A middle road on development issues

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Give the new Oak Park village board the customary "D" for communications. They earned that for raising the blood pressure of every progressive development voice in town by letting stand a fast-growing rumor the board was serious about imposing a moratorium on all new projects in town. Give the progressive development types a demerit for buying into the rumor without checking.

The reality is much more positive. At a committee of the whole meeting last week, the board worked through a range of immediate options for crafting some thoughtful direction for development which fell far short of detonating the moratorium bomb.

Perhaps lessons were even learned. This new board rode to power on citizen anger over the past village board's inadequate vision of development. Now in power, the board may face a coalescing frustration in the business community over its worries about a development vision. If the board hears that worry, does not respond with defensiveness, then progress can be made.

And the pro-development forces in the business community, some of them aligned with the downtrodden VMA, ought to have come away from that meeting with a sense that this new board is not unreasonable, is fairly creative and is not nearly so anti-development as they have been painted. As has been the case in Oak Park for some years now, what divides us is minor compared to the decibel level we argue about it at.

That said, it is well past time for the Oak Park village board, elected on a platform of openness and transparency, to come clean on its intentions over the Whiteco development project. A contract, perhaps imperfect, is in place. Honor the contract. Build the parking garage. On to the next thing.

 

Remembering Phil Hickman

Phil Hickman was "one of those people who made Oak Park come alive," said former Oak Park Village President Jim McClure on Monday when we called for his reaction to Hickman's passing.

Oak Park in the early 1970s was a remarkable place with an outstanding challenge and opportunity. It was the chance to create a racially integrated suburb. In the afterglow of our success to date, it all seems obvious. In that moment, though, it was one radical idea after another thrown into the breach.

Phil Hickman's breach, as executive director of the Oak Park Residence Corporation, was Oak Park's enormous collection of aging apartment buildings. They were not aging gracefully, most hadn't been updated since their construction in the 1920s. And urban history said that apartments would re-segregate first and that slumlords would never spend another nickel to improve them.

A bold leader?#34;OK, sometimes a tad arrogant?#34;Hickman reinvigorated the dormant Residence Corporation which led the way in strategically buying troubled buildings, fixing them, and integrating them. He went on to have a successful career in housing in Chicago.

But in that moment in time, Phil Hickman, and perhaps a dozen others, invented the Oak Park we live in today.

 

Brooks worms way to success

High school and elementary school students are often lectured about the importance of education. Such discussions are best underscored when they can see and experience just how important education can be in their lives. That approach has been brought to life at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School. The school's vermicomposting program, which uses worms to recycle discarded food into usable fertilizer, is giving its students that "hands-on" learning opportunity.

The students may never see how that balled up piece of paper or smashed up aluminum soda can is returned to its natural form. But here they can see how all of their work will help preserve the environment.

 

Correction

In an editorial last week ("One superintendent. One principal." Oct. 5, 2005) the wording of one sentence may have suggested to some readers that Supt./Principal Susan Bridge had come to the conclusion that a combined superintendent/principal position was unworkable. Our intention was not to state it as her opinion but rather to wonder if after six years in the post she might have come to that conclusion. Our wording was clumsy and we apologize for the confusion.

To assure clarity this week, we asked Dr. Bridge to summarize her view. It follows:

"I do not regret having asked the board of education in 1999 to support an administrative structure that kept the positions of superintendent and principal combined while providing for the creation of an office of curriculum and instruction. In my mind, this combined role was essential for the effective, efficient management of a one-building, one-school district like ours, serving communities that expect professional and personal accountability from the person 'at the top.'

"As our board now revisits this issue, I would only recommend that a good deal of time and deliberation go into clarifying what problems are to be solved through a potential separation of these roles followed by a clear delineation of separate sets of responsibilities for each position that will answer these problems and result in our school community's being better served"

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