By Dan Haley
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.
Answer Book 2017
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