By John Hubbuch
In defending the expenditure of the $2 million Scoville Park renovation, I feel a little bit like the lawyers who defended the Nazis at Nuremberg or John Wayne Gacy's defense counsel. But somebody has to do it. The cacophony of criticism comprises two charges — the $2 million price tag was much too high and a waste of taxpayers' money, and the park looks the same after the renovation as before.
At the outset, I would note that almost every expenditure of public money in this village elicits complaint from skinflints, misers and assorted cheapskates. I must remind them that while such carping is permitted under the First Amendment, it is pointless, and, even worse, boring. Oak Park is a liberal community. Liberal communities spend lots of money on worthy projects — laptops for school children, programs for the disadvantaged, pretty streetscapes and renovation of public grounds and buildings.
Regrettably, these projects cost lots of money and taxes are quite high to pay for them. Yet the voting majorities approved the referenda that increased those taxes. Thus it was. Thus it is. Thus it will be — until affluent young people stop moving to Oak Park and buying our homes.
The charge that the "new" Scoville looks like the "old" Scoville and therefore the makeover was aesthetically and structurally wasteful misses the mark. Think of a vintage Mustang or a piece of fancy furniture. Art museums are always spending lots of dough to spruce up great works of art like the Mona Lisa. Restoring the old and beautiful costs money, and Scoville Park is beautiful. Now the renovation could have included a pickleball court, a miniature golf course, a homeless shelter or a restaurant to increase revenue, but instead Scoville stayed the same.
Good. For Scoville Park and its adjacency to the library is the living breathing heart of Oak Park. It is Oak Park's front yard. It is the most diverse, inclusive space in a community that is defined by those values. The idea of Scoville Park is as important as the park itself. Young mothers groups meet on its lawns. Seniors sit on its benches. Adults play tennis. Toddlers play on the swings and in the sandbox. The community gathers for music and lawn games and to remember its veterans who paid the ultimate price for their country. The great sloping hill is peopled by citizens of every shape, color, gender and age.
The WWI monument renovation is spectacular. It could and should be a place, like London's Hyde Park Corner, where we meet to debate the public issues of the day. Just walking by Scoville Park is a reminder of why I live in Oak Park and will continue to do so despite the high property taxes. The descendants of Silas Marner who criticize the cost of the renovation forget the importance of this space to our community.
The money spent on the renovation and preservation of Scoville Park was a good thing for this community now and in the future.
Go take a look.