Madison Street used to have a purpose. It was to sell cars. Thousands of cars from a dozen dealerships, which lined the street from near Austin to just shy of Harlem Avenue. Those glory years stretched from the 1920s into the 1970s when dealerships decamped for much larger sites in more distant suburbs. Now just a few shadows of those decades of great success and greater revenues remain in shuttered or repurposed buildings along the street.
Since then — and 40 years is a lot of since then — Madison has stumbled and struggled with local government buildings taking up some space, some fast food franchises, a few condo projects filling gaping holes, and then just the gaping holes themselves, most of them owned now by the village government.
Now the Madison Street TIF is coming to the end and the village is eager to spend down the $4-6 million remaining. Having proven that just buying up parcels isn't a guarantee of renewal, the village is again turning to its stalwart streetscaping plan. This time the $100,000 consultant — there's always a $100,000 consultant — is rightly suggesting that part of the answer is to narrow the road, calm the traffic and see if pedestrians and cyclists and slower moving traffic can bring a new purpose to this long spine across Oak Park.
We don't disagree with the plan. We've just tired of throwing paving bricks and antique street lights at complex problems and waiting for the magic to happen.
Here's a thought: Elected officials met a week ago to talk about ways to consolidate local government functions in order to save tax dollars. Why not resurrect the notion of a government campus near Madison and Lombard where the village, parks and elementary schools could huddle together and share staff functions and some facilities?