By Tom Holmes
The 6th Annual Economic Luncheon, hosted by the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce, which had at least 50 members present, was promoted as a "three-village summit" under the theme "Envisioning 2029." The idea was to have the three top executives in the Oak Park-Forest Park-River Forest tri-village area — Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins, River Forest President Cathy Adduci, and Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb — give their views of where their villages are headed, both individually and collectively.
Questions came from Dominican professors and chamber members. Each executive began with an opening statement stating why "my village is heading in the right direction."
Hoskins touted what he called a "renaissance" in Proviso High Schools District 209 and Forest Park's racial diversity as evidence that the village is "doing great."
Abu-Taleb, who has facilitated the construction of several high-rise buildings in Oak Park, said the world is changing and Oak Park needs to become "more urban." He used the word "height" more than once to describe what lies in the future and floated the idea of the village creating a chief technology officer as one more step toward that future.
All three emphasized that the role of village government is to set the table by moving the zoning process forward and being quick to issue permits and then get out of the way of entrepreneurs and business owners.
Hoskins held up what he described as a flourishing Madison Street business corridor as evidence that the village's approach to economic development is working. He agreed with his colleagues that more people seem to be working at home.
"When I would knock on doors during the daytime in my campaign," he said, "often someone working at home would come to the door."
Regarding the issue of privacy, Abu-Taleb pointed out, "We all give up privacy for the sake of convenience." Referring to the use of online connectivity he added, "It increases productivity but it's also dangerous."
All three chief executives favored instituting community-wide Wi-Fi service. "Absolutely," said Adduci.
"I favor village Wi-Fi," Hoskins answered, "especially because it would be a benefit for low-income people."
Abu-Taleb was a little more restrained saying, "It depends on who pays for it."
When the moderator, Paul Zimmerman, asked what their villages would be doing in the next 10 years to become greener, Abu-Taleb mentioned Smart City technology and dealing with plastics in general, and straws and bags in particular.
Adduci said River Forest is already doing curbside composting and her community is also thinking about straws, plastic bags and Smart technology.
Hoskins acknowledged that Forest Park is not as green as its two neighbors but offered the recent creation of an Environmental Commission as evidence that "we're getting there."
All three said the state of Illinois poses obstacles to inter-village cooperation. Abu-Taleb noted there has been talk of a consolidated fire department, but state law prohibits it. He was more optimistic about the possibility of a shared facility for law enforcement.
The topic of recreational cannabis came up, and Abu-Taleb saw it as an issue of how local governments raise revenue. Adduci wasn't sure where she stood at the present time but was "optimistic" regarding coming up with a workable solution. Hoskins said, "Whatever happens, we'll adjust."
When the subject of promoting diversity came up, all three boasted about their villages' track records and the passage of welcoming resolutions in each. They agreed, "There's a lot more that needs to be done."
When asked about economic development, Hoskins and Abu-Taleb named Roosevelt Road and Adduci and Abu-Taleb shared a concern for North Avenue.
A question about residents leaving town because of high taxes seemed to be aimed at the mayor of Oak Park, who responded you get what you pay for and the real question is, "Are we getting value for the taxes we pay? The question is not the amount of the taxes but the value we get from them."
Abu-Taleb cited the long history of Oak Park nonprofits reaching across Austin Boulevard. Adduci pointed to River Forest's involvement in a collaborative 911 program and Hoskins said Forest Park's relationship with Maywood is improving, at least at the governmental level, and he repeated his optimism about the positive changes in D209, brought about in part by two Forest Park residents who were elected to the D209 board.
Erik Fjeldstad, senior vice president and chief lending officer at Forest Park National Bank, used the relational metaphor of a team to describe how the three business communities are united.
"Like teammates," he began, "we are ultimately all striving to achieve the same goal, economic development across all of the communities. If one teammate steps up his or her game, it spurs the others to follow suit but, ultimately, there is a lot of collaboration that occurs between the village governments, the chambers, and the various economic development entities."
Answer Book 2019
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