The presentations at the Downtown Oak Park Steering Committee meeting Sept. 20 reaffirmed many of the reasons I chose to move to Oak Park over 10 years ago. There is no shortage of community interest in this village for our under-performing downtown area, and no shortage of creative schemes on how to fix it. Moreover, there is certainly no shortage of passion.
But what came as a surprise to me was the predominant leaning toward preservation and/or adaptive re-use of the Colt Building and the Westgate properties without any solid data on their feasibility for accommodating the mix of national and independent retailers that will make the "superblock" the magnet it ought to be.
Also surprising was the overwhelming "pedestrian-friendly" mantra pitched throughout the evening, unarguably a desirable component in any planning scheme?#34;especially for commuters during the morning and evening rush hours. Yet, the unspoken question throughout the presentations was how much would these predominant pedestrian-only pathways do to satisfy the contentions I often hear about DTOP?#34;contentions about the lack of parking, and about avoiding Lake Street and its three-block long stretch of choking traffic altogether?
If the ultimate goal is attracting the tourists already afoot, then let's carve out all those narrow hardscaped passages and do our best to squeeze into the narrow floor plates of the Colt Building and Westgate some sweet shops and T-shirt stores. After all, it works in a tourist town like Galena! Everybody strolls when they're on vacation.
But if the grand scheme of the superblock is to also address the everyday needs of those who live in Oak Park and our surrounding communities?#34;needs in the middle of the day, after-hours and on weekends?#34;then critical balances will need to be struck. Balance between development and preservation, between vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and ultimately between "make no small plans" dream schemes and pure bottom-line pragmatism. Hard choices will have to be made, compromise and creative collaboration will be a necessity, and the financial data must unimpeachably support the chosen path.