- Sun-Times Media
- Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at Soldier Field in 1966, the year he and his family took up residence in North Lawndale
If Chicago truly were a meritocracy—where planning decisions were based on an idea’s virtues as opposed to clout—Mayor Emanuel would be steering the Obama Presidential Library to North Lawndale.
To help you out with your local geography, Mr. Mayor, North Lawndale’s the predominantly black, low-income community on the west side, which is that huge swath of land west of the Loop.
Just in case the mayor thinks the city only extends as far west as the United Center.
But, no, the mayor seems determined to muscle through a proposal by the University of Chicago to put the library in either Jackson Park or Washington Park.
So in the name of gaining a library, we lose some parkland.
I’d say this was the worst planning of Mayor Rahm’s tenure, if not for his plan to spend tens of millions of property tax dollars in order to lose untold millions of property tax dollars by building a DePaul basketball arena/Marriott Hotel in the South Loop.
As long as we’re talking about North Lawndale, I should point out that it was where Martin Luther King Jr. settled back in 1966, when he brought the Freedom Movement north to Chicago.
Dr. King moved his family to a three-flat at 1550 S. Hamlin and proclaimed his intention to “end the slums.”
So if nothing else, Mayor Rahm, you might want to hitch your wagon to the North Lawndale proposal in order to capitalize on interest in Dr. King that’s been ignited by the movie Selma.
Maybe that will convince a black voter or two—other than your faithful City Council factotums—to actually vote for you in the coming mayoral election.
I should also add that the land in North Lawndale on which the University of Illinois at Chicago has proposed to build the library is a 23-acre vacant lot, located roughly at Roosevelt and Kostner. Years ago a furniture factory stood on the site.
Long after the factory closed, the land became the site of “the Mountain,” a notorious illegal dump operated by John Christopher, a mole for the FBI.
Essentially, the feds were running a sting operation in which Christopher bribed local pols to let him illegally dump garbage and construction debris at the Mountain.
I’m not sure what’s more insulting: that the feds would think their sting operation took precedence over the health of west-siders, who had to live next to an illegal dump. Or that once the sting operation closed, it took the city and feds several years to haul away the debris.
In any event, the Mayor could use the library to fill one of the largest vacant lots in Chicago, while giving the surrounding community a much-needed jolt of jobs and investment.
Instead, the mayor seems fixated on convincing President and Michelle Obama to accept the University of Chicago’s proposal to build the library in either Jackson Park or Washington Park.
Which, as their names suggest, are parks. That is—big grassy lawns, where south-siders go to play baseball, softball, soccer, or cricket, or walk their dogs or sit beneath a tree to peacefully contemplate the universe.
You know, just like north-siders do.
I’m not sure what it is about Washington and Jackson parks that makes politicians hell bent on paving them over.
Mayor Daley wanted to turn the parks into construction zones for his Olympic debacle, which the University of Chicago cheered on.
For the record, I willingly concede that Daley’s Olympics scheme was even dumber than Mayor Rahm’s DePaul/Marriott deal. Feel free to use that line in your next commercial, Mr. Mayor.
It seems that the thought behind the city’s North Lawndale planning policy is that it’s a great place to operate an illegal dump, but not a presidential library.
Granted, the mayor and the University of Chicago aren’t much more respectful of south-siders.
First the university folks weren’t even going to reveal where they were proposing to put the library. Essentially, they were going to tell the public which parkland they were snatching after they’d snatched it.
Under pressure from environmentalists at Friends of the Parks, Mayor Emanuel forced the university to reveal the Jackson Park and Washington Park locations.
A university spokeswoman told the Tribune she didn’t think the public would be too upset because portions of the parks “are in great need of restoration.”
Man, they must think south-siders are even dumber than west-siders.
I mean, if the parks need restoration, why not restore them? Why should south-side residents have to give up parkland to get the city to restore their parks?
Somehow I don’t think it would go down like this in Lincoln Park.
Look, Mayor Rahm, take my advice on this one. If the University of Chicago can’t build this library without snatching up park space, go with the North Lawndale proposal.
If North Lawndale was good enough for Dr. King, it’s good enough for a presidential library.