Who owns the public space?” asks Linda Francis in a recent Wednesday Journal column [Viewpoints, July 17].

Francis, director of the local nonprofit Success of All Youth, writes that this question, concerning whose voices are heard and who is entitled to use resources, nags at her at times — including “during discussions of education, housing, business loss, immigration, taxes and, most recently, my reading of the One Book selection, Palaces for the People.”

As part of this summer’s One Book, One Oak Park series, we’ve been reading and discussing Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, by sociologist Eric Klinenberg. Through extensive reporting, research, and field work, the author makes a case for the value of “social infrastructure,” those public, shared spaces where people routinely gather, make connections, and enrich their lives — for example, public libraries, parks, local stores, and nonprofit organizations. His research shows that strong social infrastructure supports building community and can contribute to both the quality and span of people’s lives.

If building community is something that interests you, we encourage you to check out Palaces for the People, read Linda Francis’ column in this paper, and join us on Wednesday, Aug. 7, at 7 p.m., as we conclude this summer’s One Book series with a wrap-up panel discussion in the Oak Park Public Library Veterans Room, 834 Lake St.

Francis will be one of the panelists exploring ideas and actions about public space, social infrastructure, and community building. 

More voices on the panel include Charles Donalson, rap artist and Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate, featured in the documentary America to Me; Phillip Jimenez, president and CEO of the West Cook YMCA; Frances Kraft, co-founder of the Oak Park Equity Team; Jan Arnold, executive director of the Park District of Oak Park; and Antonio Martinez Jr., president and CEO of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation. 

Please join us for a thought-provoking evening, and find more information at oppl.org/one-book.

Juanita Harrell is Oak Park Public Library’s One Book coordinator and Health & Wellness librarian.

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