I am writing to express my support for the design proposed by the Marion Street Design Team, on which I serve as chair of the Oak Park Environmental and Energy Advisory Commission. (The opinions I express here are my own, not necessarily those of my fellow EEAC commissioners.) The objections to the project include arguments designed to appeal to environmental concerns. Those arguments fail both to accept that Marion Street is a commercial district and to appreciate the sustainable elements of the new design.
From the beginning, the village board made clear that the design for the new Marion Street should incorporate sustainable elements.
Environmentalists should cheer the design that was presented to the board, which is more “green” than the current mall. The new Marion Street will have more trees and more bike racks. It will have an irrigation system that will collect stormwater and use it to irrigate the trees and permanent planters that will line the sidewalks instead of putting that water in the sewer system. It will be lit by metal halide lighting, the most energy efficient system available. And the village is investigating whether to install a geothermal system to heat and cool the buildings along Marion Street.
It is true that the new Marion Street will be open to cars that release carbon into the atmosphere. I strongly believe that the village should encourage residents to use alternative, non-polluting means of transportation whenever possible–the EEAC will soon be recommending strategies for doing so as part of a comprehensive environmental action plan–but opening two blocks to traffic is not going to put more carbon in the air. Rather, I expect the more vibrant and attractive Oak Park’s commercial districts become, the more shoppers from Oak Park and surrounding communities will take the shorter drive (or walk, or bike ride) to Downtown Oak Park instead of the longer drive to Oak Brook.
Nor will the new design reduce the amount of green space in Oak Park. Until Sawyer College was demolished and replaced with a small lawn, there was no green space on the mall. And whether or not the mall remains, that lawn will likely be redeveloped some day–though we can expect a faster and better redevelopment on an economically healthy Marion Street than we would see on the moribund mall. After all, Marion Street is a commercial district, not a park. Oak Park is lucky to have Scoville Park and Austin Gardens right in the middle of the village.
I support citizens who desire green space in Downtown Oak Park, but I encourage them to focus their efforts on rejuvenating the park space that we have, instead of trying to turn Marion Street into a park that it has never been, and was never meant to be.
Chair, Oak Park Environmental and Energy Advisory Commission