The Daily Parker

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How Evanston got rid of cars (mostly)

Politico has a long-form article describing Evanston's efforts to rid its downtown of cars:

With stops for Chicago Transit Authority buses and its “L” rail line, Metra suburban rail’s Union Pacific North line and the Pace suburban bus, Evanston always had great transit bones. For much of its history it had also been a relatively prosperous North Shore city, its growth initially spurred by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, as Chicagoans fled its chaotic density, and in the 20th century, its share of once-famous industrial names, from Rust-Oleum Corp. to Shure, the audio products company, to Bell & Howell, then best known for its film cameras and projectors.

The answer to the suburb’s economic woes, as it turned out, lay in embracing Lerner’s theory that “city is not the problem, city is solution.” Beginning in 1986, a new plan for Evanston embraced the idea of a “24/7” downtown, pouring resources into increasing the density of its downtown—a density that also meant decreasing residents’ reliance on automobiles. As a compact city, Evanston couldn’t compete with the vast sprawling parking spots of the Old Orchard Mall. It had to build a different sort of appeal.

Evanston’s approach mixed investments in mass transit—including building a new downtown transportation center—and relaxing its zoning restrictions along two designated corridors, Main and Central Streets, to permit increased residential density. “Nobody wanted a 20-story building in their downtown,” recalls Aiello-Fantus, the former assistant city manager. “There was this perception that we’re just a little town and having something 20 stories changes that character.”

I'm glad Evanston's planning is getting national press. I love the place, which is why I lived there for many years (and may do again). For many years before then, my mom lived along the Main Street corridor mentioned in the article—and then moved up to Central Street later on. And, of course, I was just there a couple weeks ago.

Interesting aside: 116 years ago today, the village of Austin ceased to exist as it was absorbed into the City of Chicago by legislative fiat. The city might have swallowed Evanston as well. How Evanston avoided that is a story in itself.

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