By Cathy Yen
Who is your Block Captain? The person who sends the first block party email; the person who gets the signatures needed to close the street and orders the bouncy house? Who gets things done?
Business districts are not too different from neighborhood blocks. Outside the professionally managed Downtown Oak Park, most of the other eleven districts have volunteer business people organizing the district. They also act as a primary information conduit between the district and the Village of Oak Park.
Communication is a critical function of Oak Park's business district leadership. In addition to the logistics of a sidewalk sale (permits, dates, tables, notifying beat officers), district leadership teams represent the commercial neighborhoods on zoning, street-scaping and changes to local ordinances. The Village of Oak Park uses the business district management structure to inform the business community and gather input on policy matters.
Businesses stay informed three ways: first, through notifications from property owners. By law, local government is required to notify property owners of changes that could impact property. Second, through the local media. And third, through the business districts.
Even with three options, communication can feel like tin cans and a string. The Village is required to inform property owners, but property owners may or may not inform their tenants. When property owners are not local, communication breaks down easily. The media may or may not catch wind of the story in time for business owners to act. The business districts are volunteer-run (except DTOP) and participation from the businesses is volunteer-based.
Worse, if volunteers have not stepped up to organize, collect email addresses and act as that liaison, a business owner may find herself in the dark. Even with an active volunteer team in place, the business owner must decide to plug-in to the network. Volunteers are not responsible for connecting to every business. The onus is on the business to participate.
It behooves business owners to stay connected to the local business district, even if the sidewalk sale or holiday walk is uninteresting. The business district network is Oak Park's most reliable business communication vehicle.
Answer Book 2018
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