If you’ve made it this far into the paper, you’re probably aware we’ve got a Top 10 theme working this week. So I figured I’d better follow suit. I’m enough of a “townie” by now to be incapable of limiting the list to 10, but as long as you understand this isn’t comprehensive, here’s my Top 10 (as of today-ask me next week, and it might change).

1) Diversity

Duh. That pretty much tops every DOOPer’s list. In Oak Park’s case-or at least in mine-it means meeting, interacting and growing comfortable with African Americans, homosexuals and conservative Christians. Each “community,” as we progressives like to say, has forced me to expand my comfort zone. I’m grateful for the stretch.

2) Austin Gardens

It continues to be my sanctuary, refuge and oasis from our semi-urban environment. It’s a remarkable place, unlike any park I’ve ever spent time in (and I’ve spent a lot of time here)-certainly unlike any other place in Oak Park-with a unique cast of characters, not all of them squirrels. It also hosts outdoor theater in the summer and an art show in the spring.

3) Trees

I remember driving my ex-mother-in-law to Oak Park one day and when we entered the village, she looked out the window, sighed, and said with plaintive longing, “Mature trees.” We take for granted living in an “urban forest,” but all you have to do is go out on the 13th floor deck at Holley Court Terrace (or one of the other high rises in town), and you’ll see it-a seemingly unbroken canopy of green (for over half the year). We owe so much to people who had the foresight to plant a lot of trees a long time ago-and to those who replaced the trees we lost to Dutch elm.

4) Housing stock

We live in a veritable movie set. People around the country fantasize about our housing stock. When they get here, ostensibly to see Wright’s Prairie-style-from-Mars, they see their fantasies spring to life. Wander up and down Forest or Kenilworth sometime and listen to the tourists rhapsodize. People have invested an enormous amount of money into restoring these homes and the results are nothing short of spectacular. You owe it to yourself to walk the streets of this village-at various times of day to catch the nuances of light.

5) The Lake Theatre

A great exterior and plenty of entertaining escapism within. You can visit so many worlds through the movies, and I’d rather do it here than anywhere else. The blazing light and color of the marquee are a welcome antidote to the gloom of winter, and the air-conditioning is a wonderful relief from summer. Willis and Shirley Johnson are a class act and they led the downtown renaissance. Yes, downtown still has a long way to go, but it wouldn’t have come this far without them.

6) Farmers’ Market

Community-building at its best. Whenever I stroll the great square of produce booths or listen to the musicians while waiting in line for donuts, I can’t help thinking about what wholesome words Garrison Keillor could apply to this weekly gathering of good souls. If you want to feel connected to your community, this is the place to come. And even if you aren’t keen on camaraderie, the tomatoes and sweet corn make it well worthwhile.

7) The Green Line and Metra

As nice as Oak Park is, it never feels claustrophobic because we’re only an el ride from the Loop and the lakefront. Visiting the city is not only a necessary change of pace, it is also a welcome reminder of why living in a place like Oak Park is so much saner.

8) Progressive mindset

In my opinion, it’s much better to live as a conservative in a progressive town, than a progressive in a conservative town. Of course I would say that, wouldn’t I? But a progressive town moves forward, which is healthy in the long run. A town that doesn’t move forward at all or moves forward too slowly, often suffers for it. Oak Park is currently struggling with how quickly we should be moving, but I don’t think we’ll ever end up stagnant.

9) Maze Branch Library

I’m biased because I grew up here and have a rather deep emotional attachment, but I still maintain anyone who walks into this library would have to conclude, “This is the kind of town I want to live in.” When they learn the history of the place, culminating in the recent restoration, they’ll want to live here even more. Any town that could create a storybook setting filled with storybooks, is bound to be a good place to set up housekeeping.

10) Forest Park and River Forest

All three villages are unique; each one adds something of value to the others. Our symbiotic joined-at-the-hipness has worked for over a century. It’s nice not feeling alone.

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