Forest Park has cultivated its reputation as a fun destination for visitors with our array of weekend festivals and events — St. Pat’s, Summer Fest, Groovin’ in the Grove, Holiday Walk, 4th of July, progressive dinners, well, the list is considerable and impressive.
Whether you are a resident who enjoys the camaraderie of neighbors visiting along Madison Street or a visitor who gets the urban-suburban vibe of a good time in a quaint setting, these events have gone a way to cement Forest Park’s reputation and its self-confidence.
Now though, with Summer Fest having this year and last attracted its share of troublemakers who caused disruption and some mayhem in the late hours of the event, Forest Park may be at a crossroads with these large and wide open street festivals. It is, at least, time for an honest talk.
With its deserved reputation as a good place to get a drink, some people assume that the problems at Summer Fest are alcohol-fueled. Police reports indicate there is some modest drunk-and-disorderly behavior at work in the late night hours.
But that is not the root of the issue. The Summer Fest challenge is knuckleheads, troublemakers, gangbangers. Choose your euphemism for groups of teens Ð in the main black teens, in the main from Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview — looking to cause trouble. Whether it is an actual fight that erupts or the chaos caused when a large group of teens starts running through a crowded festival, the outcome is the same. The event ends badly with a lot of good people frustrated and angry. And, in the morning after, with police and event organizers counting their blessings that something far worse did not transpire.
Now is the moment for Summer Fest’s sponsors, village officials, police to gather and consider options. Ending the popular event is one possibility though the sense of giving in to hooligans leaves a very sour taste. Scaling the event back to a daytime fest might work though you lose the magic of a hot afternoon giving way to a cool evening, of families retiring and a party starting. Shifting to a paid admission model could work, has worked at some city street fests. But it ramps up logistics on all fronts and that is a challenge for a volunteer-driven project.
Forest Park is certainly not alone in facing such challenges. Oak Park had a popular spring event, May Madness, that after decades was shut down owing to fears of gang violence and the inordinate police and volunteer resources that were needed to keep a lid on the event.
Time to talk.