Obama’s presidential center to relocate South Side Chicago’s vital trees, supporters say


On August 16, the Obama Foundation began work on the Obama Presidential Center, but without the fanfare one would expect. Over the past five years, the Center’s location on the south side of Chicago has sparked multiple lawsuits and a recent Supreme Court petition.


It’s not that Chicagoans don’t want the Center – many seem excited about the economic opportunities it will bring. On the contrary, opponents, like the nonprofit Protect our Parks, do not want the Center to be built in Jackson Park, where they say it will cause “irreparable” environmental damage.

Located between the University of Chicago and Lake Michigan, Jackson Park is a 550-acre green space on the southeastern outskirts of the city, used for everything from family reunions to sporting events.

The lush canopy of the park is a refuge from the sweltering summer heat, which is increasingly worsening due to climate change. Trees can reduce local temperatures by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. “We’re going [to Jackson Park] be cooler, be comfortable while we hang out, ”Jeannette Hoyt, director of CCAM Research Partners and former resident of the area, told EHN, adding that many nearby residents couldn’t afford air conditioning. Hoyt is not affiliated with Protect Our Parks.

However, if construction of the Center continues as planned, some of these trees will fall. According to a 2020 environmental assessment of the area conducted by the National Park Service, the project will remove 326 trees at the center site, as well as an additional 463 trees due to construction related to the project, including improved transportation and relocation of the park. Athletics.

Besides their cooling effect, the environmental benefits of trees in this region also include the removal of around 22 tonnes of carbon dioxide and 342 pounds of air pollution each year, according to a 2018 survey of the region. The latter is particularly important in a city ranked 16e Most polluted city in the United States for ozone pollution and with asthma rates above national averages.

Trees also benefit our mental health, University of Washington social science researcher Kathleen Wolf told EHN.

“Short periods of time in nature can help us restore our mind, and not only feel better, but actually reduce potential aggression, reduce irritation, reduce anxiety,” a- she declared.

“A tree does not equal a tree”

Trees in Jackson Park. (Credit: Daniel X. O’Neil / flickr)

An Obama Foundation spokesperson told EHN in an email that many trees are currently dead or in poor health. However, the 2018 survey of the area, carried out by experts hired by the Foundation, indicates that only 64 trees currently need to be removed from the area due to their sub-optimal condition or location.

The spokesperson said the current design calls for “more trees than there are at the site today” and that there are plans to increase the species’ biodiversity. This will include bird-friendly and pollinator-friendly plant selections that will benefit the wildlife that frequent the area.

But “a tree is not the same as a tree,” US Forest Service senior scientist David Nowak told EHN, explaining that the environmental benefits derived from a large tree are 60 to 70 times greater than those from larger trees. small.

He also added that planting new trees carries a risk. “There is no guarantee that the sapling will survive,” he explained. “New trees have a pretty high death rate before they become established.”

Design with creativity

Protect Our Park and other community members are pushing for the center to be moved to nearby Washington Park. “It’s relatively treeless,” said Hoyt, who points out that there are also many vacant lots in the area that the Foundation could build on.

“It would bring the same number of jobs [and] it would bring more tourism “because it is close to a major train line, she added.” And we can save… our safe space “and the environmental benefits it provides.

That said, if the Center stays in Jackson Park, Wolf wonders if there is a way to incorporate some of the existing trees into the development. “Design is all about creativity,” she said, “but the first move is to remove the trees. [and] create this blank slate from a package. “

Gentrification concerns

The battle is still on, creating a conversation that goes beyond the trees. Local communities fear this construction project will gentrify the area, displacing predominantly black residents. On the other hand, there is the benefit of tourism and the jobs that the Center is committed to providing.

“I certainly couldn’t say which one is better,” Nowak said. “It depends on what the [local] people want.”

Yet, he hopes that as this debate continues, the value of these trees will not be discounted. “There is a cost associated – not just removing the trees – but the cost of losing the benefits that would have been there.”


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