Amicus Briefs in Support of Protect Our Parks (POP)
Click on each title for a link to the original briefs
Brenda Nelms, Margaret Schmid, Jackson Park Watch
Ward Miller, Preservation Chicago
JPW/Preservation Chicago’s brief claims that museums should only be in existing buildings or footprints of buildings in order to be valid contributors to the public interest. They provide the historical background on each of the Musuems currently located on park land (the 11 Musuems in the Park), and claim that only the OPC would be constructed on previously undisturbed parkland. While the brief provides a thorough and interesting history of each museum site, it does not include reference to the Horticultural Building of the World’s Fair, which was located on the current proposed site of the OPC. Considering this fact, this argues against their case that the OPC would somehow different than the other museum buildings.
In the brief filed by the New York based, Charles Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, he claims that the OPC and its “reconfiguration of the park’s circulation system, would irrevocably and adversely affect the character-defining visual and spatial relationships expressed in Jackson Park’s historic design”. He further quotes from various sources, including the National Park Service’s Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, with Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes, as well as the City of Chicago’s 1999 South Lake Front Framework Plan to justify these claims. Closer evaluation of the sources that Birnbaum references in his brief (which are valuable and informative reads), also reveals quotes such as, “Olmsted often incorporated a site’s natural attributes into his designs, however, he considered the conditions of Chicago’s unimproved park site “extremely bleak.”…. The most “obvious defect of the site” was viewed as “that of its flatness”. The current site of the future OPC suffers from this flatness (indeed, part of it is a running track) as well as spartan in its landscaping, which, with the exception of the Woman’s Garden, is almost exclusively lawn-scape and trees. Further quotes found in Birnbaum’s references include, “In fact, the intent (of Olmsted) was to create a “beautiful park” that would retain “many of the features characteristic of the landscape design of the World’s Fair” and also provide “all of the recreative facilities which the modern park should include for refined and enlightened recreation and exercise”. These quotes shed important light on Olmsted’s vision for Jackson Park.
Birnbaum further references the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency in stating that, “as currently designed, [Jackson] park retains a great deal of its integrity. While some of the original features have been modified, or removed, the remaining defining characteristics such as the overall plan developed by Olmstead [sic], must be respected. These include, but are not limited to, the Golden Lady statue, the Osaka Garden, the current roadway configuration, the beach house and the configuration of the lagoons”. An additional statement in this document which was not included in the brief, stated, “We also support the re-introduction and/or enhancement of plantings using Olmsted’s 1896 plant list.”. The Obama Foundation has discussed their landscaping plans which will contour the site and incorporate such plantings, including recommendations for plantings that will better withstand the effects of climate change.
Also discussed in this brief is the closing of Cornell and its impact on Olmsted’s plan for Jackson Park. The roadway in Olmsted’s time was designed for the horse-drawn carriages and the at-the-time-new motorized vehicles, traveling at speeds not exceeding 10-15 MPH, that could reasonable be traversed by pedestrians. The brief does not acknowledge that the current state of Cornell, as a six-lane thoroughfare to connect I90 with Lakeshore Drive, differs significantly from this plan. The current plan for the OPC incorporates an environmentally friendly bike/pedestrian path that is consistent with the “roadway” configurations first presented in Olmsted’s plan.
Birnbaum ends his brief in questioning the significance of the OPC to the southside, asserting that presidential libraries are ““spin factories and event venues” that bow to the pressures of the private donors who help fund their construction”. Birnbaum also slights the inclusion of “a test kitchen, recording studio, basketball court, sledding hill, restaurant and other amenities” (such as a public library) as detracting from scholarly work. While critiquing the fact that the OPC will not house the physical presidential archive, he does not reference discussion in the Presidential Libraries’ brief on digitization of records.
Professor Richard Epstein’s brief, written in a surprisingly informal and political tone, has as its main premise that the transfer of land between the Park and City for leasing to the Obama Foundation deviates from the fiduciary responsibilities of the City “given the huge conflict of interest that arises from the close and enduring connections that former President has with key City officials”. He spends significant space on what the law ought to be as opposed to what it is. Several statements in his brief are factually incorrect, “the Obama Foundation- is being provided 19.3 acres of Jackson Park to essentially own and control, and in that process actually work to destroy that land and its uses”. As part of the public record, the OPC and its site will be owned by the city of Chicago and leased to the Foundation under terms stricter than those of the other Museums in the Parks (See Use Agreement). Prof. Epstein interprets that the OPC in Jackson Park will work to destroy the land and its uses, but is not clear on what “destruction” actually means.