Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Trying to be something Orland Park is not

There are some people who are never happy with what they are or what they have. They're always looking elsewhere for the "big ideas" instead of right in their back yards. Take Orland Park's "leadership," for example -- I use the term liberally, of course.

The Village has been purchasing land bordering LaGrange Road, 143rd Street and Southwest Highway -- the triangle -- to develop a mixed-use, Old Town-like downtown area adjacent to the newly remodeled Metra train stop. The last hurdle is the purchase of Orland Plaza, which has been all over the news.

The idea is this "down town" will be like Frankfort's downtown. A place that has a look and feel from the past when people would sit on the edge of the wood planked sidewalks (after the mud dried), watched the horse and buggies klop-klop by, kicking up mini-dust storms, and eat homemade pie.

I admit the idea has some merit. When I want to lazily walk in a turn-of-the-century like downtown center, I drive to Frankfort, spend a few hours there, and then never go back, except maybe for their annual Labor Day weekend arts, craft and food fest, which is one of the region's best.

If I want to spend more than a few hours at a place like that, I've traveled to Narbonne in France and walked around Carcassone, between Toulous and Narbonne in France, not too far from Perpignon on the Cout d Azure, which was Salvador Dali's favorite place to paint. I'll spend a few days walking around there among its olden days store fronts, shops and streets filled with circus-like minstrels. Or, maybe, you might travel to Palestinian East Jerusalem, and visit the Souq and spend hours walking from one tiny shop to another taking in the aromatic orchestra of incense. (In fact, at the end of this column, you can watch my July 2007 Comcast Cable TV program "TV Chicagoland/30 Minutes" and my video tour of the Souq of East Jerusalem.) Or, maybe, go to the old city in Barcelona and take in breathtaking ancient churches and structures from real Medieval times.

But does Orland Park really need an "Old Town?"

I don't think so. I know they keep telling us it's to broaden the "ambiance" of our little village. Well, Orland Park is no "little village." With better management, it could be the economic engine driving the Southwest Suburbs. Instead, we're slumped by a poor economy like everyone else and that's surprising because we have so many retail shops our sales tax revenues should be shooting through the roof and they are not. We have so many store fronts that are vacant, a trashy look that reminds people of a future ghetto -- it's happened to places. I've seen it.

Mayor Dan McLaughlin fashions himself off to be some mini-me Mayor Daley. We'll call him "da boss," because behind his unpresuming smile is one tough politician who gets angry over any resistance from people around him.

(That's how he was to me when I told him that instead of automatically appointing his nominee for a certain high-paying village position, we should at least open the job up to the village residences to see if anyone else was interested in qualifying for it -- I quit the commission when he told me it was either his way or the highway and now he goes around telling people he doesn't understand why I am so critical of him -- you're no different than the other two-faced politicians, Dan!)

It's that 19th Ward fever that has been sweeping through our community over the past few years. There's no immunity for it, yet.

So, how about we drop this stupid idea of some turn-of-the-century old town atmosphere and instead build something really remarkable, like a community theater (that isn't political like the one we have today), or a museum campus, or some place where people can go to have real enjoyment, arts, entertainment and fun?

Secrets of the Souq of East Jerusalem Video
Click the PLAY button to watch

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