Afterthoughts following a fine forum

Opinion: Columns

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By John Murtagh

Congratulation to the village board, the village and library staffs, the moderators, the questioner, the answerers, and everyone who filled the library's Veterans Room, Aug. 28. It was great seeing the renowned passion of Oak Park residents. It was a good night. Of course, an Oak Park meeting, much less forum, without some Monday morning quarterbacking is unheard of. Here are my four:

Demographic of the meeting

Senior citizens attended en masse and naturally got to dominate the conversation. That does not mean there were too many seniors or that the conversation they provided was irrelevant or inappropriate. The problem was not who was there but who wasn't. Missing were African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. That is 33% of the village population. Isn't it time to find out why?

Repairing our difference

Two men in their 20s attended and spoke at the forum. It was not surprising that the seniors disagreed with their viewpoints. What was a surprise was the snarky, rude and nasty retorts the young men received. The nastiness continued into the Wednesday Journal comments online. The core of the attack was that young residents (under 30, I guess) did not have enough knowledge and maturity to be so outspoken. The real issue was that they were unwilling to honor Oak Park's traditional ways, which, I think, is do not express your views until you're 40.

The canopy is disappearing

Forestry got a lot of attention at the forum, but only one person mentioned "The Canopy." Close your eyes and envision Oak Park without the trees that make up our canopy. That's pretty gruesome, right? Now consider the value of your house without the canopy. Portland, Ore., a city of 500,000 people did a study and found out the value of its trees (public and private land) was $1.1 billion. They also found that the trees have an annual benefit to the city of $25 million. The benefit comes in maintenance savings, environment rewards, energy use, increased housing value, and higher general fund revenue. Portland estimates that each tree there adds $8,800 per house in sale price. The canopy does not just mean enhanced quality of life. It is also an asset. The Portland trees are so important to the city that it is putting together a plan to provide tax credits to residents who plant trees. They are also considering the formation of a foundation to ensure the future of the canopy. Is it time for a study team to go to Portland?

The living wage tale

In 2010, the Oak Park Board of Trustees voted 4-3 against an Oak Park Living Wage Ordinance (LWO). The following day, President Pope stated, "The issue is dead." That made sense. Less than 100 of the 29,000 municipalities in the U.S. passed LWO's over a period of 20 years. Since the board vote, I have not been able to identify a single municipality that has approved an LWO. Governments, unions and public and private organizations have acknowledged that local living wage ordinances had minimal impact on the country's huge poverty dilemma. They have shifted their focus to increased minimum wages, education and training, and job creation. The problem with the new LWO's arrival (announced at forum) is that it comes at a time when the village is attempting to show developers and business people that Oak Park wants to make processes more flexible. LWO is unlikely to convince prospective partners that Oak Park is changing its ways.

As a village, we need progress not regression!

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