Either Forest Park taxing bodies are getting really good at securing state grants or there is some sort of election around the corner. Possibly both. But this week brings another small dollop of welcome funding, once again from the RTA (Regional Transportation Authority).
This grant of $20,000 comes on top of the tiny $3,000 grant the village garnered back in April from the same agency and for the same purpose: To create a new zoning and development plan for the stretch of Harlem Avenue from, roughly, the Green Line to the Blue Line. Why does the RTA care? Because, its officials say, it wants to further economic development across the region in specific areas rich in mass transit. And this hideously ugly and underperforming Forest Park border qualifies with its two el lines, the Metra and a very busy Harlem bus route.
In a town often focused on Madison Street and more recently on the many needs of Roosevelt Road, Harlem is mostly an afterthought, perhaps, a shrink would tell us, a repressed memory. Inch your way up a busy Harlem Avenue in thick traffic and look at the deteriorating homes facing the street, the garages which oddly back up onto Harlem, the uninspired retail and even the empty lots. Does not leave a positive impression of our town to those just passing through.
Starting by looking at new zoning that will emphasize commercial uses, that will push that development out to the street line (enough sad strip malls), is an essential place to start. Surely this will be a long-term process of redevelopment as properties come on the market and parcels are assembled by developers. That’s fine. How much worse can it get?
It is hard to underestimate the critical role the two el lines and Metra play in making Forest Park a vital destination for potential residents who work in the Loop and for city residents who have discovered Forest Park as a destination for food and fun.
But with the leadership of village hall, a new vision for this long border can be created and gradually implemented. So our thanks to the RTA for seeing the promise of this front door to Forest Park.