We are hopeful there is something new at work in Oak Park’s village hall as it embarks on an ambitious effort to create a thorough and bold plan for this single community to address the climate crisis.

The new village board started by putting climate high on its list of goals to address during its first year in office. It has since hired a staff member to work within village hall to lead climate efforts. This is a position that previously existed but was unfilled after the departure of a staff member several years back.

And Monday night the board unanimously voted to spend $129,000 from its sustainability fund to hire a consulting firm to drive a year-long planning process.

Like everyone else, we have a push-pull response to costly consultant contracts. We’ve seen too many failed efforts and we’ve seen solid efforts ignored.

Here’s what seems different: 

There is both unanimity on the board but also a pocket of passion among multiple board members on this critical issue. Susan Buchanan initially ran for office with climate topping her agenda. Arti Walker-Peddakotla rightly sees the intersection of equity and climate. Ravi Parakkat came to the village board from a seat on the village’s Energy and Environment Commission (EEC). And President Vicki Scaman has been clear in her support for determined action.

Further, in its hiring process the village is clear that the consultants must actively engage with both the EEC and with other active climate groups in Oak Park. That’s different and it hopefully reflects a more respectful connection between volunteer citizen commissions and village hall. 

Finally, central to the mission set out in this process is an active listening and learning component with Oak Park residents, specifically residents of color. Easier said than done but never done unless the charge is specifically called out. Monday night both Buchanan and Walker-Peddakotla were plain in emphasizing how critical a focus on environmental justice will be to the success of this effort.

There are inevitably those who see small-town Oak Park as an unlikely place to lead on climate. The crisis is worldwide and growing fast. But waiting for Washington, for the Paris Accords to solve this existential crisis only means more delay and frustration.

We can do much better. We can be an exemplar for local communities.

This is our start.

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