Evanston, Northwestern aim to better town-gown relationship

Katie Park

From the mayor, a batch of cookies. From the University president, a new fire engine.

The gift exchange is a step toward enhancing the relationship between Evanston and Northwestern.

Last fall, Evanston City Council defined improving relations with NU as one of its 12 issues to focus on during the coming fiscal year.

‘Evanston residents want the best possible city government and city services, and a cooperative relationship with Northwestern will make that more possible,’ Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said.

Historically the city and the University have shared a contentious relationship for many reasons, including how NU’s nonprofit status excludes it from property tax rolls. In 2000, the school sued the city for the inclusion of NU property in the Northeast Evanston Historic District. On Tuesday, tensions arose over NU’s Great Room, 610 Haven St., which some residents say violates Evanston zoning law.

After the arrival of University President Morton O. Schapiro last September, town-gown relations have improved, Tisdahl said. In the fall, NU purchased a new fire truck for the city, while the council welcomed Schapiro and his wife, Mimi, with a party.

‘We can help from sometimes making gifts that are in our own strategic interest,’ Schapiro said in an interview with The DAILY on Friday.

Tisdahl said the city plans to work with the University on student internships in city government, such as the program currently offered through NU’s Center for Civic Engagement.

Lucile Krasnow, NU special assistant for community relations, called NU a ‘wealth of intellectual capacity’ for the city to access.

‘(Evanston) views NU as a partner, as an economic factor,’ she said. ‘The University is such a tremendous resource in terms of intellectual capacity and in terms of the people who work at the University.’

NU and Evanston frequently encounter complimentary issues, Krasnow said. For instance, the Associated Student Government’s effort to increase the number of blue emergency lights on city property meshes with a project to design a fiber optic system in Evanston in place of fees the University owed the city, she said.

‘There are instances when the University is more than happy to expend funds for purchases of equipment that are useful to the University and the city,’ Krasnow said. Krasnow said she is currently working to encourage students to participate in the 2010 Census as Evanston residents so the city receives more money.

Tisdahl, who said Evanston’s relationship with NU is good, said it can be improved through better communication.

‘There will always be sources of friction when young people live near residential areas,’ Tisdahl said. ‘The best way to handle them is to talk about them and come up with rational solutions.’

Schapiro, who called the mayor ‘spectacular,’ said he plans to have council members come to his house for dinner and attend the men’s basketball game against the University of Minnesota on Feb. 14.

‘We’re very lucky to be here at Northwestern, to be here in Evanston, and Evanston’s really lucky to have Northwestern,’ Schapiro said Friday. ‘And we shouldn’t forget it, and they shouldn’t forget it.’ [email protected]