Forest Park is the second most densely gay community in Illinois. That's the surprising, to us, news from a new survey out of a California institute which has reviewed data from the 2010 census.
Who's Number 1? Guess who? Neighboring Oak Park which has encouraged and promoted and celebrated its gayness for decades. Several gays in Forest Park interviewed for our front page story this week talked about having started in Oak Park apartments but being unable to afford the housing prices and crazy taxes in that town.
One Realtor describes the hike in Forest Park's gay population as "bleedover" from Oak Park. "The suburb clients usually think of is Oak Park when they first investigate. Then they go further and discover Forest Park," says Gary Mancuso, himself a gay Oak Park real estate agent.
While some in Forest Park tend to resent any influences coming over Harlem Avenue from the east, here's a migration worth embracing. Not to stereotype, at least not too much, most gay couples are relatively affluent, well educated, white and willing to spend their money on discretionary items such as eating out.
That makes this a desirable demographic to welcome and, to be bolder, to recruit. Another neighboring suburb that is not Oak Park, has already been targeting gay movers for several years. Berwyn spends at a fair and effective clip with its Bullseye campaign that focuses on concentrated gay neighborhoods in the city of Chicago. The message is simple: We want you. You'll feel welcome. Brick bungalows rock. And we're next door to both Oak Park and the city.
We'd argue that Forest Park has a stronger argument still what with its shared history with Oak Park, its dynamic downtown on Madison Street and its broader diversity. Kevin Bellie, a mainstay at Circle Theatre during its years on Madison, bought a house in Forest Park with his partner for just that reason. Forest Park "is a very diverse community and we love that," said Bellie. "Proximity to the city and diversity are huge in Forest Park."
As the village continues to craft its Comprehensive Plan we'd urge a focus on planned diversity. And one plank in that plan needs to be a conscious welcoming of gays.