Openlands’ Statement on the Obama Presidential Center and Tree Loss

Many people felt strongly that there should not be winners or losers as the Obamas decided to build the Presidential Center in Jackson or Washington Park. At Openlands, we shared that sentiment, and still believe that today. For Openlands, winning embraced 5 principles: Minimize building in the parks, replace parkland taken with equal acreage in the nearby community, provide convenient public access to transportation, maximize synergies with the community and cultural institutions, and restore and revitalize the entire South Park. Collectively, these principles empower a bold vision for the south parks that drives restoration and realizes the needs of our diverse population.

Since the Obama Presidential Center announcement, Openlands has advocated for a thoughtful, comprehensive, and inclusive approach to planning – how development will affect the surrounding neighborhood, transportation solutions with CTA and Metra improvements, and the comprehensive restoration of the 1000+ acres of trees, lagoons, and recreational facilities that make up the south park system of Jackson, Washington, the Midway Plaisance, and South Shore Cultural Center.

The proposed project, along with the significant reconfiguration of roads within Jackson Park, triggered a federal review process under the National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and other legal requirements. Importantly, the review process required public engagement and comment and seeks to surface alternative ideas that will avoid, minimize, and as a last resort, mitigate for impacts caused by the project. Openlands participated in every meeting and provided extensive comments, striving to get the agencies to see that reasonable alternatives to the proposed plans are viable. In the end, none of it mattered to the agencies and the projects were authorized essentially as originally proposed.

With development already beginning, many trees will be removed in the coming weeks. Openlands staff and leadership share the disappointment of tree advocates and TreeKeepers in the loss of this tree canopy. Currently, we are requesting that the Obama Foundation and Chicago Park District share their tree mitigation plan publicly if they have one. If they do not have a plan in place, Openlands is advocating they:

  1. Mitigate for tree loss by replacing removed trees with an inch-to-inch diameter replacement plan. For example, a 20-inch diameter tree removed would be replaced with 10 two-inch trees. These trees should be planted either on the site and/or to extend into the surrounding parkland and neighborhoods.
  2. Pay the dollar value per square inch cross section of trunk per tree removed (based on the International Society of Arboriculture’s Guide for Plant Appraisal, 8th or 10th Edition Model) to fund additional Chicago Park District tree planting and tree maintenance. This is a similar approach to that of the Forest Preserves of Cook County and the City of Chicago’s Bureau of Forestry.

We will continue to urge the Obama Foundation to value the ecological importance of trees and to avoid or minimize the impact of the Presidential Center’s development on existing trees.  We will further advocate that the Foundation mitigate for trees removed with the most up to date tools to evaluate and value those trees.

Photo Credit: Marc Monaghan, Hyde Park Herald


  1. Openlands had an opportunity to object to the OPC’s location, inside a public Park. Instead, you supported it. You speak of your principles, to protect the Park, but why did you ignore Washington Park? That is city land, not inside the Park – Vacant lots. Where is the make-up Park land? It doesn’t exist. The transit near Jackson Park is not as accessible as Washington Park – where there is a new Green line station, adjacent.
    Your protests about the loss of tree canopy are likewise short-sighted, and ignore the environmental impact these trees contribute: to seasonal migrations, to the urban heat island effect, to climate change. Too little, too late.

  2. This is a shameful statement by Openlands. This statement is definitely NOT protecting or ensuring ‘cleaner air and water, protect natural habitats and wildlife” as you claim.

    By this statement you are endorsing irreversible ecological damage to Jackson Park. The mitigation you propose is only for PR spin – yes now the OPC campus will have a 20 acre concrete foundation and will have the same experience as ‘natural’ commercial landscaping that we see at many of our local McDonald drivethrus or Costcos.. The OPC needs to be located on private property in the vicinity of Jackson Park or Washington Park – NOT in our public parks. Shame on Openlands.

  3. As an Independent public tree advocate I would like to recognize Openland’s for their conciliatory effort extending olive branch and I will spirit to work alongside Presidential library project and Park District as allies on behalf of all Chicagoans.

    Scott Carlini

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