Blame it on the expressway, Pope tells Democrats

Opinion: Columns

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Jim Bowman

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

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4 Freedom  

Posted: May 29th, 2013 12:12 AM

A "master plan" of high taxes that buys your diversity?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 28th, 2013 10:45 PM

C-D -- I remember when I was about six years old (in Brooklyn) and we got the family car. Trips outside our neighborhood were a nightmare. There was congestion all over. We used to visit our cousins who lived in the suburbs and the trips were a nightmare. The highway would be so slow that cars were overheating. In the summer, one out of every three cars were on the side of the road with hoods open and steam arising That was when slow became full stop. A fast trip was an hour (middle of the night), rush hour was two hours, weekend 3 hours. Distance ?" 17 miles! Once the fed started putting in highways around 1955-56, the trips became a breeze.


Posted: May 28th, 2013 10:08 PM

It is great when David Pope can site "facts" that are not supported or documented. It is much like his imaginary project manager friend that he met at a conference that said the Lake and Forest garage was well past its expected life. According to Brown University, Vallejo-Fairfield, CA is the most racially diverse municipality in the United States, not Oak Park ( I wonder what imaginary fact Pope will cite next?


Posted: May 22nd, 2013 11:46 AM

You are correct JBM, but the highways and interstates sure helped with the other items that you listed.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 22nd, 2013 10:34 AM

C Don - The Baby Boom, FHA Loans for WWII Veterans, and the easy availability of cars, and low cost suburban homes caused urban sprawl. Highways were the solution for getting people to the "New World." The sprawl preceded federally funded highways.

Tired of Taxes from Oak Park   

Posted: May 22nd, 2013 10:22 AM

Mr. Pope is also forgetting the population surge that accompanied the post war period (ie. baby boom). The population of the suburbs is greater than the City today. Better schools, safer neighborhoods and political diversity no doubt helped as well.  

Posted: May 22nd, 2013 9:56 AM

They definitely need to widen the Ike. There are simply too many cars trying to squeeze into a 3 lane highway. The other issue is the left side entry ramps as well. You can't have idiot drivers yapping on cell phones while merging into the fast lane at 40-50mph and not have it affect traffic flow. Extending the blue line will do nothing to alleviate traffic.


Posted: May 22nd, 2013 8:46 AM

David Pope is correct in stating that the expressways built starting in the 1950's did cause urban sprawl. But, you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. But, as to David's concern about the transportation needs of the Austin community and the lack of benefits they will derive from a widened IKE, what is he or the Village doing to assist Austin residents by having the CTA reopen long closed Blue-line stops, like Central and Kostner?

joe from south oak park  

Posted: May 22nd, 2013 3:45 AM

So highways are responsible for the `white flight` of the 60`s. Folks here are incorrectly blaming the vehicle and not the person. Whites left the austin neighborhood in the 60`s because they didn't want to live in an integrated neighborhood. This was likely influenced more by historical ideas about race among many whites, the race riots in Chicago and the fear of declining home values. Chicago and Oak Park would not be what they are today without I-290 and the railway.

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