Once upon a time, there was a village of nearly 10,000 people. It was diverse. It had trim homes and tidy yards. No one was all that rich, but no one was all that poor, either.
But then a blight fell across the land. About 6,000 of the residents moved away to escape the scourge. The trim homes became so neglected that in some places a bulldozer could drive two blocks and never hit anything but burned-out shells. Brother killed brother over scraps. Sisters sold themselves cheaply.
Washington Park is a very sad place. It is hard to imagine a happy ending.
The village in 2013 was $5.5 million in debt, more than double its annual budget, in part thanks to rampant corruption and mismanagement. The former mayor and clerk colluded to embezzle more than $500,000.
Current Mayor Ann Rodgers and her $60,000-per-year consultant, Ray Coleman, said they are slowly climbing out of the hole. About 50 lawsuits have been settled, a few blocks have been repaved and weeds have been cut back so you can at least see the burned-out shells. They are trying to get about $2 million in federal loans to replace collapsing sewers.
Washington Park is right on Interstate 64 and close to Interstate 55-70, with interchanges to both. It nearly reaches Interstate 255 and is bisected by a state highway.
A fraction of those transportation assets are enough for other communities to build thriving business communities. Washington Park has a thriving strip club and illegal narcotics trade, with the ancillary violent crime.
So what to do?
Make the strip clubs pay for the privilege of having a safe haven. Concentrate law enforcement to tamp down the drug trade. Partner churches and government to bring back housing.
But if any of that is to happen, leadership from within or leadership from the outside needs to see potential for something other than a quick, illicit buck in Washington Park.
Or that leadership needs to see potential for merging with another community.
Or we all look away and the problem solves itself: At the current rate of population loss, no one will be left in Washington Park by about 2040.