Whenever an American president leaves office, they usually get an honorary library built and named after them. But not Obama. He’s sorting out his own legacy.
Some of the recent presidential libraries are major tourist attractions in their own right. Like the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, which famously has an aeroplane hangar built into it, in order to display the original plane used as Air Force One during Reagan’s administration. Or the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, where you can see Bill Clinton’s old presidential limousine on display.
Given the potential economic boon that these centres create by drawing in tourists, a big question whenever a president leaves office is where their centre will be built. It’s usually somewhere that has significance to that President’s life story. Reagan’s is in California; Clinton’s is in Arkansas, and George W. Bush’s is in Texas.
So where will President Obama’s be? More than any other president, Obama has a wide variety of locations that could work, having grown up living in many different places, including Hawaii (and Indonesia!).
But when you look at Barack’s career, only one location really makes sense: Chicago. And that’s exactly where the new centre will be.
More specifically, Obama’s centre will be in the South Side of Chicago, which has famously been plagued by gun violence in recent years. The idea is that the centre will create jobs for the people of Chicago’s troubled South Side, the area where Obama famously got his political career started as a grassroots community organiser.
So would you go out of your way to visit Obama’s centre if you’re passing through Chicago? It looks like it might be pretty nice:
Another thing that’s interesting about the project: as a sign of changing times, the Obama Center will downplay the library portion of the complex, which used to be the main focus of presidential centres. Instead, the centrepiece will be an impressively large tower, which has been a source of controversy in Chicago, with some commentators referring to it derisively as “Obamaland”.
So will it be a fun place to visit, or will it be an overblown eyesore? We’ll have to wait and see. But whatever you think of Obama’s legacy, one thing is for sure: he did things with style. And we can probably expect his Presidential Center to do the same.