A view of Vantage the 12th story apartment building in downtown Oak Park on August 5, 2016.

Oak Park residents have big opinions, especially when it comes to big buildings. Focusing on the future of Oak Park development, village trustee candidate Stephen Morales hosted a webinar, Feb. 4, to discuss the possibilities of using innovative architecture to tackle sustainability, equity and affordability without sacrificing style.

About 160 people tuned in to the panel to hear local architects Antony Wood and Tom Bassett-Dilley share their views on existing Oak Park high-rises and how they believe the village can move its reputation as an architecture hub into the future. 

“I think the high-rise developments that have happened in Oak Park, if I’m being polite, are lacking in complete ambition on any level,” said Wood, CEO of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, who believes there is a need for increased height and density in Oak Park but felt strongly about the buildings that seek to address the need. 

“They are 100 percent, in my view, commercially-driven and they play to no other agenda than a maximum financial return on a plot of land,” he said, before showing examples of buildings throughout the world that pioneered sustainability, color use, communal space, sky gardens and vertical farming.

“Density doesn’t have to come at the expense of amenity or even public space,” Wood said.

Bassett-Dilley said the examples Wood shared were “really fabulous projects and inspiration.”

“It really goes to show that if you have the vision and desire and drive, great things can happen,” he said.

Developers can do more to address energy efficiency in design at marginal upfront costs, according to Bassett-Dilley, president and founder of Bassett-Dilley Architects Ltd., a firm focused on sustainability. But developers do not care to pay those costs because it doesn’t help their bottom line after selling the building. 

“That’s a problem with the model of profit being the priority,” he said, urging the community to look beyond the present and envision what it wants the future of Oak Park to look like and identify how that shared vision addresses equity, sustainability and the village’s character.

“Without vision, we don’t get greatness,” he said.

While he works primarily in the private sector with environmentally-minded clients, Bassett-Dilley noted that some neighborhoods in Seattle are designated eco-districts to guide development priorities. Other municipalities have very specific commitments to affordable housing for each residential project.

“We, as a village, can develop our metrics for success that are reflective of a master plan,” said Bassett-Dilley. 

The village’s master plan did not foresee the scale of the high-rise apartment complexes, Albion and Vantage, at Lake and Forest, which he found disappointing. 

“It’s not that tall buildings are necessarily bad,” he said. 

Wood agreed that without vision and local government standards, “There’s no carrot, there’s no stick, there’s nothing, and so the developer is going to do pretty much what they want to.”

If Oak Park’s goal is to provide greater density, Bassett-Dilley suggested widening streets next to tall buildings, so more light can shine down and allow trees to grow. He also stated that density doesn’t necessarily equate to adding 30 or 40 stories to buildings; it could mean building more four- and five-story buildings in the right places.

Hiring an architect to create a master plan allows the village to address infrastructure and avoid building projects that could initiate the designation of areas as higher or lower income.

“What I’m afraid of is if we start to segregate along economic lines,” Bassett-Dilley said. “That’s not a good model.”

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