A cycle track on Church Street in Evanston, IL. Photo by Steven Vance, via Flickr.
“Our vision is to be the most livable city,” says Alderman Jane Grover of Evanston, IL. A member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, Grover is full of enthusiasm for her city and the work being done there.
Evanston, IL is an urban community with a population of 74,000 located north of Chicago on Lake Michigan. Northwestern University, a major institutional anchor in the city, has helped spawn businesses and contributes to the culture and demographics of this progressive community.
The city benefits from great transit connections—both Chicago train lines (the “L” and the commuter line) come together in Evanston and the city is capitalizing on this. “We’re working on capturing and leveraging our transit assets and doing smart development near our transit stations,” Grover explains. “The people who choose to live in these areas won’t necessarily bring two cars with them the way families do in more outlying areas. So we’re looking to reduce the parking requirements in these transit-oriented developments near our stations.”
In addition to these efforts relating to transit, Evanston has been very active in tying into the larger bike plan and infrastructure in the Chicago area. Last year the city completed an east-west connector with protected bike lanes that connects Evanston with the neighboring town of Skokie. “We don’t have a major expressway going through Evanston but we do now have a major bike thoroughfare that connects us to a huge system in the Chicago area. We’re just starting to realize all of the benefits.”
This project is part of a wider effort to build upon the existing bicycle culture and improve the walkability and bikability of Evanston through things like new bike lanes and the planned expansion of the Chicago Divvy bike share program to Evanston.
These transportation alternatives are part of what makes Evanston a great place to live. Other attributes include good schools, access to jobs and proximity to Chicago. Still, Grover is actively working to improve the quality of life for residents. “It’s all about maximizing livability for people and maximizing the amenities and assets that we already have.”
Grover is passionate about increasing access to government and improving services for residents. As part of Evanston’s commitment to innovation and citizen engagement, the city recently rolled out a 311 call center for residents to use for all non-emergency city services, which has been shown to have improved the level of service to residents. Additionally, in an effort to promote government transparency, the website has been expanded to include more information and links to legal documents.
To celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary in 2013, the City helped sponsor a community visioning process. The results called for increased access to water recreation, transportation improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians, and continuing to expand sustainability efforts. These results reinforce residents’ commitment to improving sustainability and efficiency by reducing carbon emissions. The city met its first goal level last year mainly through aggregated electrical purchases, and is now looking to reduce emissions 20% by 2016. Advocacy by strong environmental groups and a new green building ordinance are helping to make that goal a reality.
Looking forward, Grover’s goal is to “keep residents that are already here, keep Evanston affordable, but also continue to expand services, and make existing services more efficient and sustainable.”