At what point does a village turn into a city?

Opinion

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THOMAS BARNARD, One View

My snide brother calls it "The People's Republic of Oak Park," which is overstating the case, but I'm not sure it's a village anymore. With the loss of the open parking lot at Marion and Ontario, I think we lose village status. When the principal means of parking in the downtown area is high-rise parking I think you lose village status.

I was not happy about the Whiteco project. I wasn't happy that our local government gave developers so much in the way of incentives. If it isn't economic on the face of it, why build it? On the other hand, that particular tract of land is dead, and maybe some development would help. Certainly I would be against anything over four stories.

We are overwhelmed by trends. It wasn't so long ago that Lake Street was blocked off and part of a mall. So was Marion Street, which is the remaining leg of that mall, but this is soon to go too. Well, maybe the mall was a bad idea. A lot of taxpayer money down the drain. I've seen a lot of that, too. But one thing about creating a mall: it is not so expensive to tear it out and put in pavement. But you put up a 7-story structure, and you're finished.

You can't blame the developers. Like beavers, they will build their dams. Sure, they are greedy money-grubbers. You can't expect much from them until later in life when sometimes they try to do some good, although this may have no connection with the harm they have already done. And sometimes they can do some good. There's a house going up in River Forest on Lathrop with a spectacular roof. And Taxman turned the moribund southwest corner of Harlem and Lake into a vital strip shopping plaza that isn't such a terrible eyesore, and he created lots of open parking!

But you can't expect too much. Oak Park Trust and Savings Bank was taken over by First National Bank of Chicago. Bad. We lose our local bank to a huge regional bank. Personally, I didn't mind First National Bank of Chicago. They built that sleek high-rise downtown that showed off our great city to its best. When they were taken over by the acquisitive Bank One, I was sad. First National was gone. Even if Bank One made Chicago their headquarters, we had lost a bank with Chicago in its name.

And you could never expect too much from Jamie Dimon. Cast off from Citibank, he had to make his way back to New York, even if it meant selling or merging our large regional bank to J.P. Morgan. You can't cut a figure in New York if you're in Chicago. Why should Jamie Dimon, looking out his window from a high rise in New York care about a lot behind one of their buildings in Oak Park, Ill? The zoning is in place. What do you suppose it got? A one liner. Presentation, and then: "Go ahead." As long as there is enough parking for the bank, why should he care?

Just a note about Lot 8, and this disclosure: I am a day and night permit holder. That lot must be the most used lot in the village. If I leave in the middle of the day, sometimes I am not able to park until night. I always have a feel for how the movies are doing at the Lake Theatre. If the movies are good, parking is impossible.

Yes, a developed lot will generate more revenue, but why should the village, which is a lousy manager of our money anyway, be given more money to throw away? Once in a while, they can do something for the people, and I mean they should have bought Lot 8?#34;for its citizens?#34;if they wanted to keep it a village.

I have heard so many stories like the one I heard last night. "My mother is 84 and parks in the Marion Street lot and walks to the Maple Tree. She'll never in a million years park in a structure. That'll be the end of that."

Parking structures would be helped if they got rid of the gates (and used meters instead) and made the lanes large and ample. But you can't expect too much from city planners, who are mostly planning their careers.

Retail has been surprisingly quiet about access to their stores. I'm surprised the theater hasn't said anything. I think a colossal error in judgment has been made by the village officials about access to downtown retail, and we poor slobs will suffer for it.

Certainly, there are large parts of Oak Park which still look like a village, but more and more it looks to me like downtown will increasingly be for the downtowners?#34;meaning for those who can walk three or four blocks to everything downtown.

For the rest of the village, downtown will have less and less relevance. And remember, cities are not composed entirely of built-up downtown areas. You can call it a village if you insist, but I'd call it city.

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