A few weeks ago Oak Park experienced biblical-level flooding. People’s basements had such deluges of water that it literally sprayed up from floor drains and knocked ceiling tiles loose. My mother went into my grandma’s basement because she thought the washing machine was malfunctioning, only to find a gusher coming out of the toilet and soaking the entire bathroom. Apparently it was like a scene from a horror movie.

I suppose to fully appreciate the scope of what basement flooding is in Oak Park, I should back up and tell you a bit about who lives in the part of town that I am talking about. Families have an average of 6-10 children, and there are many people who either grew up during the Depression or lived through the Holocaust. What that means is that either people have multiple bedrooms in their basements where multiple children sleep (as a matter of necessity, since all of the homes in the area are modest three-bedroom ranches), OR the basements are packed to the rafters with any scrap of anything that maybe possibly might one day become useful because that is the mentality of that generation. These circumstances combine to mean that, when an Oak Park basement, in certain neighborhoods, fills with sewage-tainted water- it is nothing short of an epic disaster.

About 10 days ago I spoke to a close friend who told me that everyone had taken things out from their basements and put them on the front lawns for trash pick-up. The only problem was that the trash pick-up never came. And it’s summer in Michigan. That means that everyone’s sewage-soaked possessions are baking in the humid sun. Basements full of everything from furniture to bedding, and bags and bags of papers are sitting and rotting in the August heat. So Oak Park smells like a sewer gone wrong. And that was 10 days ago.

This past weekend *h was in Oak Park with one of my kids. Everyone’s former treasures are still on display, along with their sad sagging trash bags and their ripe pungent stench. Although a neighboring city has managed to pick up people’s junk, poor sad Oak Park has still not gotten their act together (I don’t know why, because I’m not there, but I would guess it has to do with the magnitude of what’s been going on. At a certain point even the most well run cities get overwhelmed, right?) *h told me that driving down our old block was like being on the set of a post-apocalyptic film. He said it seems almost deserted. Everyone’s blinds were closed (does that work to keep out smells?), the houses looked like they had been looted (but no- that was just stuff that had been dragged out of the basements), and people were nowhere to be seen (can you blame them?). He said the smell was almost unbearable, and he had no idea how people were coping with being there. Apparently unscrupulous companies have now come into the area offering to clean up in basements, but they aren’t licensed, don’t know how to treat the sewage issue, don’t deal with potential mold, and overcharge people who can’t afford it. But all of the real companies are booked solid. What a mess.

I feel awful for the city of Oak Park. I, of all people, know how terrible it is to have sewage back up in your basement! (Hello, reason for the front yard garden in the first place!) So it’s no idle coincidence that left me wondering if, after everyone’s lawns are ruined from having all of this nasty gunk on it for weeks and weeks, perhaps some brave souls might take the initiative to plant a garden instead of re-planting a lawn???

Maybe some fantastic urban ag type of organization will step in and offer residents starter gardens on their former lawn space when things have cleared up? I know the new mayor of Oak Park (shout out to Marian McClellan!!!) is an awesome fan of community gardens, and she was a great supporter and friend back when I lived in OP… So maybe this could be a garden phoenix rising from the ashes… Maybe out of the destruction of Oak Park could rise a whole new city leading the way in families taking responsibility for some of their own fresh food- wouldn’t that be fantastic?!?!??!?!?!?!?!? It would be such an inspirational story if Oak Park, who was in the news a few years back for being so draconian could now be in the news for showing the country how to turn something awful into something wonderful! For all of its ups and downs, and all of our checkered history, I have to say that I still love Oak Park and I really miss it. I wish it all the best, and I hope it can bounce back from this latest setback even better than it ever was. I think putting in a bunch of front yard gardens might be just the sort of thing Oak Park needs.

What do you think?

Gauntlet tossed, Oak Park!