In Defense of Density

downtown-project-map-small-web_3Not enough parking.  Increasing density.  Traffic. Tall buildings. Will investment and construction change who we are?  Or will it help preserve our community?

Oak Park is in transition.  We boast remarkable culture, values, diversity, character, schools, location, transit, neighborhood businesses and housing stock.  We also demand increasingly expensive services.  There is nowhere to go but up for the economic expansion required to absorb the higher cost of services. Taller buildings, more profitable businesses and higher commercial property values are our best defense against rising taxes.

We live in an urban-suburban community, struggling between an urban environment and a suburban mindset.  We need more people living here, working here and spending here to raise the tax revenue needed to support our way of life.  The math doesn’t work any other way – unless you prefer higher taxes or fewer services.

At the same time, local retail has changed.  Today, “Main Street” comprises restaurants, personal services and a few destination specialty shops.  That isn’t a function of parking.  Lack of parking didn’t chase independent retail out of town.  Amazon and big box did.  Surface parking won’t bring them back.

Our community is fortunate that some independent retailers have survived here.  They succeed with curated and unique product lines, notable service and reasonable prices.  Their continued success calls for the sales volumes only density and foot traffic can bring.  We’re too small to support them by ourselves.

Tomorrow’s downtown is experiential.  People arrive via all types of transit.  Cars are welcome on the perimeter, not in the thick of it.  This model isn’t built for pulling up in front of a store and running a quick errand.  Not enough of us shop that way anymore.

The new model depends on people walking through downtown, stopping at more than one business, living nearby.  It depends on access to public transit and creative mobility features.

Most of all, it depends on us making accommodations when we need to go somewhere or shop.  Expect to walk.  Leave earlier if you have to park.  Embrace the growing urbanity.  Appreciate that density can help keep our community viable and affordable.  It might even improve it.

This post also appears on our www.oakpark.com blog and can be listened to as a podcast by clicking here.

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