By John Hubbuch
In the 16 years I have been writing columns, the greatest reader response I ever received was to a couple of columns I wrote in the summer of 2011 about my oldest son's family's decision to move out of Oak Park. In those columns I discussed how race, crime, diversity, property taxes, income, schools, urbanity, tradition and personal preference all figure into the complicated decision of where a young family decides to live.
The reader response covered the spectrum from how could anyone live in such a high-tax, high-crime, white-guilt dystopia to how could anyone not live in an almost uniquely diverse utopia minutes from downtown Chicago.
I can now report that Chris, Sarah, Lily and Ava have moved to Glen Ellyn, a town of 27,000 located about 17 miles straight west of Oak Park out Roosevelt Road. Their decision involved a number of considerations. Their home is new construction with four bedrooms and a big yard on a quiet street. They simply could not buy a comparable house in Oak Park or River Forest for the same price. Taxes on the new Glen Ellyn house are considerable less than they would have been on a comparable home in Oak Park.
We babysat the girls this past week overnight because their parents both had out-of-town business trips. I must say Glen Ellyn was pretty nice. It was very quiet. Almost too quiet. Glen Ellyn is not in the O'Hare flight path, and there are no early-morning helicopters along the Eisenhower. At night you could actually see the stars. I heard more bullfrogs than sirens.
Oak Park is urban. Glen Ellyn is not. As you move west from Lincoln Park to Oak Park to Glen Ellyn to Naperville to Oswego, you travel the urban-to-rural spectrum. As you go west, the yards and houses get bigger for the price. It gets quieter. There is less crime. There is less homelessness. Less weird stuff happens. Public transportation is less adventuresome. Some people like it. But as you go from Oswego to Lincoln Park there are more and different restaurants, more diversity, more culture, more night life and a greater vibrancy, but also edginess to everything. Some people like it. Each family tries to find the right, habitable sweet-spot.
I initially struggled with a vague concern that Chris, who was born and raised in Oak Park, was somehow turning his back on the values of diversity and inclusivity by moving out of town. I came to realize that was stupid. Marsha and I moved to Oak Park in 1976 to have and raise family. We left our hometown in southern Indiana to live our lives and to make our choices. It worked out great for us, but it was wrong for me to expect my children to share in my nostalgia-tinged vision of the future. Everyone has to have a chance to write their own story and to live their own life. Where you live is not nearly as important as who you are.
My real issue was, in truth, pretty selfish. I wanted Chris to live in Oak Park so I would have someone with whom to watch the Bulls and Monday Night Football. Even more important, I was afraid I would see my granddaughters less. But no one feels sorry for an old guy whose son moves 17 miles away. I know friends whose children live in New Zealand, Los Angeles, Portland, Holland and Bozeman, Mont.
Even better: The bigger new house in Glen Ellyn has a guest bedroom. This just might turn out pretty good.