At the weekly meeting of the Democratic Party of Oak Park on May 11, state Sen. Don Harmon introduced David Pope, immediate past and two-term Oak Park village president, as "the first president to look outside village borders" for problems to be solved.
As if to verify this allegation of extra-village focus, Pope attacked expressway construction as facilitating urban sprawl and permitting people to "flee the problems of the city." Indeed, he said, in recent discussions about extending the Eisenhower Expressway, he has found Illinois Department of Transportation officials intent entirely on highway construction, as if "to make it easy for wealthy people in DuPage [County] to get back and forth to the city."
Trouble is, he said, "38% of the people living in Austin have no car" and thus cannot profit from such construction.
From such concerns and the expressways they led to came the rise of Oak Brook and subsequent "dramatic" bad consequences for Austin and Oak Park — the latter in terms of economic impact — he said, adding that he had made this point recently with the Congressional Black Caucus.
In all this he referenced Environmental Protection Agency sources and the "2040 Metro Plan" for the Chicago area, apparently referring to something called "GO TO 2040," which its website describes as a "comprehensive regional plan to help the seven counties and 284 communities plan together for sustainable prosperity through mid-century and beyond."
Austin in 1960 had "no African Americans," he said, pointing to a chart, but in 1970 had almost no whites, calling this change "racism in a chart." On this racism, he said, "we [white Americans] overlaid economic discrimination."
Racial change occurred in Austin "because we built all those highways," Pope said. "We have facilitated the sprawling of America, wasting transportation dollars" on expressways, that is (without saying it) not spending it on mass transit.
As for himself, "I don't want to live with people who all look like me," said Pope, adding that, having been adopted as an infant, he considered himself almost entirely "a product of nurture," as opposed to "nature" and finds himself convinced of nurture as the more important.
As for Austin, with its high crime and low educational achievement rates, he said he is convinced that Austin children, possessed of "the same capability" as Oak Park children, would do as well as the latter if they had the same nurturing experience.
Oak Park worked to prevent this situation within its boundaries from 1970 to 2005, and succeeded, being recently named (by whom he did not say) the nation's most racially integrated municipality — "the most diverse statistically" but also, he said, the most internally desegregated.
Much of what Oak Park did was "internal," he said, naming a series of programs including equity assurance for homeowners. Then he and "Don" [Harmon] and "Deb" [29th Ward Alderman Deborah Graham, then a state representative for part of Oak Park, who also addressed the group], began to think of Oak Park "not as an island," but as part of a "master plan" for the area.
Jim Bowman's blog can be found at oakparknewspapers.com.