Price points about economic diversity

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

In 1976, Marsha and I were looking to buy our first home. Being new to the area, we didn't know much about the Chicago-area real estate market. We looked around and eventually decided to buy a home at 544 S. Clarence in Oak Park. Our decision was based on several considerations, which included convenience and transportation to downtown Chicago as well as Oak Park's diversity. 

But probably the single most important factor, as it is for most homebuyers, was price. In 1976, Oak Park was a place where you could get a lot of house for not much money.

Twenty years later, things had changed. I would encourage the young attorneys in my law firm who were thinking about buying a first home to take a look at Oak Park. I was quite surprised the first time I was told that Oak Park's homes were too expensive.

Now the diminution of economic diversity is a worry for the village. That concern was reflected in the defense of the village's decision to pick the brown energy option for the village-endorsed electrical supply. The tiny savings was justified in part because high taxes, high property values and even high energy costs were driving the less affluent from the village and reducing our economic diversity. Similar concerns are raised every time there is a referendum, or when a senior has to sell his house and move to Westchester.

Now I understand the desire for an economically diverse community, and I do not support the pernicious, even racist, suggestion that village taxes are high just to keep out the riff-raff. But in some ways, isn't the loss of economic diversity the price a community pays for its success? Isn't an upward slope on the average price of a home a good thing? 

What's really wrong with an influx of upscale restaurants and shops? Very few communities take pride in the number of school children who receive free lunches. Adam Smith would argue that if demand exceeds supply, then price must go up. It is the way of the economic world. Some call it capitalism.

The issue of economic diversity is an illustration of the classic Oak Park dilemma. I'm guessing that neither the residents of Hinsdale nor Austin spend much time worrying about economic diversity. But we, like Goldilocks, don't want too much or too little diversity. We want it just right. 

The ongoing search for the right amount of diversity, including economic diversity, is one reason why Oak Park is such an interesting place to live.

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