Sometimes it’s easy to become jaded about what a wonderful community we live in.
So wonderful, in fact, that at last week’s (June 13) Park Ridge City Council COW meeting newly-minted First Ward Ald. John Moran evoked images of the fictional Bedford Falls in Frank Capra’s classic movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” to support his and Fourth Ward Ald. Roger Shubert’s plea for the City to reinstate its holiday lights program that was suspended back in 2009 for financial reasons.
We are suckers for several of the movies some critics have dubbed “Capra-corn,” including classics like “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Meet John Doe.” And, frankly, we can’t imagine a Christmas season without at least one (or preferably two) viewings of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Similarly, we can’t imagine anybody not appreciating the joyous quality those holiday lights used to bring to the Uptown area each year.
Back when the lighting program was suspended, the City was spending around $50,000 annually. As The Recession took a toll on property values and residents’ incomes, however, the City Council wisely adopted a number of austerity measures to keep property tax increases in the 3-5% range – including the elimination of the City’s donations to private corporations like the Center of Concern, the Maine Center for Mental Health, the Park Ridge Fine Arts Society and Brickton Art Center.
And, back then, nobody seemed inclined to argue for spending tens of thousands of City dollars on holiday lights instead of on those community groups – a continuing budgetary and policy nuance that seems to have escaped the lights advocates’ attention.
For a few years thereafter various local groups tried to fill the gap with donated lights and volunteer efforts. But even at its best, the effect didn’t come close to what the professional decorators provided. And with each passing year, the volunteer effort diminished to the point where the results became more pathetic than joyous.
So Moran, joined by Shubert, proposed that the Council revisit its decision of earlier this year not to include holiday lighting in the FY2015-16 budget.
That proposal didn’t sway a majority of the Council, even at the bargain-basement – and, it would appear, the totally unrealistic – price of $5,000-7,000 for lights and another $5,000 for City employee overtime to help a group of volunteers install them. And, frankly, we can’t believe that such a paltry sum will create anything remotely close to the Bedford Falls effect about which Moran reminisced.
If Park Ridge is going to do this, let’s do it right. That means a price tag of closer to $50K than $15K. And professional light hangers rather than 9-year olds and their parents on tippy-toes.
But Moran is definitely onto something, even if he seems to have missed the central theme of Capra’s “wonderful life” message that the private charity and good works of the people, not government, make the difference.
Many of those less well-off Bedford Falls residents were able to buy their homes not because of some Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac loan program or government handout but because of the privately-run Bailey Bros. Building & Loan. In fact, we don’t recall any mayor, alderman, or city official having a role in the movie; and the only “government” folks of any significance are the bank examiners looking to throw George in jail.
In the climactic scene when George and the Building & Loan are saved from prison and financial ruin, it’s the people – common folks like Bert, Ernie and Violet; local business owners like Mr. Gower and Mr. Martini; and the affluent Sam Wainwright – who transcend any class warfare and, instead, together dig into their own pockets to bail out their neighbor and his business.
So instead of expecting an already-strapped City government to fund the holiday lights, we think the better way to go is for a civic organization to lead and coordinate the fundraising needed to hire a professional lighting company to do the job right, like Ald. Moran and the rest of us remember.
That should be the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce.
After all, nobody benefits more from an attractively-lit Uptown or South Park than the merchants, business owners and building owners in those areas. And nobody’s in a better position to tap into the financial support of those folks than the Chamber.
Just think if the roughly 350 Chamber members each donated a mere $100…that’s $35,000 right there with no real effort to speak of. And if the ones with storefront presences on Prospect, Northwest Hwy., Main, Summit, Fairview and Devon tossed in an additional $100 for the extra ambience they’ll get from the lights, the total would be at $40-45,000.
That’s without even counting any community group and individual donations that should come in, especially if an individual, family or community group wants to “sponsor” a tree.
C’mon, Chamber, step up and lead the way instead of looking for excuses to pawn this off on the City.
That way, by Christmas Day 2015, you will have earned your wings. And the whole community can echo George Bailey with a heartfelt:
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