City Watch

Laura Olson

By Laura Olson

On Thursday, the NU-City Committee is scheduled to meet for the first time since September. These meetings always are a source of disappointment to me – that is, when they aren’t canceled days before they are supposed to happen. Last time the committee actually met, The Daily wrote an article about its lack of progress. Members used the occasion to talk for fewer than 30 minutes about the community’s largest elephant in the corner – town-gown relations.

It’s a shame these meetings haven’t been put to better use. The committee was created as part of the 2004 settlement of NU’s lawsuit against the city over the boundaries of a new historic district. The committee’s official purpose is strictly limited to discussing proposed changes to NU-owned properties on the west side of Sheridan Road. And instead of taking advantage of this time together to address broader issues, participants have used the time mostly to complain that the meetings aren’t efficient or necessary. In a city where outsiders recognize that town-gown relations are horrible, how can these meetings not be necessary?

These meetings are important, and should be scheduled and held regularly. The committee’s mission should be expanded. Instead of hiding behind legalisms to avoid talking about uncomfortable subjects, why not use the meetings as a time to talk about what is working well and what is not? Sure, it’s much easier for the university to whine to local officials that areas near campus are poorly lit and dangerous, but complaining doesn’t make students safer – it only shows the school’s misplaced priorities in responding to the needs of its students.

Members should talk about what the city and school have succeeded in accomplishing together. And there have been tangible results when the two groups have cooperated. There was an emergency services antenna recently placed atop Ryan Field, aiding 911 communications. The university just added lighting to several blocks near South Campus, alleviating students’ safety concerns, as well as making the neighborhood more comfortable for residents who might be walking at night. When they combine efforts, the city and university can address common concerns faster and more effectively than either could on its own.

Nevertheless, disagreements are far more common. One point of contention between NU and Evanston officials since their last meeting has been the city’s threat of using eminent domain to take a plot of NU land to build a new Civic Center. Discussion between the two on moving the seat of city government mainly has been closed off from public view, but both sides have portrayed these conversations less as actual “discussions” and more like a series of threats and ultimatums.

The land in question, located in the NU-Evanston Research Park, is a bit further west than the area officially covered by the committee. But the issue should fit into the committee’s larger purpose. Both sides just need to be willing to look beyond the narrowest interpretation of the group’s focus.

Open discussion between the city and university is the best way to let residents and students know what officials are thinking and to solve issues faster. Neither the city nor NU can get rid of the other, so we might as well learn how to at least live with each other, even if we can’t be friends. But it’s up to officials whether the committee continues to be a waste of everyone’s time. A strict definition of the committee’s purpose is a lousy excuse for not using it to get work done.

City Editor Laura Olson is a Medill junior. She can be reached at [email protected]