By John Hubbuch
For the first time since integration efforts began in Oak Park in the late 1960s, Oak Park's black population decreased over the past 10 years, according to the 2010 U.S. census. Rob Breymaier, the executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, described the development as "an historic event." He's right.
I've lived in Oak Park since 1976, when my wife Marsha and I moved here. We were told by some that we were making a mistake because Oak Park was going ghetto, but we ignored these racist warnings and bought our first house here because houses were cheaper in Oak Park than most other places we were interested in. For the last 35 years we have been telling an Oak Park story. Our story is one of racial diversity, community involvement, Hemingway's home and Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. I'm sure my pride in a kind of Oak Park exceptionalism comes across loud and clear to the annoyance of some of my non-Oak Park friends.
The 2010 census is cause for reflection. I wonder whether the Oak Park story needs to be changed. Does it have any meaning to the young people who are moving and will be moving into town? Do these new residents read Hemingway? Do they care about the Wright architecture? Does diversity matter to them?
For some time I've thought that maybe we're not nearly as special as we think we are. Oak Park's current appeal is more about its schools, housing stock, restaurants, proximity to Chicago and awesome public transportation than old dead white guys like Frank and Ernie. Who really cares whether there are African-Americans running for the village board when our president is a black man?
Do we really want low-income residents living here?
Maybe it's time to write a new Oak Park story, one that looks forward and not backward; one that recognizes that, while history matters, so does the future. To be sure, that story will not be written by old guys like me. I love the old Oak Park story. I'll still tell everyone that I live in an uber-liberal, diverse community that has lots of Wright homes and is the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway, the Tarzan guy and Homer Simpson's voice.
It will be up to those younger than me to tell a new Oak Park story.
John Hubbuch, an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976, is a retired lawyer. Hubbuch served on the District 97 school board and coached youth sports. He is the father of three and grandfather of one. Read his blog at OakPark.com/community.
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