While many Oak Park homeowners have already planted up parkways in place of lawns, the practice is actually not allowed by village ordinance. However, that could change to encourage transforming parkways into areas where native plants and pollinators thrive. | Lacey Sikora

In August 2022, the Village of Oak Park adopted Climate Ready Oak Park, a comprehensive and long-range plan meant to address the global climate crisis. 

Among the commitments embraced were a pledge to decrease community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030, to achieve community-wide, net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and to establish 30% of Oak Park’s land as green infrastructure or enhanced park management. 

Fossil fuel ban in new construction 

On June 20, the Oak Park Village Board voted to approve an electrification ordinance, following the recommendations of the Environment and Energy Commission and the Building Code Advisory Commission, which makes all-electric new construction part of the building code. 

With this change, Oak Park becomes the first town in the Midwest to ban fossil fuels in new residential and commercial buildings. 

The ordinance takes effect in January 2024 and was one of the steps identified as needed to help the village achieve the goal of having net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. 

Marcella Bondie Keenan, Oak Park’s chief sustainability officer, says that instead of using natural gas for stoves or heating, anything that would require gas will now be required to be all-electric in both new homes and in commercial construction. 

At this point, she says that the ordinance only covers new construction and not renovations to existing homes, but she states that it is possible that the village will eventually require that gas-fueled appliances and mechanicals be swapped out with electric in older buildings undergoing major renovations. 

Parkway plantings

Another part of achieving the goal of increasing Oak Park’s green infrastructure is a goal of having 30% of plantings to be native plants. 

“In addition to being in a climate change emergency, we’re also in a biodiversity emergency,” Bondie Keenan said. 

Most of the green space in Oak Park is owned privately or by the Park District of Oak Park. The parkways, which are public property located between the sidewalk and the curb of the streets, are the primary opportunity for the village to reach its biodiversity goal by 2030. 

On Aug. 1, the Oak Park Environment and Energy Commission considered draft language that would amend village code to allow residents to plant on the parkways throughout the village and to promote the placement of native and pollinator plants in the parkway. The commission had several questions for village staff, so the vote was tabled until village staff could provide more information. 

As the draft language is finalized and before the issue goes to the village board, residents can weigh in by responding to an online survey at engageoakpark.com/parkway-planting-ordinance. 

While the language of the proposed ordinance was not available as of press time, the FAQs accompanying the survey lay out a few parameters of the plan. 

The planting of “designated exotic weeds” or “noxious weeds” will not be permitted. The homeowners adjacent to the parkway will be responsible for the upkeep of the plantings in the parkway. Plantings near intersections will not be permitted to exceed 30 inches in height, and in other areas, the height should not exceed 36 inches.

The village would be permitted to disturb the plantings for any necessary utility or other work and, except in cases of emergency, will attempt to notify the homeowners adjacent to the parkway of the planned work two weeks in advance. 

Bondie Keenan says that at this time, the ordinance will give homeowners permission to plant in the parkways but will not require replacing turf with plantings. 

“Even urban areas can have an impact,” Bondie Keenan said. “This opens up all that parkway land, which is mostly turf.” 

Details are still being worked out and responses to the community survey will be considered in determining what percentage of plantings should be native plantings and what kind of educational materials will be provided to the community. 

Looking ahead, Bondie Keenan says that the village is considering other initiatives to help meet its climate goals. The Oak Park Environment and Energy Commission is beginning to discuss night-sky pollution and rates for trash, recycling and composting that might encourage more residents to compost. 

“These conversations are just starting,” Bondie Keenan said. 

Join the discussion on social media!