My husband and I have lived in Oak Park all of our lives, as did our parents and grandparents. In the 1930s when the population was over 60,000, my grandfather, Charles E. Gawne, served as a trustee, receiving more than 20,000 votes. Voter apathy today allows people to take office with only 2,000-plus votes. Sometimes, candidates have run unopposed. This is hard to believe in a community that considers itself well educated. Sadly, our country fights for democracy abroad but at home many seem to view government as something they have to endure rather than something that matters in their lives, will work for them, and make their lives easier if they participate.
In 1953 a needed political party started, the VMA. Of late, however, they have given us some unworthy public officials pushing through developments, ignoring public input, and creating crises in neighborhoods.
The current crisis: Thursday night, March 17, at a standing room only meeting at Farson Mills House, representatives from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois were invited by citizens to comment on the Crandall Arambula Plan for the renovation of downtown Oak Park, a plan costing the Village $250,000 and calling for the demolition of 22 buildings. Experts, some of whom live here, were asked if the village board, staff, or planners from Crandall Arambula had consulted them. Not only were preservation experts not consulted, a detailed letter from them asking to be included was ignored. This embarrassed and angered residents. One official commented on the apparent disconnect between what residents want for Oak Park and what elected officials are doing.
Monday night, March 21, the village board adopted the Crandall Arambula Plan. Only Trustee Robert Milstein dissented. Trustee Galen Gockel said, "This plan has not been properly vetted in the community." Gockel voted "yes" anyway.
A successful program of the National Trust is its Main Street U.S.A. Program, used in the revitalization of Madison Street in Forest Park. This would benefit our business districts. Royce Yeater, Midwest Director, explained Oak Park could be a destination shopping center. This happens when an area has unique shops, not national franchises people already have in their hometown. Subsidies are better spent going to local residents for individual businesses to achieve this goal he said.
The Landmarks Preservation Council named Westgate (5 properties scheduled for demolition) on the endangered list for Illinois. The street was modeled after Market Square in Lake Forest, would be cost prohibitive to recreate today and is a streetscape, preservationists agree, other communities would absolutely love to have.
The present board acted incompetently and arrogantly ignoring historic preservation experts in this downtown plan but their approach dates back to the twin 55-story towers proposed by VMA officials for Forest and Lake in the '60's. The New Leadership Party: Milstein for president; Baker, Brock and Marsey for trustee; and Patchak-Layman for clerk; support historic preservation included in any economic development plan and respectfully and actively seek citizen input in decision-making.