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Editorial: Hard to argue with Jackson Park for Obama library

Jackson Park is the site of the proposed Obama Presidential Center. / Associated Press

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Jackson Park it is.

While many Chicagoans, ourselves included, urged Barack and Michelle Obama to go bold and choose Washington Park for the Obama Presidential Center, where we believe it could have done much to transform a truly hard-up neighborhood, it’s easy to see why they have chosen Jackson Park — and hard to argue with.

The presidential library and museum still will be in Chicago, still on the South Side, still in an impoverished neighborhood that could use the boost, and still within a walk or bus ride for the generations of kids who stand to be inspired by the story it will tell.


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As first reported Wednesday by columnist Mike Sneed, the Obamas apparently have settled on Jackson Park, with its lovely lagoon and shade trees. A formal announcement is expected next week. That would put the library on the east edge of the campus of the University of Chicago, close to the Museum of Science and Industry and Lake Shore Drive and a short hop from two Metra stations — all good news for tourism and scholarly collaborations.

That also would put the presidential center in Woodlawn, a gentrifying neighborhood still beset by poverty, and across the street from Hyde Park Academy High School. Talk about a fantastic resource for public school.

In the end, we suppose, locating the presidential center in Washington Park simply asked too much of the Obamas. They clearly wanted to go to the community-building edge in their choice of location — this will be the first presidential center not comfortably nested in a city center — without going over the edge. A presidential center in Washington Park would have been an economic boon to a much more economically depressed neighborhood, but it would have been further from the university and the Museum of Science and Industry. It would have been served well by the Green Line of the L, but not as well by Metra or expressways.

As anybody at the chronically under-visited Lincoln Library in Springfield can tell you, location matters.

What matters now is execution. Let’s build the best presidential center in the country, one that tells the Obama story with verve and creativity, but also straight and true. Most presidential libraries, especially while the ex-president in question is still alive, pull their punches. It is an almost inevitable bias, given who writes the checks. Private foundations, run by a president’s loyalists, raise most of the money. But it doesn’t have to be.

Tell the whole story, while making plenty of room, of course, for Michelle Obama’s perfect speech on Monday at the Democratic National Convention.

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