On Wednesday, Barack and Michelle Obama presented the plans for their next project to 300 political and community leaders.
The project? The Obama Center, a museum and library complex that will boast a restaurant, a public garden, and a park complete with sledding hills and picnic areas.
The Globe and Mail published the following description:
The Obama Foundation will spend roughly $500 million (U.S.) building a three-part complex: a museum that appears to be about eight storeys tall, along with a single-storey “forum” and single-storey library.
While many former presidents have built libraries and museums following their time in office, President Obama's library, to be located in Chicago's South Side, in particular will break new ground.
The Chicago Tribune reported:
“It's not just a building. It's not just a park. Hopefully it's a hub where all of us can see a brighter future for the South Side,” he told an audience of about 300 political and community leaders at the South Shore Cultural Center.
It will also become, the Obama Foundation said, the first completely digital presidential library, with no paper records stored on site.
Along with the new, all-digital library, the former president explained how he wanted the center to be “a hub where all of us can see a brighter future for the South Side”:
The Obamas want the center to be a living thing, not a building that “kids are being dragged to for a field trip,” the former president said.
He said there is a tendency to see presidential libraries as “a monument to the past, a little bit of ego-tripping.” Instead, he wants a building that “looked forward, not backward, and would provide a place to train future leaders to make a change in their communities, countries and the world.”
One major hurdle in the process is the fact that the plans require the closure of seven blocks of Cornell Drive — a move that would affect the daily commutes of thousands of people — in order to make sure that sledding hills don't run into high traffic areas:
“You can't have little kids playing right next to the road,” he said. “You can't have sledding into the road.”
He said state and local officials had started doing traffic studies. “We are confident that we will not be adding to commute times,” he said. With minimum mitigation measures, he said, the closing would add one to three minutes to commutes.
Obama added that he doesn't want everyone to get so “fixated on traffic that we lose sight of what's possible.”
But if the final plans are approved, the Obama Foundation said in a statement that the center would “strengthen the economic climate of the community by bringing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the South Side every year, creating new jobs and opportunities on the South Side, and revitalizing historic Jackson Park.”