By Anna Lothson
Former Village President David Pope paved the way for Oak Park to be selected as the host city for a national mayors group, but that torch was passed to Village President Anan Abu-Taleb as the duo came together at a recent conference.
From Aug. 15-18, the former and current village leaders introduced more than 25 municipal leaders from around the country to Oak Park — this included everything from an education in Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway to Oak Park's accomplishments in Smart Grid technology, early childhood education and walkable urbanism.
This meeting is hosted by the Mayors Innovation Project, a national network of municipal leaders who meet to share their expertise on policy and governance. The group focuses on issues that are close to Oak Park's core, which include shared "prosperity, environmental sustainability, and efficient democratic government."
Pope, who has served on the steering committee for the group, said having Oak Park host the event was an accomplishment itself. Bringing mayors from around the country to Oak Park provided a venue to promote past, current and future projects going on in the village.
"The agenda focused on issues that are of significant importance to mayors all over the country and at the same time emphasize some of the areas Oak Park has made some important strides over the past several years and in some cases, over the past several decades," Pope said.
"There are cities and mayors who are doing really interesting things," he said. So it's always a great chance to learn from others and to be able to see what has worked in other places and things that haven't worked."
The event combined panel discussions about issues affecting urban communities across the country, but mixed in were historic tours and even a trip to the Oak Park Microbrew Review (not a coincidence) where mayors got to see Oak Park's remade Marion Street in full activity.
Pope said it was helpful to hear from towns that were both smaller and bigger than Oak Park and draw common elements to what issues each faces in urban America today. He also said it was beneficial to see the positive reactions from leaders about Oak Park.
As someone who is new to the municipal world, Abu-Taleb said the meeting was a very positive learning experience. He credited Pope for securing Oak Park as the host location and said it was the perfect time to showcase Oak Park. He felt it helped build Oak Park's connections.
"What I wanted to be sure during the [weekend] is see how we can reach out and see how [other towns] are doing things," Abu-Taleb said.
He also hopes meetings like this can spark new ideas of how to sell Oak Park.
Overall, Abu-Taleb felt the meeting showed that Oak Park is in the right position to be a leader if the village continues to work toward progress. He said the admiration for Oak Park was evident during the conference.
"I really enjoyed the amount of respect that these mayors had for David Pope and I really enjoyed his passion for the community and how he has reached out to these folks," Abu-Taleb said. "He's really put Oak Park on the map in many ways and he should be commended for that."