Robinson's Ribs and race relations

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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As soon as I saw Timothy Inklebarger's article, "Robinson's Ribs faces neighbors' ire over DJ nights" [News, Sept. 15], next to Michael Romain's article on "'America To Me' makes Oak Park debut," I knew the former would threaten to detract from the latter. That is unfortunate but this is the Oak Park we live in, and the reality of race relations must play itself out.

The Robinson family has been an Oak Park success story, and they have earned the respect and admiration of many as they raised their children and actively engaged in the civic culture of this village for over 30 years. That being said, the family business now finds itself immersed in a larger battle over the future direction of Madison Street. 

The Robinson's Ribs situation comes down to whether the new direction of the business fits its Madison Street neighbors' active attempts to have the village board and its economic development arm elevate the street's profile relative to Lake Street while also reducing the impact of late-night operations on their perceived quality of life. 

Yes, you can read lots of racial codes and NIMBY-isms into the previous statement, but I believe the piecemeal development of Madison Street has greatly contributed to such dynamics. This is not to say, however, that individual biases and a sense of entitlement haven't cut both ways.

Fine dining, upscale retailers and upscale housing have increased in the Avenue business district, downtown, and along Lake Street over the years. On the other hand, Madison Street has seen the highest concentrations of currency exchanges, national fast food chains, and late-night operators (some are fast food) set up shop over time. 

Now that our neighbors near Madison Street are asking for better consideration, there is the perception by some that race or racial profiling is the primary component behind the movement. Whether by design or not, the dynamics along Madison Street have been set up where race will be an unavoidable element in its future direction. It's not the only component in the mix.

With that in mind, can we talk about the Robinson's Ribs situation without all of that name-calling, stereotyping, and victimizations?

Like it or not, new developments will be built along Madison Street. Those new residents and retailers (who are paying a premium) will come with their own set of quality-of-life expectations. It is easy to see how the tensions in the Robinson's Ribs situation will only escalate. Something has to give. Either the new direction of Robinson's Ribs is a fit for an evolving Madison Street community or it's not.

It will be interesting to see how this version of "America To Me" plays out.

Ken Woods

Oak Park

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