Greising: Will the Obama Presidential Center Do Right by the South Side?

As long as the Obama Foundation refuses to seek a community benefits agreement for the Obama Presidential Center, it will mar the project’s reputation and raise questions about its motives.

(Obama Foundation)

BGA President David Greising writes every other week for the Chicago Tribune Opinion section.

It’s striking that the groundbreaking for the Obama Presidential Center this week and the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire next week are butting together in history.

They both may be cases of something good coming from a wrenching experience. On a different scale than the fire and its devastating loss of life and property, perhaps the Obama Center can salvage its unsteady beginnings and build better from here.

There are other connections, too, that carry from the conflagration to the Obama Center construction.

After the fire came the rebuilding that led to Frederick Law Olmsted’s landscape design for the 1893 World’s Fair; then Daniel Burnham’s Plan for Chicago; the Great Migration of Blacks to the stock yards and steel mills; the blockbusting, poverty and urban rot that followed; the need for community organizers, such as Barack Obama, to fight the structural racism, and the return to Chicago of our 44th president, Obama, to plunge a shovel into Olmsted’s precious sod.

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