When Charlotte Adelman was a student at the University of Chicago, the nearby parks became a refuge for her, a sprawling expanse of green where she could escape the concrete urban landscape.
It was then, many decades ago, that Adelman began her journey to becoming a fighter for environmental justice. Along the way, she has fought to preserve open spaces, ban pesticides in Wilmette and co-authored a book, “Prairie Directory of North America.”
Now, Adelman, 81, has set her sights on her biggest target yet — to block the Obama Presidential Center from being built in Jackson Park.
Adelman, along with her fellow advocates Maria Valencia, Jeremiah Jurevis and the advocacy group Protect Our Parks, have filed suit against the presidential center. They contend that the city and Park District do not have the authority to make public parkland available for the project. Jackson Park, they say, must remain untouched.
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“I’ve devoted years of my life to the environment. It’s very important to me, it’s not just an interest, but the motivation of my life,” she said. “Chicago, when it was established, had so much open prairie land. Much of that is gone. Our founders … they carved out space. I assume they thought there would be buildings, but I doubt they ever thought the city of Chicago would cover everything with buildings for miles.
“Our parks are the last remnants of open space.”
In filing their lawsuit, Adelman and her fellow plaintiffs have joined a long list of groups that have tried to influence the shape and scope of the project. Many activists, for example, pushed for the center to be built in an economically struggling area of the South Side, and some are holding out for guarantees that the half-billion-dollar project won’t disrupt the demographic makeup of the community or displace residents.