Exclusive: Barack Obama defends the location of the Obama Center, is “absolutely confident” that it will benefit the community | Connect FM | Local news radio

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(CHICAGO) – Ahead of the inauguration of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago on Tuesday, former President Barack Obama reflected on the centre’s mission and defended his decision to choose historic Jackson Park in south Chicago as the site for honor his heritage.

Some community organizers have expressed concern that the development of the center, which would become a tourist attraction, could lead to gentrification of the neighborhood, while defenders of the park have challenged the construction in court, citing environmental concerns.

“The truth is, every time you do a big project, unless you’re in the middle of a field somewhere, you know, and it’s on private property, there’s always going to be people going to say: “Well, but we don’t I don’t want a change. We are concerned about this. We don’t know how it’s going to turn out, “Obama told Good Morning America presenter Robin Roberts in an exclusive interview.” That’s why we’ve gone through such a comprehensive process to encourage and elicit comments, concerns and questions. criticism and suggestions from the community.

Jackson Park is a National Register of Historic Places public park that was designed by New York Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted.

A four-year federal review, which ended in February, determined that the new Obama center would “have no significant impact on the human environment.”

But Protect Our Parks, a nonprofit park preservation organization that filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to block construction in 2018, filed another lawsuit in April challenging the federal review.

The group argued that the construction “will tear apart this Frederick Law Olmsted masterpiece,” resulting in the removal of trees, the removal of the Women’s Garden and the closure of roads.

On August 21, the United States Supreme Court dismissed an emergency appeal by the group to block construction.

Amid an ongoing litigation, Protect Our Parks filed a September 20 brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in support of its request for a preliminary injunction, the group said. at ABC News.

On Monday, on the eve of the inauguration, a spokesperson for the group released a statement saying that “the return of the former president and the first lady should be a moment of pride for the people of Chicago. On this visit, however, we hope they will mourn the devastation of the initial clearcutting of mature trees and the destruction of the Women’s Garden in Jackson Park, in addition to the long-term dangers to the environment and public health that will follow. “

“Unfortunately, organizing a series of virtual openings will not change the facts of the case or the long-term negative effects on the community,” the statement said. “On the contrary, it would take a decision by Mr. and Mrs. Obama to move the OPC site to the adjacent area near Washington Park.”

Asked about the legal hurdles, Obama said he was “absolutely confident” that the center would benefit the local community.

“The overwhelming majority of the community has not only agreed with this, but is extremely enthusiastic about it,” he told Roberts.

Presidential libraries are often located in affluent neighborhoods, but much of the south side of Chicago, home to a predominantly black community, is in an underserved and economically disadvantaged area of ​​the city.

The Obama Presidential Center, which will honor the legacy of the first black president, will include a library, museum, gardens and a children’s playground. Organizers say he will seek to bring investment and jobs to the community.

“The Obama Presidential Center will connect the economy of the South Side of Chicago with the rest of the city, creating new jobs and opportunities. It will breathe new life into a park long protected and loved, but underexploited. And that will maintain our commitment to this vibrant community, ”according to the Obama Foundation, which funds the project.

Obama was born in Hawaii but spent much of his formative years on the South Side of Chicago. It was there that he worked as a community organizer and was first elected to public office. The former president decided in 2016 that the South Side, where former first lady Michelle Obama also grew up, would house his presidential library.

“The kid growing up across the street, down the block or a few miles away, now suddenly has a place where concerts, speeches, debates and forums are held that they can access. Obama said.

“If they want to make changes in their neighborhood, they have resources and people who can teach them how to do it effectively. And they’re going to be able to see themselves as part of that change in a way that so often they don’t feel right now.

The Obamas, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Governor JB Pritzker are scheduled to attend Tuesday’s inauguration.

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