Praising diversity is easy. Real diversity is hard. I was reminded of this while reading Virginia Seuffert’s most recent piece in Wednesday Journal on the development project proposed for the site of the now-defunct Comcast building in central Oak Park [Central Oak Park is vulnerable; Comcast project could sink it, Viewpoints, Sept. 8].
In the same breath, Ms. Seuffert praises Oak Park’s history of combating segregation and promoting diversity, and then proceeds to engage in some of the most shameful stereotyping I have ever seen in these pages.
It is of little significance that Seuffert doesn’t identify the races of the “needy residents” who will, in her view, almost certainly invite “loitering, petty crime and panhandling.” She doesn’t need to specify race; her statement, as it stands, is grossly and egregiously discriminatory against poor people.
Real diversity is more than ethnic diversity. It is also economic diversity, and Seuffert’s insistence upon linking lower-economic status with antisocial behavior indicates that she harbors a distinct prejudice against individuals who are struggling with poverty.
From the text of Seuffert’s article, I surmise that she either hasn’t studied the Comcast building proposal, or has chosen to ignore some of the finer points. In the first place, the population the developers are targeting is classified as “the working poor.” These are not “dozens of people with no money,” as Seuffert simplistically asserts. These are individuals who may not be able to afford rents in excess of $1,000 per month, but who still work for a living.
Concerns about traffic may also be misplaced. Current estimates suggest that only one-in-three likely residents of the proposed building may own a car. The others are likely to use public transportation.
The notion that south and central Oak Park are being unfairly saddled with projects of this nature, and that it north Oak Park’s turn, is absurd. In the first place, the north part of the village doesn’t suffer from the same vacancy rates. Secondly, it defies logic to complain about the vacancy rate and declining property values in the neighborhood, and in the same breath profess that they would rather see the Comcast site remain vacant.
The argument that the proposed development on Madison couldn’t possibly benefit anyone is completely without merit. Simply on the basis of the tax revenue that the project would generate, Seuffert and those who support her position are flat wrong.
And as to whether it makes sense to open retail space on a block where “dozens of people have no money,” I have news for Ms. Seuffert – people with lower incomes buy things, too.
The proposed development and the debate that it has spawned are still in their early stages. Changes will be made to the plan, and the project will be discussed and analyzed many times over. This is as it should be. But Oak Parkers should not allow their views of the project, whether for or against, to be influenced by vague generalizations, prejudices and speculation.
Adam Salzman is an Oak Park resident, an attorney and chairman of the village’s Universal Access Commission.