Last week’s article announcing a new brew pub being developed at Austin and Lake was welcome news [Oak Park OKs $385K in incentives for brewery, News, Feb. 10]. Sadly, the comments for the article, particularly those attached to the Facebook posting of the article, were not as welcome. %u200B
Oak Parkers, who I am sure feel proud of their community, publicly declared that a business on Austin just can’t make it. Many included racialized inferences that indicated their discomfort with patronizing a business near an African American neighborhood. This included implications that being on Austin Boulevard is akin to asking for trouble.%u200B
We all have laments about online comments. But these comments%u200B were illuminating because they demonstrated the types of negativity, myths, and stereotypes that %u200Busually get passed around Oak Park in a more subtle manner. Many %u200Bbelieve this type of talk is a relic of the past. Yet %u200Bit is all too common and akin to the types of attitudes%u200B and misinformation%u200B %u200Bthat we deal with at the Housing Center every day.
If you are surprised fellow Oak Parkers would talk this way about a new business opening up on Austin Boulevard, I have worse news for you. It happens frequently when they talk to others about where to live in Oak Park. The staff at the Housing Center, landlords, and real estate agents know all too well how much badmouthing the eastern part of the village affects the market. At the Housing Center, it is nearly a daily occurrence to hear that a prospective tenant was told %u200B%u200Bby an Oak Parker that they should avoid living east of Ridgeland. Austin Boulevard is especially denigrated.
%u200BT%u200Bhis sabotage of our community is %u200Bnot uncommon, %u200Band i%u200Bt doesn’t just come from a fringe group of Oak Parkers. It is consistent and it includes both overt and more subtle commentary. Most of the time, I’m sure no malice%u200B is intended%u200B. Yet while each of these instances might seem innocuous, they are not. Each disparagement makes an impact. In aggregate, they form an impression that becomes the conventional wisdom.
Our community is a wonderful place to live, each and every block of it. If there’s anything to complain about, it’s that we don’t have enough businesses opening up in the eastern business districts of Oak Park.
That won’t be easy to change if we don’t change the way we talk about our own community.
Executive director, Oak Park Regional Housing Center