It’s more than a land use plan, Mr. Mayor.
Forest Park’s comprehensive plan process is now underway.
Sure, on some simplistic level a comprehensive plan is a land use plan. This would be a good place for more housing. We’d like different uses along Roosevelt Road. But you could call together the zoning board if all you wanted was a potential use for the abandoned Jerry Gleason Chevy site.
But a comprehensive plan should reflect the values of the community. And critically how do those values get played out in the use of a remarkably scarce resource in a land-locked, built-out community: our land.
Understanding those values, those worries, those aspirations is about listening. Listening broadly and openly. Now, already, at the very start of this process Mayor Anthony Calderone has lashed out, unnecessarily criticizing commissioners who wanted more and different voices heard.
As is typical in comprehensive planning, the hired consultant set out to interview a number of “key persons.” In this case it was a list of 14 names put together by Village Administrator Tim Gillian. It wasn’t a bad list, though it inevitably tilted toward the usual suspects. And it wasn’t a list that was particularly inclusive in terms of resident African-Americans and other minorities.
That got the attention of Commissioner Rory Hoskins and also Chris Harris, who pronounced the list as “same old same old.” Hoskins went to the mayor and asked that names be added. To his credit (up to then), Calderone asked Hoskins for names and added two more people to the interview list. This, to us, is how small town politics ought to work. You listen. There is some give and take. Compromise and progress.
Inexplicably, a week later Calderone sent commissioners a hostile and ill-advised memo chastising Hoskins and Harris for interfering with the process: “This is a comprehensive land plan, not a [sic] ethnic or racial plan,” he wrote.
And so now we get to the nub of it. Race.
Forest Park’s establishment leaders are in denial about the complexities of being an integrated community. Always have been. Instead of celebrating its diversity, tackling the challenges it brings, official Forest Park ignores it.
You can’t make a comprehensive plan for Forest Park that doesn’t address the land use issues of affordable housing, rental density, segregated apartment buildings with crime issues, a troubling fall in elementary school enrollment, the lack of an acceptable public high school. And all of those issues have genuine racial aspects.
So, yes, talk to more African Americans as part of your “Key Person” interviews. Better yet, actually work to have more black people be ‘Key” people in town. Don’t perpetually upbraid the single African American elected official on the village board. And don’t be so tone deaf that you actually say out loud that you think three white bureaucrats – at the library, schools and community center – would understand the needs of black Forest Parkers.
If ever there is a process meant to be inclusive, it is the comprehensive plan. In fact, the federal government, which is footing the bill for this exercise, demands outreach and inclusion.
We find this latest cranky outburst by the mayor to be chilling not welcoming.