Oak Park is attempting to kill seven birds with one marketing campaign. That may prove problematic as the seven birds are a diverse flock made up of the seven “partner agencies” that currently receive funding from the village. Each has its purpose, but beyond the greater good of Oak Park, those purposes are fairly divergent.

That didn’t stop the village board, plagued in perpetuity by earnest requests from the partners for money to market their good efforts, from clumping all of them into a single bucket, giving the bucket’s handle to the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation and decreeing a shared marketing campaign.

That was 18 months ago. Last week, after determined collaboration among the seven sisters, a pretty fair marketing campaign was hatched, though — not a surprise — it tilts toward the interests of OPEDC. Just how robustly the Housing Center, Residence Corporation, Arts Council, Downtown Oak Park, the Chamber and Visit Oak Park make use of the concept and the collateral, we will find out.

OPEDC says it spent $123,000, mostly village government funds, with Sasaki, a Boston-based consultant, which already had worked in Oak Park on the now semi-forever-stalled “wayfinding system.” 

They did the usual consulting things — talking to stakeholders, comparing and contrasting Oak Park with other towns and neighborhoods (Hyde Park, Evanston and, with a backhand compliment, Berwyn), taking a deep dive into typography and color palettes — and then came to conclusions and proposals.

There are some nuggets here that I find fascinating. Listed among Oak Park’s challenges are: “We want to be cutting edge but are not taking the necessary risks.” They’ve been watching America to Me. “We are not as economically and racially diverse as we say.” Of course, the taxes are too high. And, in some really-not-taking-a-risk use of language, Oak Park faces “challenging boundary conditions” with Chicago.

It was the conversations with three principals of recent housing developments in downtown Oak Park that got to the heart of what OPEDC likely wants to build off of. Each of the three deemed their projects a success. But they were plain in saying that for their high-end, mostly-rental projects they weren’t selling what Oak Park has traditionally sold. It’s not the schools. It’s not the history. It’s not diversity. Downtown, they are selling what the consultant called “a micro-urban environment.” That translates to walkable, safe, restaurant-heavy, independent business-infused. A “college town without the students,” they called it.

The marketing campaign — which will debut in a magazine focused on economic development before it rolls out to digital incarnations, out-of-home placements along the Green Line embankment, and in the empty windows of the old Marshall Field’s — melds two ideas.

The first, and remember this isn’t history that is being peddled, is “legacy.” And blending, with optimistic snark, is Oak Park’s “idiosyncratic and surprising” modern day. That explains the proposed bus shelter ad with Homer Simpson’s head (Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer, is a native) atop a riding lawn mower and the headline, “Where Broad Lawns Meet Colorful Characters.”

With this effort, Oak Park won’t be our first neighbor to latch onto the convergence of city and suburb. Berwyn has been plastering city billboards for years with the message “Nothing Like a Suburb.” And 15 years ago a crazy bright batch of merchants in Forest Park coined “Urban Suburban” as their mantra. 

Oak Park’s take is “Where Else?” “The Best of All Worlds” and “Where the City Begins” although they’ll need to watch out for those “challenging boundary conditions.”

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...

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