Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Historic Preservation and Presidential Libraries

As the nation begins to close the chapter on Obama's presidency there is an increasing amount of chatter regarding the location of his presidential library. I will, for the moment, put aside the discussion on the egotism involved in most of these institutions. Certainly there are items, memorabilia, correspondence, photos, film and video footage worthy of archival and preservation and there should, of course, be suitable housing for these. Presently however the main focus for the site of Obama's library is on an open green area of Chicago parkland. I would propose something different.

Chicago retains a reputation as one of the most important repositories of architecture in the United States. The wealth of historic buildings spanning the latter part of the 19th century through the 20th century is astounding. Unfortunately many of the structures are in danger of being lost due to lack of interest, financial constraints and neglect. Instead of taking parkland to build something new wouldn't it be a greater gift to the city Obama calls home to utilize one of these endangered sites? History would be housed in a historic setting. Many of the buildings are in areas struggling to achieve a stronger economic footing. With the library being located in one of these the gains to the surrounding area could be impressive. Support businesses, perhaps also housed in reinvented structures, would give the area an economic boost. Buildings having little historic value or too blighted to be rehabilitated could be razed to create parkland near the library giving even more to these neighborhoods.

Chicago needs to treasure what it has been able to retain. Having traveled to other less preservationist minded American cities I personally treasure what we have here. I suggest that we reuse/recycle instead of taking open space if the library is to be located here. 

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