In a thoughtful Friday morning forum sponsored by the Business and Civic Council, the subject was historic preservation and whether in Oak Park it was “too much of a good thing.”
One panelist cogently said you wouldn’t have a forum titled, “Women’s Suffrage: Too Much of a Good Thing,” or “Child Labor Laws: Have We Gone Too Far?” He was right. But there were two other quotes from the panelists which stuck with me all day.
One was the panelist who said that setting the debate as being between historic preservation and economic development was creating “a false choice.”
Amen to that.
These things are in no way mutually exclusive. Which is why they shouldn’t be discussed in vacuums. Historic preservationists shouldn’t be shunted into the polarizing position of arguing to preserve everything because preservation is the only criteria they have to consider. And why would we want economic development decisions to be made as if there were no context of existing buildings and the history and culture they represent?
It is in blending the asset of historic context that an exceptional old line suburb like Oak Park possesses in its commercial areas with the opportunity for strategic and thoughtful growth that we have the ability to truly distinguish this town from others with which we compete.
The second quote was from a fellow who has clearly been watching Oak Park for some time. He said Oak Park had a “history of processes not prone to conclusions.”
And Oak Parkers, some internal to government processes and some advocates on the outside, have learned to work those processes in hope that length, anxiety and frustration will kill a project. Too often they succeed.
That’s why it was good news this afternoon when Drew Carter posted the Web Extra on WednesdayJournalOnline.com that the village staff had recommended and the Historic Preservation Commission had last night accepted a “cooling off” period in the debate over preservation in the Downtown area. A new committee including all the stakeholders in this issue will be convened so that the issue can be discussed over the spring and summer.
Everyone at the table. So long as there is a timetable, that ought to be Oak Park’s new mantra.