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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Oak Park:Friendly Neighbors, Good Politics
by Robert Schultz

This article shared 2036 times since Wed Mar 1, 2000
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The residents of Oak Park can no longer be accused of having the narrow minds of the famous Hemingway quote about the community. However the broad lawns remain.

Oak Park, which lies directly west of the Chicago community of Austin, is a gateway to the western suburbs. Its four— square miles of the planet are also famous for being the community where Frank Lloyd Wright's studio is located. Wright's handiwork dots the community.

As enduring as Wright's work, and perhaps more important, has been Oak Park's commitment to diversity. Barbara Furlong, the President of the Village, said the community's commitment to racial diversity dates back to 1968—the same time federal fair housing legislation was under consideration.

Whereas the work on racial justice issues continues, the community's progressive legacy contributed to the leadership its local government has demonstrated on sexual orientation issues. Preston Shumacher, a columnist for BLACKlines, works in Oak Park. Shumacker says Oak Park is a wonderful place for gays and lesbians. Shumacker believes the Oak Park's local government's recognition of domestic partnerships has influenced other governmental units to follow Oak Park's lead.

"It's the city life in the suburbs," says Ray Johnson, the co— chair of the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association ( OPALGA ) . Johnson said that Oak Park was a community "not afraid to take risks," and fights for the rights of others.

Overall Johnson related that Oak Park is a really dynamic community.

Some of the dynamism comes from the same forces evident in Chicago. The mix of economic, racial, and immigrant communities plays a role. Everyone interviewed mentioned the wide variety of cuisine available throughout Oak Park.

The dynamic mix of Oak Park is not limited to its people, or its cuisine. There's a wide variety of housing options for Oak Park's residents. Ed Goodwin, of Merrill, Becker, Knoll and Associates, noted the large amount of stucco houses. Goodwin also said there are bungalows, Queen Anne, and Victorian style homes throughout Oak Park. Goodwin said the averages for home sales in the communities are in the $250,000 to $270,000 range.

Goodwin sees a shortage of inventory that is pushing prices higher in Oak Park. Homes that need work such as a new roof, or remodeling of kitchens and baths are in the $150,000 to $170,000 range. Goodwin praised the Oak Park schools.

Gary Mancuso, of Century 21, calls the Oak Park market a "hot area." Mancuso has seen homes with a market life of two to five days. A key— selling factor for Oak Park is its proximity to Chicago and the western suburbs. Mancuso said $281,000 is the average price of Oak Park homes recently announced by the Oak Park Board of Realtors. Mancuso said Oak Park's housing stock includes a great array of condos running from vintage to modern with prices ranging from $60,000 to deluxe units at $300,000. Mancuso said because Oak Park's gay community in fully interwoven into the community, the atmosphere differs from Boystown.

Helen Bishop, a neighboring Forest Park resident and the other co— chair of OPALGA, observed that Oak Park residents are actively involved in the community. She believes the community involvement is worth of emulation as it enhances the livability quotient. She also believes Oak Park's volunteerism needs to be looked into to understand how to replicate its spirit elsewhere.

Bishop and Johnson both mentioned how OPALGA is collaborating with groups as diverse as the NAACP and the League of Women Voters in responding to community needs and issues.

OPALGA is taking the lead on responding to the needs of LBGTQ youth in the area. OPALGA's PRISM program has a Thursday night drop in for youth 14— 17 and its program for 18— 25— year— olds; Spectrum's drop— in night is Mondays. OPALGA and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network are working together to conduct training in the suburb's school system to improve the knowledge of LBGTQ issues that educator will encounter.

The Oak Park Area Gay and Lesbian Association can be reached at ( 708 ) 848— 0273. They host events every week, and an annual gala benefit each June.

The Metropolitan Community Church of the Incarnation can be reached at 460 Lake St., ( 708 ) 383— 3033.

This article shared 2036 times since Wed Mar 1, 2000
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