There are a lot of alliances. A lot of awards and honors. They tend to blur and, in that process, lose their significance. But the announcement last week that Oak Park was chosen from a competitive field of nearly 300 communities to partner with South Korea and other sustainability organizations on a new smart grid technology project is actually something of a stunner.

The broad strokes of the alliance would use Oak Park’s homes and businesses as a laboratory to find out if solar power technology can not only fuel those buildings but also push excess energy out onto the electrical grid. This would, potentially, move Oak Park buildings in the test effort beyond being sustainable and convert them into energy producers.

And that could change our thoughts on energy use and production in profound ways.

It is not an accident that Oak Park was chosen for this pilot. Village government has worked ceaselessly and creatively to foster a reality and a perception that environmental and energy issues are going to inform a wide range of choices and decisions in this village. The village board and its staff — headed by K.C. Poulos, the sustainability manager — have staked out a position of leadership that is paying off in alliances such as the Korea Smart Grid Institute partnership.

Here’s another intriguing aspect to the choice of Oak Park by the South Koreans: For nearly 100 years, one of Oak Park’s most defining but seldom discussed virtues is the enormous range of our housing and commercial building stock. From the frame bungalows on the east side of town, to the brick manses northwest, to the 1920s apartment houses and everything in between, this village has a remarkable and most unusual mix of housing. That has served our village well in fostering economic and racial diversity, and now, as this project assesses ways to implement new technology across all types of housing and commercial, Oak Park’s building diversity proves a winner yet again.


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