I attended a public hearing held last Wednesday evening by the Park District of Oak Park at Horace Mann School about the future of Lindberg Park. Even though the 2000 Census reported that there were more than 20,000 households and more than 50,000 residents in Oak Park, and in spite of efforts by the park district to publicize this event, there were only 14 others attending. Ted Wolff, who was hired by the park district to develop concepts for the park's future, began his presentation about the park, including its history and overview of its current state, problems with its current design, the process by which he will consult the park district's constituents, and the form his conclusions will take. A few others trickled in during his presentation, bringing attendance up to perhaps a couple dozen.
Some observations gleaned from the meeting:
Wolff has the perception that community interest and support for the wildflower gardens planted in 1998 has been waning over time, with the implication that their existence should be reconsidered.
There is an organized and aggressive lobby for exploiting Lindberg Park as much as possible for the hosting of soccer games. This lobby's stated singular goal is to maximize the number of games that are played at Lindberg Park. Toward this end, the lobby has made proposals that would radically change the nature of the park and thus its experience for all park users, including redevelopment of sections of the park in order to maximize space available for soccer and the installation of artificial lights and artificial turf. Someone affiliated with one of the soccer leagues discussed the lobby's past failure to gain community support for the installation of lights at Taylor Park, which, according to this person, would have alleviated the supply-demand imbalance that has developed in Oak Park for soccer field space.
Those who expressed concern with preserving — and in my case further enhancing — Lindberg Park's natural beauty appeared to be a tiny minority in a forum dominated by those who seek to exploit the park for soccer.
Two species of trees at the park are at risk for destruction by disease: elms and ashes, of which there are 15. There may be nothing that can be done for the elm trees, but the 15 ash trees can be inoculated. Wolff said of these trees that they "may not be long for this world." The ash trees would have excellent chances of surviving indefinitely if inoculated annually against the emerald ash borer. I know someone who pays about $400 to have one yard ash tree inoculated every year. At that rate, the cost to preserve the Lindberg Park ash trees would be around $7,500 per year. This possibility should at least be discussed.
A suggestion was made for returning basketball courts to Lindberg Park.
If you value Lindberg Park's natural beauty and green open space and desire that it be managed for the benefit of everyone rather than for a narrow special interest, it is in your interest and our collective interests that your opinions be expressed in this planning process. This can easily be done by attending the next hearing about Lindberg Park's future on Oct. 13 at Horace Mann School, and more simply by filling out the questionnaire currently available on the park district's website.
Adrian Marquez is an Oak Park resident.