Proving that architectural narcissism isn’t a quality limited to the outgoing forty-fifth president, Barack Obama is currently attempting to erect a hideous 235-foot tower, a monument to himself and his presidency, in a park in Chicago, over the objections of community groups. Local organizations fighting the project recently suffered a defeat at the hands of a federal review, which concluded in Obama’s favor. But according to the Wall Street Journal, a key ally in the approval process last summer was then judge Amy Coney Barrett, who has since, of course, become Trump’s latest addition to the Supreme Court.
Obama’s papers will live elsewhere; this $500 million project is not a presidential library but a museum celebrating the former president, overseen by the Obama Foundation, whose board is made up of a distasteful gang of financiers, with private equity well represented. As Wall Street Journal opinion writer James Freeman sardonically noted last week, Obama is impinging on “treasured green space to realize his vision of a self-tribute in stone and glass.” The groups fighting the project argue that it will wreak environmental damage on Jackson Park. They argue that the project will destroy much of the natural life in the park, including four hundred trees. They also say the tower will interfere with needed sunlight during the day, cause light pollution at night, and interfere with bird migration (the park is apparently a well-known route for birds).
The community activists also fear that the project will lure a large number of tourists and car traffic, disrupting what is currently a relatively calm and natural retreat. They also find the design of the project garish and vulgar, at odds with the aesthetics of the Frederick Law Olmsted–designed park, a historic 1893 World’s Fair site which was restored back to naturalistic parkland after the fair. The activists have presented alternative designs and traffic plans, but the Obama Foundation has ignored them — as arrogant multimillionaires tend to do when faced with suggestions from the little people.
In August, Amy Coney Barrett, then a Trump-appointed judge for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, struck a blow for her ruling class comrades, issuing an opinion that has been crucial in Obama’s fight against the community activists. She ruled that the coalition bringing the suit against the Obama project, Protect Our Parks, lacked standing to argue that the project would damage Jackson Park, because they could not argue that it would cause damage to themselves. In an extremely right-wing reading of the concept of “standing” which alarmingly eviscerates the idea of the public interest, she wrote, “The plaintiffs can’t repackage an injury to the park as an injury to themselves.” She even specifically rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that they had standing to fight for the park as taxpayers.
As the Wall Street Journal’s Freeman observes — in a piece bitingly headlined, “Obama Wins Another Round Against Community Organizers” — Obama owes Trump “a debt of thanks.” Let’s hope he sent nice Christmas cards to Trump and Barrett this year. Anything less would only be petty partisanship.