The more I listened to people talking about the ups and downs of the White Sox during the last forty years, the more parallels I saw with how things have gone with Forest Park.
Think about it. For forty-five years the Sox have been the “other” major league baseball team in town. “Beautiful Wrigley Field” was the fashionable place, with the ivy climbing the brick walls in the outfield.
Comiskey Park didn’t even have small town charm. Forest Park, in that same span of time, lived in the shadow of the other village to the east of us. People years ago would ask me where I lived. When I would say Forest Park, they would respond, “Where’s that?” When I would say, “Just west of Oak Park,” they would reply, “Oh, I know where that is.”
Sox fans had the reputation of being blue collar working people. Even people who lived here said the same about Forest Park. The only reasons Oak Parkers would come to our village were to get a drink, buy some hardware at Peaseleys or get buried. African-Americans and Latinos started playing for the Southsiders in the fifties and sixties. Black folk began moving into the newly constructed high rise apartment buildings in our town at about the same time.
And then, as we began a new millennium, the White Sox started playing good baseball. And the country watched in amazement as a bunch of players, unknown to everyone except loyal Sox fans, roared through the playoffs with great pitching, gold glove caliber fielding and timely hitting. Forest Park surprised its neighbors in a similar manner. Some people use the word “renaissance” to describe what has happened to Madison Street, and dumpy old two flats are being transformed into classy Victorians everywhere you look. The White Sox have a world championship, and Forest Park has a Starbuck’s. It’s all good.
And the two parallel stories both end with “and they lived happily ever after,” right? I’m not so sure, and that’s what worries me. Here’s why.
I have a feeling that all of those “unknown” players on the Sox roster are going to demand a lot more money when salary negotiations come around. I heard that Joe Crede was only making $400,000/year(you gotta feel sorry for the guy!). And because Jerry Reinsdorf won’t have the cash for the payroll, many of the really good players will go to work for owners like George Steinbrenner when they become free agents.
I saw the same thing happen to my team, the Green Bay Packers, after they won the Superbowl. The next year Brett Favre walked out on the field, looked around and said, “Where’d all my good players go?”
Now, here’s where my analogy breaks down some. I’m not worried about the “good players” leaving Forest Park. Just the opposite. I’m worried that too many good players or, I should say high priced players, will move in. They will continue to buy $400,000 townhouses and de-convert old two flats into classy homes.
Why does that worry me? Because three years ago my wife and I couldn’t find a house in good condition in Forest Park that we could afford. And we really wanted to live in this community precisely because it is a real community. In this town we have our family arguments, of course, but like the 2005 edition of the White Sox, most of the time we play like a team. Our egos still fit inside our hats and we don’t care who gets the credit as long as the team wins.
But if my wife and I can’t afford to live here, what about the janitor at Grant-White or the woman who delivers your mail or the fella who washes dishes at La Piazza? As far as I’m concerned, gentrification can be a four letter word. It would be sad if, resting on the laurels of racial diversity that we have achieved, we failed to work for class diversity as well.
My daughter graduated from Fenwick in 1996. She learned more there in terms of academics than she did at the Forest Park Middle School, but I thank God that she was in District 91 for K through eight. Why? Because she learned more about living in the real world diversity of life here then she ever could at Fenwick. Growing up in Forest Park she had black, white and Asian friends. But, just as importantly, she had rich friends, poor friends and everything in between. I don’t want to lose that.
I recently received an e-mail from a group called Protestants for the Common Good which described a Chicago ordinance to be heard by City Council in the fall which would create significant increases in both rental and owner occupied affordable housing in Chicago by setting aside 15 percent of all new units created as “affordable.”
I’ve seen a lot of development in Forest Park in the last five to ten years, but to my memory not one unit of it has been what I would call affordable. If the YMCA moves here, that’s great for all the upscale people who are moving in, but where do the folks who need an SRO go?
I don’t know enough about how our village government works to know who to call on”is it the council or the zoning board or someone else”to take the initiative on this, but I do know this. If candidates for village council make affordable housing a plank in their platforms next fall, I will be very inclined to support them.