It is good news that the village government has the inclination and the funding for a fresh take on its Comprehensive Plan. Last undertaken more than a decade ago, the village gets good marks for follow-through on the 1999 plan. Key focuses of that version included remaking Madison Street, preserving single-family housing during a multi-family housing boom, and taking initial steps toward making the village less dependent on cars for getting about town. To a limited extent, the village has benefited from the decision of the Proviso High School district to plant a select-admission high school at a far corner of the village.
To us the beauty and the fun Ð yes, we’re urban planning policy wonks Ð of a Comprehensive Plan is in the process as well as in the broad scope of the undertaking. A Comprehensive Plan has to be the 30,000 foot view of the community. We all get bogged down, and often divided, over the street level zoning choices every municipal government makes. How tall can the neighbor’s fence be? How many beauty shops on Madison Street? That’s real life, too.
But the opportunity to step back and look with fresh eyes at the broad possibilities is exciting. Madison Street is about how everyone envisioned it. Now we need to focus on maintaining its strength and tweak the endpoints. But what about Roosevelt Road? The Army Reserve Center’s future? What’s ahead for auto dealerships? Can the mixed use plan for Harlem and the Green Line ever be resurrected? Can something strong and handsome be created on the long ugly stretches of Harlem Avenue? What about open space and the Altenheim property? What’s the village’s stance on expanding the Ike ditch through the town? Continuing to focus on the village’s core of single-family homes remains critical. How real can we make plans to craft a town that is more walkable and bike-friendly?
We’re sure there are opportunities we’ve overlooked completely here that will need consideration.
The other issue here is the process. We see two essential aspects. There has to be true openness to wide community input. That input has to be actively sought, even from known critics. And then the known critics need to rise to the opportunity and see the possibilities. We’ve watched Comprehensive Plan processes where true excitement builds, where individuals who have fought over the exact placement of a dog park can raise their sightlines and expand their vision of the community. But this level of involvement does not happen by accident and the divisiveness currently at work in village affairs will need to be actively overcome.
Secondly, and not unrelated to the community involvement issue, the selection of the right consulting firm is vital. Forest Park needs expertise in urban/suburban planning. It needs a firm with a passion for listening well and actively involving citizens. Happily the village has adequate federal funds to pay for this expertise.
Comprehensive Plans come around only every decade or two. So it is a rich and wonderful moment. Let’s take advantage and make a plan worthy of this village and its people.