Calling it among the "places that reflect our national history and our national heritage," President Barack Obama returned to Chicago on Thursday to designate a historic neighborhood on the city's South Side a national monument.
Pullman Historic District, between 103rd and 115th streets, was founded by railroad car manufacturer, engineer and industrialist George Pullman in 1880. Pullman built the picturesque company town on 4,000 acres before it became home to porters, factory workers, managers and their families in a time where most laborers lived in very poor conditions.
"This site is at the heart of what would become America's labor movement and as a consequence at the heart of what would become America's middle class," said Obama.
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The land is near where Obama began his career nearby as a community organizer, and he said it meant a lot to him to be able to return as president to designate the monument.
"This is the area where I became a man," he said. "I learned so much about love and work and loyalty and friendship."
The National Park Service in 2013 determined that Pullman had unique historical significance worthy of park status. Its designation makes it Chicago's first National Park Service Unit, and residents hope the declaration will breathe new life into the historic community. Sen. Mark Kirk’s office said it could do just that, projecting more than $40 million in revenue from new tourism to come into the neighborhood each year.
The Pullman proclamation (.pdf) was among three the president made Thursday. Before leaving Washington, Obama signed one in the Oval Office designating the Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado. The Pullman designation and the designation of the Honouliuli Internment Camp in Hawaii were made at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy and bring to 16 the number of national monuments Obama has created under the 1906 Antiquities Act. That act grants presidents broad authority to protect historic or ecologically significant sites without congressional approval.
"Conservation is a truly American ideal," Obama said. "The naturalists and industrialists and politicians who dreamt up our system of public lands and waters did so in the hope that by keeping these places, these special places in trust, places of incomparable beauty, places where our history was written, then future generations would value those places the same way as we do."
But some Republicans have complained that Obama has abused his authority, and they renewed their complaints over the new designations, especially the Colorado site, the largest in size by far among the three new monuments.
Obama should "cut it out," said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. "He is not king. No more acting like King Barack."
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said he was outraged by what he called "a top-down, big-government land grab by the president that disenfranchises the concerned citizens in the Browns Canyon region" in central Colorado, about 140 miles southwest of Denver.
Outdoors and wildlife groups hailed the Browns Canyon designation, which they said would allow future generations to enjoy its spectacular landscapes, world-class whitewater rafting, hunting and fishing.
Obama's visit also included the launch of the "Every Kid in a Park" initiative to provide all fourth-grade students across the country and their families with free admission to national parks and other federal lands and waters for a year. The program begins with the 2015-2016 school year, marking the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service next year.
Obama was wheels down at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport just before 1 p.m. in advance of the designation of ceremony. Wearing a dark-colored overcoat, he quickly deplaned Air Force One upon landing in temperatures in the single digits. He saluted to cameras without gloves, as there were no greeters on the tarmac.
Concluding his two-hour Chicago visit with a stop at a South Side campaign office for Rahm Emanuel, who is running for re-election as Chicago's mayor, and another at his Hyde Park home, the president departed at 5:45 p.m. to head back to Washington.