A Place with “The Wright Stuff” – Ten Planning Lessons from Oak Park, Illinois


Heurtley House in Oak Park (1902)

We had the privilege of visiting lovely Oak Park, Illinois over the Veterans Day weekend. As a planner, I was awestruck by this community and by the architectural masterpieces of it’s famous former resident, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Throughout the Oak Park, I felt I was walking amidst the Promised Land for architects and urban planners. Every corner held a new wonder, a new inspiration, or a new visual and architectural delight.

Frank Lloyd Wright home (1889) and studio (1898)

Is Oak Park perfect? Of course not. Every community has areas for improvement. But, what Oak Park does have is a forthright sense of itself, warts and all. And, the city (village) is willing to tackle the tough issues head-on. That attribute is admirable, as most places try to avoid difficult and complex issues like the plague.

Lake Theatre (1936)

Here are my thoughts on the ten planning lessons learned from this inspiring pilgrimage to Oak Park. They are presented in no particular order of importance.

  • Unlike so many suburbs, there is an actual “there” there, in Oak Park!
  • First ring inner suburbs contain charming, walkable neighborhoods that are hard, if not impossible, to match in newer suburbs.
  • A vibrant traditional downtown movie theatre is a terrific placemaking feature and community focal point.
  • Architectural, cultural, and historical walking/biking tours are a superb way to enhance community pride. They also help remind us of the importance of human-scale development.
  • Great and grand architecture never goes out of style.
  • As planners, we should be striving every day to make our communities this beautiful.
  • Preserving and protecting the homes/sites of famous citizens/events is critical to maintaining the integrity and continuity of place. In Oak Park, they have done a fine job of doing just that with the many sites pertaining to Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway.
  • Oak Park’s groundbreaking efforts to champion diversity and integration have had mixed results over the decades, but the fact they are continually trying to do so should be celebrated.
  • The amount of inspiration one can visualize and experience in 4.7 square miles of city (village) is quite exhilarating.
  • When a community has “The Wright Stuff,” you can sense it immediately.

Sunday morning on Lake Street

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