Parks, libraries, and building community

Opinion: Columns

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Jan Arnold & David Seleb

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We are fortunate in Oak Park to have a community that supports robust public libraries and parks. Throughout our village, these are places where people come together for regular, sustained interaction. In the process, community gets built — on a shared park bench, during storytimes, and on soccer field sidelines.

We were reminded of this in early June, when sociologist and One Book, One Oak Park author Eric Klinenberg visited the Main Library to speak about his research, his experiences, and his book, Palaces for the People. It's all about the value of social infrastructure, those shared spaces where people routinely gather, make connections, and enrich their lives. And it's just as real as the infrastructure we have for power, water, or transit.

"How many relationships in communities do you think have started because a couple of parents or grandparents or caretakers are pushing the same swingset in a neighborhood that's got a nice playground, at the same time?" Klinenberg said. "That's social infrastructure."

As two government agencies committed to supporting strong social infrastructure, the Oak Park Public Library and the Park District of Oak Park often share resources to pursue opportunities that foster community building. Here are a few things we're doing together this summer.

Park pop-ups: Through September, the library's Book Bike is popping up with storytimes at local parks to engage families with young children, daycares, and preschools. The Collaboration for Early Childhood and New Moms also partner with us for this series. Find the schedule at oppl.org/bike. Did you know the Park District now has its own Pop-Up Bike? It brings free drop-in activities like crafts and games to parks throughout the summer. Learn more at pdop.org/bike.

The power of play: The Parks Passport Program is back to help kids of all abilities stay active and explore their parks and community. Kids earn prizes by completing free and accessible challenges, including one at the Main Library that earns them an exclusive "bonus bead" to go along with the library's summer reading program. Pick up a Parks Passport at Ridgeland Common, the Gymnastics and Recreation Center, or any library location, and learn more at pdop.org.

Improving our shared space: With a collaborative spirit, the park district recently assumed ownership of the Dole Learning Center from the village of Oak Park. The Dole Branch Library will continue operations there, and the park district looks forward to offering new senior programs in the building, including sewing, quilting, weaving, and lapidary art. To prepare, the entire building will be closed from June 22 through July 7 for improvements. The building will reopen on Monday, July 8, and Dole Branch Library will resume operations on Tuesday, July 9.

One improvement is happening outside: The library's teen summer volunteers and local artist Tia Etú will work together to create and install a peace sign mural near the entrance. The park district is excited to partner on this "artful garden," in the words of one staff member. Look for more soon about the project at oppl.org/news.

We look forward to seeing you all summer — and seeing the ways in which a better connected community benefits us all.

Jan Arnold is executive director of the Park District of Oak Park. David J. Seleb is executive director of the Oak Park Public Library.

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