are proposing the old Michael Reese Hospital site: This location could bring many jobs helping to strengthen the resurgence of the Bronzeville community.
  • Chicago Lakeside Development: Lakeside Development’s Inspiration Point is located at 79th street on the Lake, has one of the most visually compelling sites with lake views and the skyline in the distance. The Obama’s also have many ties to the South Shore community, the location of Inspiration Point.

An underlying commonality of the bids is drawing on the economic benefits that come with a presidential library. According to the AP, the University of Chicago conducted a study finding that the library, “would draw 800,000 visitors a year and create 1,900 permanent jobs.” These economic benefits could also explain why the Chicago locations are all south of Interstate 290 in the South and West sides of the city, areas that could benefit from the library.

WTTW’s Chicago Tonight conducted a panel that included Michael Allen, Professor of American History at Northwestern University, brought on as a presidential library expert. Professor Allen explained that accessibility is the most important factor in deciding a location for a presidential library, not just for transportation, but also for access to library resources for academics. That is why many of the proposed locations are connected to universities. Allen said the site which fits best based on this criteria is UIC’s Harrison Field proposal.

While having a strong research focus at UIC is one advantage, location is another. Michael Pagano, dean of UIC’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, stated Harrison Field is in a central location of the city and the proposed location for a Civic Center, as envisioned by Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. There is also diverse transportation access to this site, including a soon-to-be newly renovated CTA Blue Line train station, several bus lines, and the nearby Circle Interchange.

With the bids placed, it is now the job of the Barack Obama Foundation to create a short list from which the Obamas choose. The Foundation’s official release has more detail on the criteria for its decision, such as convenience for researchers and the potential for the museum to anchor the surrounding community. Naturally, we hope UIC’s Near West Side campus will be selected, but we will be excited to celebrate with whichever neighborhood the Obamas choose.

About the Author:
Jack Rocha, GCI Research Assistant: Second year MUPP student interested in developing a sense of community under the framework of spatial planning that is guided by its history.