Special

By Steve Cooper, Director of Public Safety

Photos By Bennie White

THE OAK PARK DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY has always taken pride in providing the city with the best public safety services possible. We believe in our partnership with the community through sharing and exchanging ideas, building relationships, and working together to address challenges.

These efforts have been demonstrated through a number of community initiatives, such as:

  • The Oak Park Public Safety Citizens Academy.
  • The Oak Park Public Safety Ice Cream Truck.
  • Coffee-With-A-Cop.
  • The addition of a second Community Resource Officer.

The Oak Park Public Safety Citizen Academy is entering its fourth year and the demand for enrollment remains high. The Academy is a fiveweek class for the public held on Wednesday evenings from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. The academy is held twice a year (spring and summer). The Citizen Academy provides an excellent opportunity for residents to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day operations of a Public Safety Department. It is free for Oak Park residents 18 years of age and older.

The classes cover a number of interesting topics such as patrol and traffic operations, detective bureau and case investigations, police and firefighting equipment, criminal law and procedures, use of force and officer safety, crime scene investigations and forensics, firefighting and firetruck operations, medical first-response, radio dispatch and 911 operations.

There are no physical fitness requirements to enroll and all participation is strictly voluntary. Upon completion of the Academy, students are awarded a diploma during a graduation ceremony.

THE OAK PARK PUBLIC SAFETY ICE CREAM TRUCK is entering its third season and has become one of the favorite Public Safety initiatives among both the youth and the adults in the community. On several days throughout the spring and summer, officers can be seen driving through the neighborhoods in our ice cream truck handing out free ice cream. This has provided an outstanding opportunity for our Officers to have positive interactions with many members in the community. It is amazing how a small gesture, such as sharing ice cream, can put a smile on a person’s face. The experience is truly priceless.

None of this would have been possible without the tremendous support from several of our vendors in Oak Park. I would again like to thank Prairie Farms for donating three hundred units of ice cream per week, Quality Restaurant Equipment Masters for donating a large deep freezer to house the ice cream, Salient Sign Studio for providing the graphics for the Ice Cream Truck, and Autobahn Collision for the restoration work they performed on the truck. Also, our City Manager, Erik Tungate, and the Department of Public Works for donating the truck.

If you are in Oak Park this Spring and Summer, watch for the Oak Park Public Safety Ice Cream Truck in your area. It is often known to make surprise visits at various schools throughout the City as well as some City-sponsored events.

“COFFEE WITH A COP” HAS BECOME A VERY POPULAR community outreach initiative. Although the concept is not new, it is still a very good one. For almost a year now, the Oak Park Public Safety Department has partnered with numerous restaurants throughout the City to host “Coffee with a Cop.” This has provided the community an opportunity to meet at different restaurants and have informal conversations discussing many topics (community issues, upcoming events, sports, etc.) while enjoying a free cup of coffee. The citizens and the officers have an opportunity to become personally acquainted while conversing in a relaxed atmosphere. This event takes place bi-monthly on either Saturday or Sunday morning usually between the hours of 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM.

THE PUBLIC SAFETY DEPARTMENT has recently added a second Community Resource Officer, Robert Koch, who will work in conjunction with Officer Devin Benson. With the additional Community Resource Officer, we have been able to significantly impact our relationships with the many schools and students in Oak Park, senior citizens, and Block Clubs while continuing to address important needs within the community. The positive effect of an additional Community Resource Officer has been obvious and mentioned by numerous members within the community.

The entire Public Safety Department would like to extend a very heartfelt thank you to the community for your unwavering love and support throughout the years. We continue our pledge to serve at the highest level the great citizens and businesses of Oak Park with honor and integrity.

WITH ENROLLMENT AROUND 5,000 STUDENTS, Oak Park is the largest district within the city. It serves the majority of Oak Park, half of Royal Oak Township and parts of Southfield.

There are seven schools within the district: Preschool, Einstein, Key and Pepper elementary schools, middle school Oak Park Preparatory Academy, a Freshman Institute and Oak Park High School. There are also two alternative education centers, NOVA and the Lessenger Campus.

Interim Superintendent Stan Trompeter says a commitment to building well-rounded students sets Oak Park School District apart.

“We are unique because we are a very caring district – we’re a professional, learning community and a district that caters to ‘the total child’,” he says. “We are very big into Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) and restorative practices: trying to take away harm and build community.”

Some of the ways the District has accomplished this is through conferencing with parents and students and reducing instances where students are removed from the classroom, like suspensions, tardiness and absences. They’ve also implemented new programming in their classrooms.

“We are looking at programming like Capturing Kids Hearts, building up our Positive Behavior Supports program,” Trompeter says. “We have hired a lot of new social workers and psychologists to assist us in all the schools with meeting the needs of the whole child. We are an at-risk school district; we have a lot of children with a lot of needs so we are trying to meet those needs by giving them the professional help they need every day.”

In addition to strengthening community and support, Oak Park also provides students with the opportunity to excel in athletics and extracurricular activities.

“We offer a wide variety of not only academic things, but things that will get students involved. We have robotics teams, a national honor society. We have an outstanding athletic program – state champions the last four out of five years in track – and an award-winning marching band known all over the country,” Trompeter says. “I could go on but I like to think we cater to the total child and everyone is here for one reason and that is to make sure every one of our students is successful in life and ready when they leave high school to have a lot of options to be successful.”

The District has seen that success materialize through scholarships awarded to their students.

“We have a lot of academic scholars here that do very well in the Wade McCree Incentive Scholarship program and the Gates Millennium scholarship,” Trompeter says. “The last three out of five years we’ve had winners of Gates Millennium from our schools and there are only a thousand winners total in the United States. It provides full tuition through their bachelors program all the way to their doctorate.”

The growing success of the District is only augmented by the support of the Oak Park City government.

“What we’ve built, in the last few years especially, is a great camaraderie with the City; we have a lot of programs we do with the Mayor and the City. We are very close with public safety. We have the police liaisons that come into the buildings and work with the kids to see police in a positive mode,” Trompeter says. “I’m proud of the fact that even though we are a small district – three square miles – we have a great relationship we’ve built with the community, with public safety and with the city.”

Overall, Oak Park Schools are using the resources they have available to ensure students entering their District leave well-rounded, prepared for their future and hopefully with an appreciation of their City.

“I just think that this is a great place. It’s a city, and especially a school district, where we like to be innovative, try new things, be very proactive in terms of education,” Trompeter says. “Our motto is ‘building bridges for success’ and that’s what we are doing with our students, hopefully providing them with bridges to be successful.”

ESTABLISHED IN 1840, BERKLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT CONTAINS EIGHT SCHOOLS, the most of the three districts. It includes Berkley Building Blocks early childhood center, four elementary schools serving K-5 (Angell, Burton, Pattengill and Rogers), Norup International school serving K-8, Anderson Middle School and Berkley High. Over 4,500 students are enrolled in the District, mostly residents from Berkley, Huntington Woods and the portion of Oak Park (north of Ten Mile Rd. between Greenfield and Coolidge) within the district. There are also a limited number of School of Choice students attending.

Both Norup International, a K-8 school, and Berkley Building Blocks early childhood center are within Oak Park city limits, as well as Berkley Schools Administrative Building. Jessica Stilger, Berkley Schools Director of Communications, says the academic opportunities available to students is what makes their District stand out, including 26 advanced placement courses at Berkley High and a vast array of extracurriculars throughout their schools.

“Berkley School District is known for being a district that creates pathways for students to achieve their individual best, whatever that looks like for each student,” she says.

With an enrollment of over 400 students annually, Berkley Building Blocks helps children as young as six-weeks-old build connections and social skills up to age five.

“Our center is known for being high-quality and accredited, and dedicated to nurturing, growing and loving each student,” Stilger says. “Building Blocks forms strong family connections, encourages family involvement, hosts two parent/teacher conference sessions each year with all age levels and hosts in-house field trips many times each year to bring the outside world in.”

This dedication and focus on growing strengths continues through elementary school with the implementation of workshops to build comprehension and help students learn at an individual level. In middle school, class options only expand further, Stilger says.

“In middle school, students can explore robotics, foreign languages, journalism, and various music options, just to name a few. In addition, many students complete high school credits while attending Norup and eighth grade students complete a year-long, in-depth community research project,” she says. “Norup, just like all schools in the Berkley School District, is known for reaching and empowering all learners.”

 

From Building Blocks to Berkley High, District students are afforded the opportunity to grow at their own pace through a diverse collection of classes and extracurriculars. This makes Berkley Schools stand out as a district in Oakland County.

“In the Berkley School District, students are prepared to be creative, curious, confident, well-rounded critical thinkers, kind and caring and have a global perspective while understanding their communities,” Stilger says. “Berkley Schools students enjoy the multitude of experiences and successes because of the overwhelming community support, the fantastic work of their great teachers and administrators and the rich and vibrant environments that families create.”

By Sara E. Teller

OAK PARK’S PARKS AND RECREATION COMMISSION WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1956, and the current Commission serves in an advisory capacity, assisting with the planning, promoting, executing, and evaluating of public recreation, parks, programs, and other Departmental special events. The City’s Recreation Department offers classes, services, and activities for people of all abilities, ages, socio-economic backgrounds, and ethnicities, and an Intergovernmental Agreement with the City of Hazel Park and the City of Ferndale allows residents in both cities to utilize Oak Park’s facilities, programs, and services at resident rates.

According to Oak Park’s Director of Recreation Laurie Stasiak, “We believe our parks and recreation programs help improve the health and well-being of Oak Park residents through many tailored programs and services while increasing a sense of pride and community through social interconnectedness.” She added, “Most of our events and activities take place within our Parks and Recreation complex: the Community Center, Shepherd Park, and our community pool at Oak Park Boulevard and Coolidge. Occasionally we sponsor off-site events and activities.”

Stasiak has spent her entire career in the recreation field and said she is a “lifelong advocate of the importance of recreation and parks to the well-being and quality of life of our community members.” She especially enjoys working in Oak Park, because of the area’s diversity, saying, “The wonderful ethnic and racial diversity makes it an interesting and inclusive community; and one with very different cultural needs. I love that we are small enough that we are able to listen to the needs of our community and provide recreation options for all residents.”

THE RECREATION DEPARTMENT’S TEAM consists of both Parks and Recreation and marketing professionals who have a combined 97 years of experience in therapeutics, athletics, aquatics, seniors, and community and school recreation and education programs. Stasiak explained, “While it is my responsibility to oversee the Department and programs, we have a talented and dedicated staff that coordinate the daily operations and activities and make sure we are providing excellent customer service for all of our participants.”

The Department also coordinates with residents and other city stakeholders, collaborating to ensure it offers a wide range of options. Stasiak said, “We celebrate and connect our community through ongoing dialogue with residents, city council members, city departments, boards and commissions, leaders in government at all levels, businesses, and community organizations who have the interest of making Oak Park a healthy and prosperous city.”

Stasiak is continually inspired by how active and engaged Oak Park’s residents are. “Our residents, especially our seniors, are very active. I see them walking, jogging, biking at the park and at the [high school] track,” Stasiak said. “I love that early in the morning, people are in the park, walking the track, playing basketball on our courts at Shepherd Park, enjoying the park facilities. We have our community pool that gets used a lot by our residents and the surrounding communities.”

THERE ARE A NUMBER OF PROGRAMS SPECIFICALLY GEARED towards area seniors who are energetic and eager to stay connected. Stasiak explained, “Our senior population is awesome! They are involved, they volunteer. We have record numbers of participants. We have classes ranging from diabetes prevention, cooking classes, nutrition classes, senior day trips, and lunch and theater trips that are filled to capacity.”

Some notable upcoming 2019 events include the Summer Blast on August 10, Dog Day at the Pool on August 25, Everything Animals and Pet Expo on September 22, and the Annual Boo Bash on October 26, as well as Oak Park’s Winterfest, Daddy Daughter Valentine Day Dance, and Mother and Son Dance with dates to be announced.

ONGOING SPECIAL EVENTS HOSTED BY THE DEPARTMENT include Oak Park’s Farmers Market held every Wednesday morning starting June 26 through September 25, 2019, 9:00 A.M.1:00 P.M. The Market provides fresh foods, health and wellness education, and activities and entertainment for all ages. “It has doubled in size for the year 2019 and now has more than 26 vendors,” Stasiak said.

A recently established partnership with Beaumont Community Health has allowed Oak Park to offer several new, free health programs, including Beaumont Gets Walking in Oak Park, Beaumont’s National Diabetes Prevention Program titled Diabetes PATH program (Personal Action Towards Health), Cooking Matters classes designed for adults and sessions specifically for families, and a Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring and Education program.

“Michigan State University Extension has also been an instrumental partner in offering such classes as Eat Smart Live Strong,” Stasiak said. “These classes are designed to help incomeeligible older adults adopt key behaviors to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption and the amount of physical activity they engage in.”

THE DEPARTMENT COLLABORATES with the area’s three school districts – Oak Park, Ferndale and Berkley – to offer youth development and after-school programming as well, and to expand programming options to all residents. Various youth and adult leagues and activities are offered, including softball, kickball, summer camp, exercise classes, karate classes, ballroom, hustle and belly dance classes, yoga, Tai Chi, and senior bingo, scrabble, pickle ball, and bid whist. Community pool programs water exercise, community swims, female only and men only swim lessons, and competitive swim classes.

Stasiak added, ‘We rent out our Community Center and the picnic shelters for community gatherings.”

All of the Department’s programming is offered based on resident input, feedback, and interest. The team creates a fiveyear master plan that’s developed via communications with individuals in the area, including word of mouth, surveys, event evaluations, community meetings, open houses, and focus groups.

For more information, visit the Recreation Department at 14300 Oak Park Blvd. Questions can also be directed to 248-691-7555 or RecOffice@OakParkMI.gov.

By Colton Dale

THE OAK PARK CITY COUNCIL is the dynamic and energetic legislative body for the City of Oak Park. It is comprised of Mayor Marian McClellan, Mayor Pro Tem Solomon Radner and three City Council Members elected at-large; Carolyn Burns, Ken Rich and Regina Weiss.

The current City Council represents the diversity of Oak Park beautifully, with ranges in age, ethnicity, religion, and professional background.

City Council has the power and authority to adopt laws, ordinances, and resolutions. There’s a wide array of issues discussed and solved at City Council meetings. This means that City Council members in some ways have to be generalists, not specialists. In other words, they need to have a sufficient understanding of a wide array of topics and disciplines so that they can adequately deal with them, rather than narrow, specialized knowledge. Some topics that could be discussed in any given City Council meeting are:

• Rules governing its own proceedings.

• The exercise of powers that aren’t covered by state and federal law.

• The enforcement of City ordinances.

• Appointments of top administrative personnel.

• The City’s financial operations.

• Appointments commissions of new members of boards and commissions

• The City’s intergovernmental affairs.

• The general welfare of the city and its inhabitants.

• Community leadership initiatives.

AS MAYOR, MARIAN MCCLELLAN IS AUTHORIZED TO EXERCISE THE POWERS as outlined in the City’s Charter. For example, the Mayor is considered the executive head of the City for ceremonial purposes and is considered the presiding officer of City Council although the Mayor has the same voice and vote as other City Council members in all proceedings.

Mayor McClellan was first elected in 2011 and has been reelected every two years since. She has been an Oak Park resident since 1990, and has long been a champion of the City’s culture and diversity. She spent 32 years teaching in Metro Detroit, spending time in Detroit, Warren, Rochester Hills, and Ferndale. Today, she is a strong advocate for the City and always works to improve quality of life for Oak Park residents. She serves on the Board of Trustees for both the Employee Retirements System and Public Safety Retirement System, as well as the Corridor Improvement Authority and the Planning Commission.

Mayoral elections are every two years, whereas City Council terms are four years long. Municipal elections are always held on odd-number years; however, if a position becomes vacant during an elected official’s term of office, a special election may be held to fill that vacancy. Other elected officials of the City include the Municipal Judge and an Associate Municipal Judge, each elected to serve four-year terms in the 45th District Court.

MAYOR PRO TEM SOLOMON RADNER WAS FIRST ELECTED as a City Council Member in 2015. He has been an Oak Park resident since 1984. A graduate of Wayne State University Law School, he is the founder of Radner Legal Services, and is married with three young children. Today, he serves on the City’s Recycling and Environmental Conservation Commission as well as the Arts & Cultural Diversity Commission.

The Mayor Pro Tem is decided by the greatest number of votes by the voters in the previous election. The duty of the Mayor Pro Tem, on top of serving as a City Council Member, is to perform the actions of the Mayor in case of the Mayor’s absence.

Council Member Carolyn Burns, who previously served a term as Mayor Pro Tem, was first elected to Council in 2013. A resident of Oak Park since 2000, she has spent over 25 years in public service and administrative roles. She serves on the Beautification and Planning Commissions.

Council Member Ken Rich was first elected in 2015. He is the firm manager and lead trial counsel at Rich, Campbell & Roeder, PC, focusing his practice in personal injury defense, municipal law, banking, and employment. Rich received his Juris Doctor in 1985 from the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and his Bachelor of Arts with High Distinction in 1982 from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Today, on top of spending time with his family, he serves on the City’s Public Safety Retirement System Board and Economic Development Corporation/Brownfield Authority.

The City’s newest Council Member, Regina Weiss, was elected in 2017. She previously served as the Program Director at Tri-Community Coalition, and now is a teacher at Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine in Detroit. Regina was active in Oak Park long before she became a Council Member. Today, she serves on three boards and commissions; the Arts and Cultural Diversity Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission and Library Board of Directors.

One of the most important roles of City Council is to select a City Manager to run the City’s day-to-day operations. Together, they vote to appoint this chief executive role because of the council-manager form of local government that the City of Oak Park has, as many others do. The council-manager form is the system of local government that combines the political leadership of elected officials with the managerial experience of an appointed executive.

Today, City Manager Erik Tungate is charged with supervising all City personnel, preparing and submitting the annual budget, enforcing municipal ordinances, and implementing the policies and direction set by City Council.

IN 2013, THE CITY COUNCIL ADOPTED A FIVE-YEAR STRATEGIC PLAN that con sists of six priority areas of focus, each with measurable objectives intended to guide the City through 2019. The priorities of the plan are summarized within three main tenets: Community, Culture, and Commerce. Each year the recommended budget reflects City Council’s dedication to accomplishing these goals and objectives:

Community

STRENGTHEN COMMUNITY by providing the highest possible quality of life, and becoming a regional leader in rebuilding the urban environment and public realm.

Culture

ENHANCE CULTURE by providing the highest quality programs and services while encouraging collaboration among community members and maintaining the City’s unique cultural diversity.

Commerce

STIMULATE COMMERCE by encouraging business growth and innovation, while establishing a vibrant city center and thriving activity nodes, and ultimately maximizing Oak Park’s competitiveness in the region.

The City has accomplished so much to improve the quality of life for Oak Park residents in accordance with the principles laid out in the 2013 Strategic Plan. Five years have now passed since the adoption of that document and most goals have been accomplished. City Council is now working to create another Strategic Plan for the next five years.

City Council meets every first and third Monday of each month throughout the year, with rare exceptions, in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 14000 Oak Park Blvd. Regular Council meetings are open to the public, and all are welcome to attend. There is always time set aside for public comment at the end. To watch a meeting from home or view an archived meeting, visit the City’s YouTube channel @CityOfOakPark.

By Colton Dale

THE NINE MILE REDESIGN is a grant-funded public improvement project that will bring multiple new amenities to Nine Mile Road.

The first phase of the project is the one happening this Summer, in partnership with the City of Ferndale. It will cover the area on Nine Mile Road from McClain Drive to the eastern border of Oak Park, and will extend into Ferndale, thus connecting Oak Park and Ferndale via bike route. The subsequent two phases hope to continue the redesign of Nine Mile Road westward, all the way to the City’s border with Southfield. This project is expected to transform and revitalize the Nine Mile Road Corridor, and spark a new beginning for Oak Park.

The project is aimed at creating a new sense of place on the Corridor, increasing non-motorized transportation usage, and spurring business growth for the benefit of residents of all ages. By the time the project wraps up, new features on Nine Mile Road will include:

  • Road Diet – A decrease in motor vehicle traffic lanes.
  • Bike Lanes – Dedicated lanes for cyclists to utilize for travel.
  • Streetscape – Improved pavement and landscaping along the corridor.
  • Back-In Angle Parking – A new parking concept that is safer for all and easy to use.
  • Pocket Parks – Miniature public parks at the intersections of Nine Mile Road and Sherman Street and Seneca Street.

The process for the Nine Mile Redesign began in 2015 with a grant from the Project For Public Spaces and the Center For New Urbanism. After a week-long study analyzing traffic patterns and collaborative charrettes with the public over three days to gain community input, a report was created called the Nine Mile Redesign. The public input and professional consulting helped the City determine that there was a need and desire for the features listed above. Throughout the entire process, there have been a number of opportunities for the public to get involved in the planning and implementation of the Nine Mile Redesign. Such public outreach activities include:

  • Three community input meetings specifically on the Nine Mile Redesign (Summer 2015)
  • Three town halls regarding the City’s Master Plan (November 2015 – February 2016)
  • Door-to-door conversations with residents (March 2017)
  • Three community input meetings for the Sherman Pop-Up Park (Spring 2017)
  • A post-Sherman Summer Pop-Up Park Survey (August 2017)
  • Complete Streets Open House (May 2018)
  • Pre-Construction Open House (May 2019)
  • Social Media
  • City website and magazine

WHAT IS A ROAD DIET & WHY DO WE NEED IT?

As more communities desire “complete streets” and more livable spaces, they look for opportunities to better integrate pedestrian and bicycle facilities along their corridors. After getting input from the community, the City conducted a traffic study to determine the feasibility of such facilities. We learned from the traffic study that the volume of traffic on Nine Mile Road does not justify a five-lane road and eliminating some of the lanes would not decrease the level of service. The road diet on Nine Mile will reduce the amount of motor vehicle lanes from five or four (depending on the specific area) down to three.

A road diet will not only create more room for cyclists and pedestrians, it also will create a safer road for everyone to travel on. Did you know that a road diet can decrease car accidents anywhere from 19 to 47 percent?

Further, the road diet will help boost local economic activity. For local businesses, a road diet can improve economic vitality by changing the corridor from a place that people “drive-through” to one that they “driveto.” Replacing automobile lanes with on-street parking, walking areas, and bicycle lanes will make the corridor a more attractive place for consumers.

WHAT IS BACK-IN ANGLE PARKING, AND WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF IT?

With the implementation of the road diet, more room for commercial parking will become available along Nine Mile Road. Instead of putting in old-fashioned parallel parking, the City has decided to implement back-in angle parking.

Back-in angle parking uses the same process and motions as parallel parking but is much safer and allows for the creation of more parking spaces.

With a clearer line of sight and easier maneuverability than typical on-street parking, back-in angle parking provides motorists with a better vision of bicyclists, pedestrians, cars, and trucks as they exit their parking space and enter moving traffic. Back-in angle parking also eliminates the risk that is present in parallel parking situations of a motorist opening their car door into the path of a bicyclist. It allows safer access to trunk space and makes it easier for passengers to enter and exit the vehicle safely.

WHY DO WE NEED BIKE LANES?

Bike lanes are a very important part of the Nine Mile Redesign as the City works towards accommodating all types of travel. Having a designated safe area for cyclists to travel via bike lanes causes significantly less accidents and injuries for everyone on the road. Creating an environment that cyclists feel safe in will also promote physical fitness and environmental sustainability. Further, experts say that the addition of bike lanes can help stimulate the local economy by increasing sales for local businesses.

WHAT ARE POCKET PARKS, AND WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF THEM?

Pocket parks are a great way to spruce up an area immediately adjacent to local businesses that otherwise would be underutilized. The two pocket parks that are considered a part of the Nine Mile Redesign plan are positioned at Sherman Street and Seneca Street.

An example of a pocket park is the temporary Sherman Pop-Up Park that the City installed in July of 2017. This new park involved closing off the street at the intersection of Sherman Street and Nine Mile Road to the alley.

The project was driven by the wants of nearby residents and businesses, which ended up benefiting the community more than anyone had imagined. It created a new vibrancy in the neighborhood, gave residents a new place for leisure, and spurred business activity. In tracking visitors to the pop-up park, the City was able to track an average of 900 people per week that visited the park and logged into the free Wi-Fi that was provided for them.

When all is said and done, the Nine Mile Redesign and all the fun amenities to come with it will transform the Corridor!

By Ingrid Sjostrand

OAK PARK IS ON THE RISE! Property values are skyrocketing in the city and throughout Oakland County; with Oak Park seeing an almost 16 percent increase in property values for 2019, according to the County’s Equalization Division.

Why such a big bump? Robert Wittenberg, State Representative for Oak Park – who also happens to be an Oak Park resident – says it’s an accumulation of several components that make the city an attractive place to live.

“There are three essential factors contributing to rising property values: the quality of our local schools, new employment opportunities, and our proximity to shopping, entertainment and recreational centers in other communities and being developed in Oak Park,” he says. “Oak Park is showing the rest of the state how to drive the economy forward by focusing on these critical factors.”

Area realtors Jim Shaffer, of Jim Shaffer and Associates Realty, and Kevin DeVergilio, of REAL Team Real Estate, offer more insight into why Oak Park is inspiring a housing boom, including the increasing appeal of surrounding communities.

“SUPPLY AND DEMAND – A SWELL OF FIRST TIME HOME BUYERS are choosing the Woodward Corridor because of our centralized downtown neighborhoods,” Shaffer says. “As communities like Ferndale and Royal Oak have become costprohibitive, buyers are discovering communities like Oak Park and Hazel Park.”

DeVergilio adds, “Oak Park is an appealing place to buyers for many reasons. A few features that stand out are the central location within the Metro area as well as the continued efforts from our City with improvements and a ton of first-time buyers being priced out of surrounding areas finding beautiful comparable homes in a great community, and simply, the thriving city of Detroit with more job opportunities and relocation allowing population to rise and desirability of the location to increase.”

For residents looking to sell, Shaffer says now is the perfect time.

“Sellers can expect to sell for top-dollar, often at and above asking price due to multiple offers and bidding wars,” he explains. “Most of our Oak Park listings are garnering multiple offers due to demand and our approach to marketing properties.”

This might make buyers nervous, but Shaffer says it’s a great time for them too. With the City’s low taxes, housing rates are still cheaper than nearby popular neighborhoods.

“First time buyers can purchase a three-bedroom here for under $175,000 which cannot be found in surrounding communities,” he says. “And Oak Park leaders have a clear vision for the city’s future, a welcoming community with diverse housing stock.”

“For buyers – they are purchasing in one of the fastest-growing markets where they see a great community and investment!” DeVergilio adds.

THE PROPERTY VALUE INCREASE IS ALSO AFFECTING RESIDENTS not interested in buying or selling by creating a strong community and bringing in more money for the City to continue to improve.

“In my tenure representing Oak Park, I have seen tremendous growth in the city. Even before my time in the House, I could already see the blossoming revitalization of Oak Park when I moved in to the community in 2012. These changes have made a positive impact on Oak Park residents and our city’s economy,” Rep. Wittenberg says. “The thriving economy has allowed the city to provide better services to its residents, leading to an overall increase in quality of life.”

While the increase sounds too good to be true, Wittenberg is aware of the potential adverse side effects of increased property values and is hoping he can help prevent them.

“One of the negative effects might be a lack of diversity in housing options. As property values rise, low-income families and seniors in particular might have trouble finding options that fit their needs,” he says. “That’s why I’m fighting to ensure fair housing laws govern our city and state, so that no Oak Park resident is priced out of their home.”

OVERALL, THE POPULARITY OF OAK PARK HOUSING should only help improve the city and add to the uniqueness and diversity of its culture.

“I love how diverse Oak Park is. As one of the most diverse cities in Oakland County and our state, Oak Park is home to countless cultures, community organizations, and cuisines that all coexist and uplift one another,” Wittenberg says. “”I am lucky to enjoy the good food, great friends, and familial atmosphere of Oak Park, and to represent this great city in the legislature.”

By Ingrid Sjostrand

SOUL FOOD HAS GROWN TO BE A FOUNDATION IN AFRICAN-AMERICAN COOKING and a staple of Southern meals. After moving to Michigan, George and Martha Clay saw a need – especially when friends urged Martha to cook for them – so they opened carryout-only Motor City Soul Food in March of 2001 on 7 Mile Rd. in Detroit.

 “My wife is a native of Mississippi and I was born in Alabama. Soul food was our everyday way of living. It is what we were raised on and what we prepared every day,” George Clay says. “Soul food has a generational, multi- cultural bond – it transcends age, ethnicity, race, socio- economic background, education, gender and time.”

 The couple had years of experience as entrepreneurs, running businesses ranging from custom casual clothing and real estate to an ice-cream shop and it was quickly obvious that Motor City Soul Food was going to be anoth- er successful venture. Everyone from Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel – who featured the restaurant on his show Bizarre Foods America in 2012 – to comedian DL Hughley have raved about Motor City Soul Food.

 “We were voted #1 fried chicken by Thrillist magazine earlier this year,” Clay says. “We were the only restaurant that represented the great state of Michigan on this list.”

 After more than ten years of success in Detroit and help running the business from their son Scott, Motor City Soul Food expanded in 2013 to a second location in Oak Park, located at 24790 Greenfield Rd. It is also cafeteria- style ordering and carryout-only.

 “One of the biggest reasons we chose Oak Park is because of the great location. We are near the I-696 freeway which brings customers from Eastside Detroit and Detroit suburbs as well as customers that live further west.” Clay says. “One of our favorite things about Oak Park are the diverse customers we encounter. We serve people from all walks of life and are inclusive of everyone.”

 On top of their nationwide-famous chicken wings, dinner options include turkey wings and pork chops. But the real soul food experience – and the items you aren’t going to find anywhere else – are in the food like Neck Bone, Ham Hocks and Ox tail. You couldn’t call Motor City a soul food restaurant without the side item choices of tender collard greens, okra, sweet black-eyed peas, candied yams and macaroni and cheese – which has a crisp, golden top coat and seasoned kick of paprika. Of course each dinner comes with a cornbread muffin too.

 “Our menu is literally anything that you could want for any holiday, any social event, when you need comforting or just want something delicious and homemade,” Clay says. “Soul food is a comfort, down home, good tast- ing meal – it includes a deliciously-seasoned meat and always includes a starch. Often, my wife will prepare items that aren’t on the menu because she has a taste for it. My wife is an awesome cook!”

 Other menu options include fish, like their crunchy, cornmeal-coated catfish, and hot sandwiches, including a meatloaf one. It may be hard to fathom eating more after such hearty dinners, but the dessert is worth it. In addition to banana pudding, Motor City Soul Food makes sweet potato pie, peach cobbler and 7-Up pound cake, a moist, delicious treat that brings back memories of childhood.

 Both locations are open seven days a week from 11:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. and offer in-store and off- site catering available through their website, www.officialmotorcitysoulfood.com.

 “Our customers should expect to be served a quality-made product prepared fresh daily and served hot for their enjoyment,” Clay says. “We are a family owned-and-operated restaurant. We do our best to provide quality products and service to our custom- ers because we are all family.”

 

By David Ryals

MUHAMMAD AL-SHARKAWI WAS BORN IN EGYPT and received his education there and in Europe, earning both a Ph.D. and MA in Arabic. He later taught in Germany and the Middle East before finally coming to the United States in 2011. He has written six books on the history of Arabic and more than 20 academic articles in several languages. In 2017, he moved to Oak Park in order to teach at Wayne State University in Detroit.

But al-Sharkawi is much more than just an academic and intellectual. First and foremost he is a humanitar- ian. He is also a model citizen. The al-Sharkawi family, for example, is known for opening their home to strangers on Thanksgiving and other occasions. Every day and in every way, Muhammad strives to benefit our community. He is an inspiration in neighborliness.

What drives you to be an exemplary citizen?

My intention is not to achieve the status of an exemplary citizen. When I came to Oak Park, I met great people right from the first minute in my immediate surrounding area and also on the streets that I walk almost daily regardless of the weather. But I found them more as individuals than a community, admirable but individually.

Because my wife and I decided that Oak Park is our final destination after a long tour of the world, we wanted to live in a community. I believe, as a family man, that communities are safer even than a well- policed area in some cases. I started to cultivate roots for my family and to provide a network for my neighbors who are becoming friends really quickly. The goal is for my two boys, my wife’s daughter and the children of my neighbors to grow up in a well- rooted and close-knit but open and diverse community. So the main drive is the future and the joy this process of cultivation brings to me and to Manal, my wife.

What brought you to America and how did you make it your home?

I came to America seeking what money cannot buy: Education in a free and open society for my children. Before coming to the States, my family lived for four years in Egypt, where we had a house, a beach house, a car with a driver and a steady flow of cash.

In 2007, my wife and I started to look for school for my older boy who was kindergarten age. We found out that money can buy us good schooling but not a good education. Being accustomed to traveling, we decided to find a place to raise the family and offer the children a good education. We decided on America although it did not rank in the top ten countries in education. The relative openness of the society and the freedom of expression were attractive factors for me as an author and university professor.

Between 2008 and 2011, my family lived in Providence, Rhode Island where I taught at Brown University. We considered the first contract period an experiment. In these difficult years, my older son began school and started to cultivate his own mind. My wife and I helped him and his younger brother to be aware of the potential of our new life. Once we found out that the children were fine with the new move, we moved to Michigan where I found a permanent professorship.

Why do you invite your neighbors to your home for holidays?

Manal and I come from families that value strong social and familial ties. In our house, we have an open-door policy during the holidays and also on the weekend. In addition to regular and seasonal dinner parties for our immediate neighbors, we found out that many of our neighbors, who come from diverse faith cultures and social backgrounds, spend their holidays alone while others are with their families. We decided to be their family in Oak Park. Manal, my wife, is a great cook and we thought we could take advantage of this skill to attract the neighbors, who were very shy in the beginning.

In addition to book giveaways, the book club, social media presence, monthly get-togethers at the Cork and regular house visits with neighbors, the holiday dinners help form community in Oak Park. Sharing a meal allows people the chance to talk to one another without the awkward feelings that usually accompany talking to strangers.

What are your plans in the future and what are you most proud of?

I have three plans for my community. I am working with some friends and neighbors on a financial cooperative that should provide assistance to the city of Oak Park residents in the form of interest-free small loans. My second goal is to expand my meeting opportunities with the neighbors, instead of once a month to a regular biweekly gathering over coffee. Third, I hope to start volunteering in the city activities and work to improve the life of its citizenry. In short, I plan to leave my city when I die a good place for my wife and children to live in.

As far as Oak Park is concerned, I am so proud I am making a difference. You do not know how happy I feel whenever I exchange greetings with a neighbor.

By Cheryl Weiss

THE BEST GIFT MY MOM EVER GAVE ME was a childhood in Oak Park. I grew up seven houses from Shepherd Park, or “Oak Park Park,” as we called it.

It was perfect; the park was our playground, and summers were spent enjoying the freedom and fun of riding our bikes to the pool, playing a few rounds of mini golf, cooling off in the library with a new book, riding up and down the hill, watching the games at the baseball diamonds, wandering into the ice arena to watch the guys play hockey while having lunch at the snack bar, or just hanging out in the park with friends on the train.

Later, as a Teen Volunteer, I had caring mentors and gained valuable job skills that helped me as I entered the work world. I loved giving back and helping others so much that I continued to volunteer long after I aged out of the Teen Volunteer program. When I retired five years ago, one of the first things I wanted to do was start volunteering in my community again. I always felt like I had a place here in Oak Park; that I belonged here.

We all belong here. Oak Park’s strength is our diversity. We are a beautiful mix of cultures, races, religions, sexual orientations, backgrounds, and traditions. As children, we learned what a treasure this is as we learned from each other; sharing our food, dances, art, music, and pieces of our lives. As adults, as a community, our diversity and our lifelong connections define who we are. It’s #OP4LIFE, our hashtag. It’s an Oak Park thing: You can’t explain it; you just have to experience it.

OAK PARK HAS CHANGED IN THE LAST 50 YEARS and, as much as I loved growing up here, this is the best time to live in Oak Park. Summer Concerts in the Park are back on Thursday evenings, more popular than ever. Nine Mile is being transformed into a fun, walkable area with pocket parks and linear parks. The Library has events for every interest, from adult coloring to STEAM activities, and a fabulous children’s play area. Public Safety’s ice-cream truck is on the road, sharing sweets and smiles, deepening the positive relationships between Public Safety and the community in ways not often seen in other communities. Fourth of July 2019 was better than ever, with the Oak Park Youth Assistance Pancake Breakfast, the parade, and fun in the park. Not only are former Oak Parkers coming back for the 4th of July; many of those who moved west in the 1980s are now buying homes in Oak Park and raising their families here, the community they loved and never forgot.

It’s more than the development and events, though. Mayor Marian McClellan, City Council, and City Manager Erik Tungate are responsive to the concerns and suggestions of the community. Recently, residents wanted a stop sign at Balfour and Kipling. They complained, and a stop sign is now there. In June, a group of residents wanted Oak Park to raise the Pride flag. They contacted the City, attended a City Council meeting, a new policy was crafted, and the Pride flag was soon flying at City Hall.

MY BEST FRIEND SAYS OAK PARK is like The Wonder Years TV show. Maybe it is. Oak Park is home, it’s a place where each of us belong, where we are each welcome to contribute what we can and participate in the events we love. It’s lifelong connections, and it’s something special. Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz had it right: “There’s no place like home.”