I really appreciate John Hubbuch's perspective and often find important insights in his columns. This past week was no exception [Crime forces hard choices, Viewpoints, July 13]. He wrote of the public safety challenges faced periodically by individual Oak Park residents, and of the interplay between perception and reality regarding public safety here in our community.
He also wrote thoughtfully about the housing-location choice facing his son Chris' family. Chris, his wife Sarah, and their two daughters, Lily and Ava, currently live in Oak Park, but are considering purchasing a home in Western Springs. In discussions surrounding this possibility, Chris shared with John that one of his considerations is "the safety and security of his family."
As a father who also has two young girls, I fully understand Chris' commitment to his family's safety and well-being. My wife and I long ago made the decision to plant our roots deep in Oak Park, and to raise any children we might have here in this village. This was not a casual decision, but rather a very deliberate and conscious one, made well before we ever had any notion that I would become involved in village governance.
Beth and I both believe that Oak Park continues to make a very strong case as being the optimal place in the entire country, much less in the metropolitan area, to raise children (to say nothing of what a fabulous place it is for people of all ages without kids). I hope that in sharing some of our thoughts, John, Chris, and others similarly situated, may have a few other things to think about when considering whether to make Oak Park home.
I was born here and so, like Chris, I had a strong a connection to Oak Park from a very early age. On its own, though, that wouldn't have been enough to cause us to return. In looking at where to live, public and personal safety would be high on anyone's list. For those facing this decision today, a number of factors are worth bearing in mind.
First, Oak Park is safer today than it has been at any time in the last 40 years, with the lowest amount of serious crimes committed in the past four decades (down over 30 percent in just the past six years alone). Further, Oak Park continues to have the highest proportion of police officers to residents of almost any city in the state, and, correspondingly, also has among the fastest response times of any comparable community across the country (according to a recent study conducted by the International City/County Manager's Association).
That's not to say that we don't face challenges here. We do, particularly with the far too frequent and easily preventable thefts of unlocked bikes and unlocked cars parked in unlocked or open garages.
Nonetheless, too many of us nurture fears for our children regarding the unknown and the uncontrollable, worrying about the possibility of drive-by shootings or child abductions — even though the prospect of these affecting our kids here in Oak Park is almost infinitesimal. But, hidden behind the threats that occupy too many parents private fears (stoked in large part by the insatiable 24/7 news cycle's morbid fascination with tragedy), are real tangible concerns and threats that face our kids today, and will continue to confront them in the future.
More than 40 percent of American children are at significant risk of growing up overweight or obese, with the prospect of lifelong health challenges and the likelihood of being the first generation in centuries not to outlive their parents. We can confront this by living intentionally in ways that promote healthy eating and a more active lifestyle, and by choosing to live in walkable, pedestrian and bike friendly places that present significant opportunity to incorporate motion into our daily routines. By its very design and physical layout, Oak Park encourages this better than almost anywhere (and certainly far better than the typical auto-dominated subcultures that proliferate in modern suburbia) with our network of walkable neighborhood schools and retail districts, our easy access to many modes of public transportation, and our numerous sources of healthy foods.
In this rapidly globalizing economy, another profound threat to our kids is homogeneity. Children growing up only with other people like themselves, never learning to work with others who may be different, will be at a significant disadvantage in the marketplace versus those who have a broader experience set. Oak Park kids, raised in what is statistically the most successfully diverse municipality in the entire United States (based on dissimilarity index analysis), will have learned to function and succeed in a village that increasingly looks more and more like the world around it.
Finally, another profound threat to the social and emotional well-being of children today (though perhaps not much more so than has been the case for the past several generations) is the overemphasis on the self. "Me, me, me" doesn't seem to be a very successful model for turning out well-adjusted adults. Fortunately, here in Oak Park we have an embarrassment of riches in the breadth and depth of our volunteer community. The number of service and civic organizations, and the incredible number of people who volunteer their time to these organizations (including many kids), serve as a guidepost to the youth of our community regarding the need for each of us to move beyond our own concerns, and to serve others in a selfless way.
As Beth and I were making our location decision many years ago, these were the things that we were thinking about. Physical health, diversity and selflessness. These were, and we believe continue to be, real keys in helping kids to grow into healthy adults. And, on each of these fronts, I would put Oak Park up against anywhere. I hope Chris does too.
David Pope has been the village president of Oak Park since 2005.
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