Nestled among the lively streets of Oak Park, there exists a park south of the current village hall fondly known as “the village green.” It has served as a cherished sanctuary for generations of families, offering abundant greenery and open space that supports a thriving ecosystem, including bees, butterflies, birds, squirrels and rabbits. The air resonates with the joyful laughter of children. The park has become a haven for picnics, outdoor games, and the creation of cherished memories. Throughout the years, children have reveled in the thrill of flying kites, found solace in stargazing, and sought knowledge under the comforting shade of the park’s trees.

Unfortunately, a recent proposal presented to Oak Park’s village board has deeply unsettled neighborhood families. The plan entails transforming this treasured park into a concrete structure, intruding upon the very space that has brought immeasurable happiness to the community. Moreover, the park has served as an essential buffer, shielding the neighborhood from the bustling activity emanating from village hall.

The news of the current proposal is swiftly spreading, leaving neighborhood families distraught. They hold a profound appreciation for the park’s tranquility, recognizing its role as an escape from the concrete jungle that envelops them.

Parents dread the thought of relinquishing this cherished sanctuary to the coldness of an impersonal concrete structure that would not only fail to preserve the essence of the park but also exacerbate climate change. Preserving open park space in Oak Park is of utmost importance due to its rarity, ensuring that it endures for the benefit of future generations. Opting for the easiest solution will not lead to the optimal outcome.

I propose an alternative solution, one that upholds public safety while safeguarding the park’s essence — renovate the existing police space and, if necessary, explore underutilized space within the current village hall and in other existing Oak Park buildings. Opportunities to acquire land along Madison Street for future use have arisen over the past 50 years but have gone untapped. I implore the village board to refrain from penalizing the children of Oak Park by eliminating their park.

I believe a win-win solution can be attained, one that fulfills the needs of the community while preserving the sanctity of the village green. I strongly advocate for careful deliberation, urging the pursuit of a solution that prioritizes public safety while safeguarding the irreplaceable space that has nurtured both mental and physical well-being and fostered a profound sense of community togetherness.

With unwavering determination, neighborhood families stand united, their voices echoing through the streets of Oak Park. They hold hope that their impassioned plea will be heard, that the village board will acknowledge the significance of the village green and work toward a solution that both safeguards the park and ensures the safety of the community.

Richard Willis is a past Oak Park Township trustee and Community Mental Health Board member.

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