For­get it, Jake, it’s Chicago

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - BY JOHN VUKMIROVICH John Vukmirovich is a Chicago- area writer, re­searcher and book re­viewer.

Start­ing a few years back, I be­gan to add a quote from a book or film to my email sig­na­ture, es­pe­cially if the quote had a touch of irony to it, or wry hu­mor, or was just some­thing I felt deeply about. A bit kitschy, yes, but I get a kick out of it.

Lately, it’s been the very last line spo­ken in “Chi­na­town,” the 1974 film: “For­get it, Jake, it’s Chi­na­town.”

If you haven’t seen the film, Jack Ni­chol­son plays a pri­vate de­tec­tive in 1930s Los An­ge­les who at­tempts to un­ravel a con­spir­acy in­volv­ing land and wa­ter rights. Ni­chol­son’s char­ac­ter was once a cop in Chi­na­town, and in the film, that sec­tion of Los An­ge­les be­comes a touch­stone of cor­rup­tion, but of a cor­rup­tion that noth­ing can be done about. And if one tries to do some­thing, one of­ten causes more harm than good. In short, just shrug, sigh or snort, and leave it be.

Af­ter not hav­ing seen “Chi­na­town” in decades, I was re­dis­cov­er­ing the film in its DVD re­lease back in July. As I was watch­ing it, I started to get an eerie feel­ing, some­thing that I quite couldn’t put my fin­ger on. When one of Ni­chol­son’s part­ners ut­ters that last line, “For­get it, Jake, it’s Chi­na­town,” I heard a dis­tant gong in the back of my head. Sa­tori.

For the past year or so, I have been fret­ting over the place­ment of the Obama Pres­i­den­tial Cen­ter in Jack­son Park, and what that might mean for the tax­pay­ers, re­gard­ing not only the “add- ons” that have been made public, but also re­gard­ing the fun­da­men­tal is­sue at the heart of that project: the turn­ing over of a con­sid­er­able sec­tion of public land to the con­trol of a pri­vate con­cern. ( And then there’s the fate of Wooded Is­land.)

It was as if the char­ac­ter in the film, through some warp­ing of time, space and im­agery, had turned to look at me in­stead, but what he said was, “For­get it, John, it’s Chicago.”

Sadly, that’s how I have come to view the whole sit­u­a­tion with the Obama Cen­ter ( or as Lynn Sweet of the Sun- Times termed it a few months back, Oba­ma­land). It’s a done deal and has been for some time ( per­haps even while the so- called com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the other po­ten­tial sites was go­ing on?), and the now- ris­ing de­mand for in­for­ma­tion on the part of com­mu­nity groups and the Sun- Times is just a lot of shrug­ging, sigh­ing and snort­ing.

As for the more re­cent news about the Obama Foun­da­tion of­fer­ing to pay for the build­ing of an above­ground park­ing garage on city land on Mid­way Plai­sance, will the Foun­da­tion pay the city for that land, and if so, at what price? Or, is this an­other ex­am­ple of a public land give­away, and are more such give­aways on the hori­zon?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was more than happy to hand over all that land to Obama and his Foun­da­tion, per­haps with the hope that this would bol­ster his po­si­tion in the African- Amer­i­can com­mu­nity, but I don’t think that has hap­pened, or will.

I also have doubts that the project will gen­er­ate the kind and amount of eco­nomic devel­op­ment that many claim it will. Too many peo­ple, from the out­set, have talked about the eco­nomic ben­e­fits to come as if they were al­ready here, as if the whole project had sprung forth, fully formed, from the fore­head of Zeus, and that the ben­e­fits were there to be seen! Hopes are not prom­ises, and prom­ises of­ten don’t ma­te­ri­al­ize.

Yes, I know that’s cyn­i­cal, but then I was born and raised in the 10th Ward.

It’s all a done deal, and one that re­ally stinks, although re­cently, it also has been the source of un­in­tended hu­mor. The Foun­da­tion call­ing a roof- top gar­den on the pro­posed park­ing garage “park land” was a real hoot!

If any­one out there thinks that they can alter this seem­ingly un­stop­pable project, or place the city and the Foun­da­tion in a po­si­tion to an­swer any and all ques­tions, all I can say is, “For­get it, folks, it’s Chicago.”

Aerial view of Jack­son Park, site of the fu­ture Obama Pres­i­den­tial Cen­ter li­brary. | LEE HO­GAN/ SUN- TIMES LI­BRARY

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