It’s striking that the groundbreaking for the Obama Presidential Center this week and the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire next week are butting together in history.

They both may be cases of something good coming from a wrenching experience. On a different scale than the fire and its devastating loss of life and property, perhaps the Obama Center can salvage its unsteady beginnings and build better from here.

There are other connections, too, that carry from the conflagration to the Obama Center construction.

After the fire came the rebuilding that led to Frederick Law Olmsted’s landscape design for the 1893 World’s Fair; then Daniel Burnham’s Plan for Chicago; the Great Migration of Blacks to the stock yards and steel mills; the blockbusting, poverty and urban rot that followed; the need for community organizers, such as Barack Obama, to fight the structural racism, and the return to Chicago of our 44th president, Obama, to plunge a shovel into Olmsted’s precious sod.

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David Greising

David Greising is the president and chief executive of the Better Government Association, joining the BGA in 2018. For nearly a century, the BGA has fought for honest and effective government through investigative...