It’s been a busy few days for former President Barack Obama. On June 2, his team announced details of a new animated Netflix special designed to teach kids about government. And after years of delays and opposition, the Obama Presidential Center announced on June 4 that it is finally due to break ground and begin construction later this year.
Entertainment Weekly’s Joey Nolfi reported on Obama’s first project called We the People, writing that “Netflix has elected Barack and Michelle Obama to a new position of power at the head of their upcoming animated series.”
According to Nolfi, a 10-episode series is aimed at “educating children on United States civics lessons.”
In a format somewhat similar to Schoolhouse Rock, the new program will include three-minute music videos, enlisting musicians such as H.E.R., Adam Lambert, Hamilton‘s Daveed Diggs and Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Bebe Rexha, Andra Day, Janelle Monáe and poet Amanda Gorman, all performing original songs about government action or activity.
Netflix described the series as “an exuberant call to action for everyone to rethink civics as a living, breathing thing, and to reframe their understanding of what government and citizenship mean in a modern world.”
The series is set to premiere on the streaming service on July 4.
In an unrelated development, news also broke last week that construction of the Obama Presidential Center will officially begin this fall in Chicago, Illinois.
USA Today’s Grace Hauck reported that “after years of pushback by park preservationists and community groups concerned about displacement, the Obama Presidential Center is expected to break ground this fall.”
“Traditionally, I think presidential libraries can be a little backward-looking … kind of a mausoleum in the sense that not much is happening,” Obama said in a virtual event held with residents of the area to discuss planning and construction of the Center. “Our thought was, well, let’s create an institution that is alive and vibrant and is bringing people together.”
According to Hauck, “the $500-million Center, designed by architects Todd Williams and Billie Tsien, is expected to be located in Jackson Park on the city’s South Side. The Center is expected to consist of a museum, forum, public library, plaza, playground and pedestrian and bicycle paths. The Obama Foundation said it hopes the Center brings 700,000 people to the South Side every year.”
The site is said to be serendipitously located near the spot where Barack and Michelle Obama first met, settled down, and began to raise a family together. It’s also near the University of Chicago Law School, where Obama taught constitutional law and is part of the region he represented during his time in the Illinois Senate from 1997 until 2004.
Residents of the area tend to be predominantly low-income as well, a fact Obama highlighted during his announcement of the Center’s construction plans.
“Unfortunately, these are communities that have experienced extraordinary trouble and difficulty for decades. It’s one of the reasons I think the Obama Presidential Center can be a powerful engine,” Obama said. “It gives us an opportunity to locate [the Presidential Center] in a community and have a presence that signifies this is an important part of our city.”
Although planning for the Center has been ongoing since 2016, it’s been delayed by lengthy federal reviews because of its location in Jackson Park — a site included in the National Register of Historic Places. There have also been concerns that the Presidential Center will displace the lower-income residents it is actually attempting to serve, raising prices in the area and forcing them to move somewhere more affordable.
While Obama’s foundation has vowed not to let that happen and is helping to fund loan programs in the area to update affordable housing, critics still aren’t convinced the Center wouldn’t be better off in a different part of the city.
“This is a 150-year-old work of art, and it is regarded widely as one of the most magnificently landscaped parks in America,” said Tom Mitchell, a professor at the University of Chicago, who teaches a course on the history of landscape and is one of the plaintiffs in a suit attempting to force the Center to relocate. “It’s going to be a very, very ugly moment when the bulldozers arrive, and people see these century-old trees carted away.”
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