Almost perfect, leave Scoville be

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

What is Oak Park's most lovely and welcoming park? I'd say Scoville Park. It sits square in the middle of town, at the intersection of two major streets, Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue. It actually has topography, a small hill, not man-made for sledding. There is the World War I monument, Peace Triumphant, at the summit of the crest. As profound and meaningful, as handsome and well cared for as any war remembrance a small town can boast.

How about that library, shining down on Scoville Park, its glass and copper façade, always a stunner. I always look at the small plaques at the foot of the trees dedicated to those who have died. Better than a fancy gravestone.

And then, the result of a well-considered remake just five years ago, we have new concrete paths replacing worn asphalt in some places, rest stations (now that's a great euphemism!) that work and are unlocked for the first time in decades, tennis courts that are smooth, an updated playground, and a stage area near Lake Street that is both a focal point when the bands are playing and invisible otherwise.

Scoville Park looks perfect when the snow falls. It reports that spring is here when the tulips bloom. It is at its best when the high school kids take over after school and when the young families turn out on summer Sundays for the family concerts. 

With the closing of Grove Avenue creating a shared plaza with the library, and newly crafted, spacious entries at Lake and Oak Park and Oak Park and Ontario, this park is open and accessible. Much better lighting too.

Nothing is perfect. But some things cozy up to perfect and I'd say Scoville Park is right there.

Now five years after its "comprehensive renovation," says the park district, it is time to renew the master planning process to "focus on updating the existing site plan and identifying future improvements to Scoville Park."

How about, as an alternative, doing nothing to Scoville Park. For an open-ended number of years. Mow the grass. Replace the pea gravel around the monument. Keep the rest stations clean. Plant a tree when one dies a natural death.

Leave it alone. Use the money you would have spent and don't raise taxes for a couple of years.

There was a time, maybe 20 or 25 years ago, when the Park District of Oak Park was broke. The park board was so politically split that when one board member quit, the remaining four members couldn't settle on a replacement for more than a year. Nothing got upgraded. Things hardly got fixed. That was a bleak time for the park district. 

But new leaders and a new administrator arrived just in time. They spent time rebuilding trust. One of the ways they did it was to legitimately open up the planning process to interested citizens. I remember sitting in a planning meeting years back about the playground at Stevenson Park, my old neighborhood. My recollection is the debate was whether the new equipment should have train theme or a circus theme. And the park folks said to those gathered, "Go ahead. You pick it."

Very affirming, and who doesn't like trains?

But the heavy lifting of reclaiming parks that had been ignored for decades is long since done. Don't let the parks go to rack and ruin again. But give weary taxpayers a break and sit for a spell on one of the benches at the peak of Scoville Park and just watch the world go by.

Contact:
Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

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Marlene Russum Scott from Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 6:50 PM

Dan, I agree with you. Scoville Park is almost perfect, which is fine for now. Just it on the long range plan for a few years.

Dick McKinlay  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 9:11 PM

Well said, Marty Bracco! I would only add emphasis to the point that these public plan review meetings are the process by which the Park District adds substance to the values of public involvement and guidance in providing stewardship of our small but treasured park lands, and doing so in the most transparent way it can devise. Dan, I would suggest that you drop by one of the Park District's public plan review meetings (which all too few take the trouble to do) and voice your sentiments. I think, as Marty does, that you'll find them not only very welcome but, generally, widely shared.

Marty Bracco  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 6:24 PM

Dan, you make some excellent points here. Yes, Scoville Park is "almost perfect", and in all likelihood needs nothing of substance done to it. My sense is that you're jumping to conclusions just a bit as to the purpose of this meeting. I'm fairly certain that both the citizenry at large and the PDOP feel exactly as you and I do, that nothing major (or even minor) needs to be done. The point of a master plan, however, is to provide an ongoing framework for the community to maintain and, if necessary at some point well into the future, make adjustments to the park. This is the exact opposite of what had been going on in the park system decades ago, and what more recent boards (including those on which I served from 2005 to 2013) rectified after substantial community input and resources. It's always possible, even with a jewel as "perfect" as the current Scoville, that there is some element or idea (small or large) that comes from this process that can be put on paper to be looked at again in the future. Don't fret, Dan. I think the PDOP, in concert with us residents, has created enough trust that we can feel confident that this process is simply how we keep our jewel well polished!

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