I’m writing in regard to the Jan. 21 Inside Report which challenges the “enlightened” designation of Naperville, Ill., by the Utne Reader.

I’ve been a resident of Oak Park for nine years, and also a frequent visitor for 25 years. I can say with conviction that an enduring “good spirit” unifies our village residents across racial and socioeconomic lines. Indeed, I feel our community is “enlightened” and worthy of the media praise that we receive. I’m proud to say that I’m a resident here: Our community is cited as a modern bellwether of housing and education policy, and we should all be proud of that.

Coincidentally, I’ve been a frequent visitor to Naperville in these past 25 years, too – beginning even when the posted street signage indicated its population as only 35,000 residents. I’ve been attentive to its growth pattern and emergence as a nationally-recognized community, like Oak Park. To this point, I take issue with Wednesday Journal’s assertion that Naperville is not worthy of the Utne Reader’s recognition of being “enlightened” as a community.

Beginning in the late 1970s, Naperville’s civic leaders began one of the most successful new urbanism, pedestrian-friendly downtown redevelopments which resulted in a recreational and economic focal point for thousands of residents of the region: young, old, Hispanic, black, white, male, female, you name it. A visit to downtown Naperville on any given Friday or Saturday evening offers an enviable demonstration of this. Naperville’s primary attraction, the River Walk, has had a ripple effect in that downtown area, resulting in sophisticated shopping destinations that are on par with those at Oak Brook Mall or Northbrook Court (retailers include Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn). Naperville also claims “college town” status because of its resident population of four-year students attending North Central College, adjacent to the downtown district. Oak Park’s recent contentious relationship with Layne Bryant (whose Lake Street storefront and signage are sensibly integrated into that shopping district) make us appear, in fact, unenlightened.

Since the 1970s, much of Naperville’s residential development has occurred south of 75th Street, seemingly all the way to I-55 and combining with the City of Aurora’s eastward growth. Indeed, unplanned “sprawl,” as the Inside Report correctly observes. However, sprawl doesn’t seem to have impacted academic achievement. All three of Naperville’s public high schools, Naperville North, Naperville Central and Neuqua Valley score academically higher than OPRF, according to the Chicago Tribune’s 2007 PSAE Test rankings (Waubonsie Valley High School is listed as being in Aurora, though also included in District 204). By this measure, Oak Park kids are not as “enlightened” as Naperville’s.

It’s ironic that the Inside Report chose to publish a photo of the Moser Tower in tandem with its published Jan. 21 report. The Moser Tower Carillon – actually an array of electronically-controlled musical bells and with scheduled concerts and hourly reports – has become an active symbol of Naperville’s community identity, an attractive visual focal point.

The IR also makes mention of “teardown” policy as a modern barometer for Oak Park’s “enlightenment.” I respectfully suggest to the IR that de-facto teardown projects are currently underway in our village, particularly here in south Oak Park (drive on down and see).

Yes, I recognize the array of cultural opportunities here in our village. I’ve attended and sponsored many of them. And, I acknowledge that my children are thriving as they experience the unique offerings of our community and its institutions. However, WJ’s expression of Oak Park’s uniqueness relative to Naperville is disingenuous. We have as much to learn from Naperville as much as Naperville does from us.

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