Oak Park Village Hall, Pathfinder sculpture | FILE

In life we solve three types of problems: problems created in the past, problems affecting our present, and problems of the future. 

Looking through that lens at municipal government (or any form of government for that matter) the same three problems — of the past, present, and future — can be named equity, affordability, and sustainability. 

Most of our social and political conflicts stem from our inability to balance how we allocate resources to solve these problems. Often, existing resources are insufficient to solve all of them simultaneously, hence they get prioritized one way or the other. Most often, either the present wins, or we play whack-a-mole with past, present and future, reacting to the loudest voices in society. 

Neither approach seems to be working for us. How can our resources be deployed most effectively?

We need to focus on the future and in that context solve for the past and present. One missing piece, however, deters us from taking a future-focused approach: our community does not have a shared vision of their future. While difficult to achieve, a shared vision is possible. Elected officials and other leaders need to create a shared understanding of the future: a vision that addresses equity and affordability today, while focusing on sustainability. 

The word sustainability is not limited to environmental sustainability. It has a broader meaning that should include socioeconomic sustainability. While climate action is absolutely necessary, it is by no means sufficient that we create a path for mere survival. We must help people see their relevance in that future. Our failure to do so is why very often we are divided on climate action — not exclusively because people don’t understand or believe in the science, but also because they don’t understand their role or see their relevance in the future for which we are asking them to pay.

I envision an incubator for our sustainable socioeconomic and environmental future that provides training for our youth, creates jobs of the future, and builds a culture of sustainability. I’m encouraged by and grateful for the support of the Oak Park Village Board and the village staff to further define, clarify, and explore the feasibility of such a sustainability incubator in 2022. 

The goals that every taxpayer should consider important include aligning our local economy to the future clean energy economy; attracting federal, state and private investments to our community (affordability); diversifying our tax base (affordability); and preparing our youth to fully participate in the future (equity). We can design this vision (i.e., the sustainability incubator) in a way that helps us achieve these goals, but how we structure it and create the partnerships required for its success have not all been determined yet. However, the exploration to balance our finite resources among equity, affordability and sustainability is absolutely worth it.

Ravi Parakkat is an Oak Park village trustee.

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