Kate Webster, the recently appointed chair of Forest Park’s recently formed Diversity Commission, says it is a given that the village has diversity. The census proves that. The real question, which Webster poses in a profile in today’s Review, is whether there is inclusion. “Are people feeling included?” she asks.
That is the focus of the seven-member commission as it begins its work, she said.
We could not be more pleased.
This a mindset essential for Forest Park and one that has been lacking over the decades. The insular ways of village government have not encouraged reaching out to the many but rather focusing on the few — the lifers, the loyalists.
We have rightly been critical of the absurd lack of racial diversity in the initial make-up of this commission. We have rightly been critical of the impetus for this commission which Mayor Anthony Calderone announced as addressing saggy pants on young men about town.
But we give the mayor credit for the appointment of Webster. She is bright, positive, new to town and has an extraordinary background in diversity-related topics. Rightly, she says it is important that she continue to spend time meeting with various community leaders to better understand the village. But more important is finding and listening to clear voices that have seldom been heard in Forest Park.
Oak Park awakens
For years, there was no better way to get a rise out of Oak Park village officials than to point out another business decamping from Oak Park to Forest Park. Red faces and sputtering ensued.
In those glory days for Madison Street and Forest Park, the wins were many and frequent. Much of the energy and leadership of the last generation of Forest Park business owners came from Oak Park ex-patriots who touted Forest Park for its welcoming village government, lower rents, and can-do attitudes.
Those folks are largely gone, have not been fully replaced and instead we are left with the endless rancor and division on the street over video gaming. Not a good state of affairs.
Meanwhile, Oak Park has shaken its stupor, admitted its many failings in business recruitment and retention, invested in its services, and is in the process of eating Forest Park’s lunch. And possibly its dinner trade, too.
In today’s Review we report on three Forest Park restaurants which have either relocated to Oak Park or are opening a second location there. House Red (renamed Novo) and Saigon Pho are now neighbors on Lake Street near Oak Park Avenue. And Scratch Kitchen will soon join them in the Hemingway District when it opens a new, larger version of Scratch in November.
Additionally, a Forest Park clothing retailer, Jayne, has just inked a lease for a storefront on Marion Street in our neighboring community.
Forest Park used to be cheaper on rent and taxes. Not so much anymore. Forest Park used to be easier when it came to permits and construction. Another advantage lost. Forest Park used to offer an entrepreneur-luring camaraderie that was intangible but extremely appealing.
It is easier to win when your competitor (Oak Park) is slow and not as smart. Forest Park needs to adapt to a newly competitive moment.