A $3,000 grant doesn’t seem like much if the goal is to begin addressing the oddness, the ugliness, the underutilized mess that is Harlem Avenue from the Green Line el down to the Blue Line at the Ike. 

But we’ll take it, this tiny little wad from the Regional Transportation Association (RTA). The grant to the village government isn’t intended — obviously — to build buildings or even to vaporize a few of the more hideous ones. Its interesting goal is to fund the start of a conversation between the village and potential developers on the potential they see in a stretch we’ve all been looking at blindly for too long.

Where we see tacky garages backing up to Harlem, the RTA sees a fertile, highly trafficked street connecting two tremendous assets in the dual el lines. Where we see worn down houses and middling strip malls, the RTA sees heavy bus use on the stretch that it wants to encourage. Mixed use, retail, even office space is possible, says the RTA spokesman.

Good for the village government for seeing the possibility that Harlem in Forest Park could be much more than it is today. It is a strip with immediately developable parcels at Harlem and Circle, at Harlem and Madison. It is a strip which ends with a major highway and bridge that is about to be fully reimagined when the Ike is rebuilt, perhaps late this decade. 

Two things: How exactly does this work? Who facilitates the conversation, who compiles the conclusions? And second, after Forest Park’s success in collaborating with River Forest on next year’s streetscaping project on West Madison Street, how about teaming up with Oak Park to address the failings of Harlem Avenue? Perhaps the Oak Park side of the street is modestly better, but that is not saying much.