There isn’t a better model of public involvement in local government planning than that put into practice the past four years by the Park District of Oak Park. No other public body has come close to the park district’s transparency in creating processes or its sincerity in inviting input.

The park board and its staff followed the same model over the past two years as they worked on a much-needed plan to overhaul Field Center/Mann School. That plan, which accomplishes a great many things, calls for several mature trees to be cut down.

That’s OK with us.

Sometimes trees must be cut down. Needs in a park change over decades as they have in this case. Some trees are in the wrong place if a new soccer field is to be built. We’ll take the soccer field. And then we’ll take the 74 new trees that the park district will plant in the park. When the project is done, we have every faith the park will be spectacular.

Cutting down trees is sad. We understand the consternation of people who played under those trees as kids. But our priority is the kids of this generation who play soccer by the hundreds in Oak Park.

The park district will likely learn from this episode–made more complicated by a state grant that is now in limbo – that taking down trees is an emotional matter. Further efforts to communicate plans to cut down trees may be necessary earlier on in any process. That shouldn’t mean cutting down trees is prohibited, however, just that it must be communicated sooner and more clearly.

Finally, we have lost all patience with the 11th-hour screamers (a small portion of those protesting in this instance) who ignore widely reported issues then get off on stirring up a fuss with their e-mails, conspiracy theories and harem-scarem tactics. They should never be allowed to win as it only provides encouragement. We can’t stress enough: Get involved earlier.

The weakest law

That it took River Forest three-plus years to pass its first historic preservation ordinance is absurd. That it took trustees that long to pass this lily-livered version of historic preservation is pathetic.

Supporters of genuine historic preservation in River Forest are lauding this new law as the proverbial “first step.” Maybe.

The immediate reality is the new ordinance reads like a property rights primer. There is nothing binding in this ordinance. A property can only be listed as a landmark if an owner nominates it. That owner can also withdraw that designation.

What exactly is the point?

This law is not the compromise some suggest. It reads more like capitulation.

True community

Oak Park’s Garrigan family knows the pain of grieving the death of a child in tragic circumstances. Yet they also know something of the power of true community.

It was eight weeks between the death of Kathy Garrigan in a boating mishap in Alaska and her funeral Mass last Friday at Ascension Church. From the first e-mail message alerting friends and neighbors that Ms. Garrigan was missing on Lake Harding, through the endless searching in rugged terrain, to the recovery of the body and its return home, hundreds of people, most centered in south Oak Park, have rallied to raise spirits and hopes, cash and volunteer hours. It has been a spellbinding effort.

It culminated in an overpacked church on a summer day as family, neighbors and friends gathered to honor and remember a remarkable woman who touched their lives one last time.

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