City-NU feud political genius (City Watch)

Breanne Gilpatrick

Funny how alcohol tends to stir up a lot of deep-seated resentments. Last week it brought Evanston-Northwestern town-gown relations (town-gown warfare, perhaps?) back into the spotlight.

Nothing like a liquor fine hike and a midnight ban on underage students in bars to have students everywhere up in arms and threatening to puke on the nearest resident lawn, renewing any complaints non-student residents have ever had about NU.

But I’m not about to join in a rousing chorus of “Why can’t we all just get along?”

I don’t have proof for this, but I’m pretty sure Evanston and NU have been fighting ever since there has been an Evanston and a Northwestern around to fight each other. Here’s my theory: I don’t think town-gown relations will ever get any better. And I think that’s the plan.

This city-university feud is political genius, when you think about it. As long as each party has a built-in scapegoat, no one ever has to take responsibility for anything. It’s brilliant.

Why should Evanston cut services or do anything to stop its property tax hikes? It’s not the city’s fault NU won’t pay property taxes.

And why should NU take any blame for our annual string of fall muggings? It’s not the university’s fault Evanston won’t install more streetlights.

Or, why should a resident admit election defeat, when there’s a convenient university-candidate “conspiracy” to blame.

The finger pointing can go on forever. Who says the buck has to stop anywhere. It would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?

Foster the us vs. them mentality long enough and it doesn’t even matter who you blame anymore. Just look at the response to last week’s liquor law changes. The Evanston City Council increases alcohol-related penalties, and what’s the mature NU student response? We write a slew of letters to the editor telling Evanston residents to politely get bent.

Of course, why do we have to let this work against us anyway? Maybe instead of giving lip-service to better town-gown relations, NU officials should be playing them up as a way to build community. After all, nothing unites people like a common enemy. Maybe Associated Student Government could sponsor a community-building event where groups of students go out and puke on lawns around the city? We could even wear those cool new ASG sweatshirts.

OK, kidding about that last part. And maybe the rest of it is a little extreme, too. But you have to admit there are benefits to the higher-ups in this situation. Sure, you have some aldermen who get torn between their student and non-student constituencies on certain issues. But when they can’t make everyone happy, maybe they can blame the officials that put them in that situation.

So everybody really does win.

Well, almost everybody. As is often the case with political pissing contests, it’s the residents (student and otherwise) who lose out. They’re the one’s facing the same problems year after year while those in charge continue to shift the blame.

And we can all continue to trade insults and exchange calls for friendship all we want. But in the end, it’s the officials in this city who are going to need to stop trying to spread the blame, take some more responsibility for the situation and start acting like grown-ups.

And that’s the sobering reality.

City Editor Breanne Gilpatrick is a Medill senior. She can be reached at [email protected]