Ald. Fiske (1st) lights up on downtown economic development, responds to concerns of dim lighting

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) has operated the pet shop Fit + Frisky in Evanston since 2007. Constituents often visit her shop to share suggestions for the 1st Ward, she said.

Manuel Rapada/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) has operated the pet shop Fit + Frisky in Evanston since 2007. Constituents often visit her shop to share suggestions for the 1st Ward, she said.

Manuel Rapada, City Editor

Ask Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) about city economic development, and she will light up.

There is clear support in Evanston for locally-owned small businesses, Fiske said Thursday from the back of Fit + Frisky, the Davis Street pet shop she has run since 2007.

Running a small business also gives her 1st Ward constituents the opportunity to discuss economic ideas and comments with her.

“Everyone knows where to find me. There’s absolutely no excuse for people not to find me ‘cause if I’m not here, I’m four blocks away,” Fiske said of the shop’s proximity to her home and the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.

After winning election to the City Council in 2009 by a nearly two-to-one margin, Fiske now faces off against Sherman Plaza condominium resident Edward Tivador in the upcoming April 9 election.

Fiske has proposed incentives to revitalize the downtown area, though she advises residents to remain realistic on what can go there. When Evanston cannot afford to rebuild downtown to attract national chain retailers, city officials need to coax startups and niche retail into the area, she said.

A balanced downtown full of offices, residences, restaurants and retail stores is key to the city’s long-term success, she said. Fiske called Northwestern students the economic engine of the downtown area.

Though Fiske said she thinks she does a good job reaching out to her various constituencies, she admits more 1st Ward students should attend her quarterly meetings. Yet with so many activities and classes on a student’s agenda, Fiske said she understands adding city issues to that list is a much smaller priority.

“It’s really important to me in working on neighborhood issues that we have students that understand that they are neighborhood residents,” she said.

All residents in her ward, including those in NU residential housing, should receive postcards reminding them of these meetings.

To compensate for the lacking student involvement, she said she tries to anticipate those issues relevant to students, reaching out to students like Steven Monacelli, ASG’s vice president of community relations or even going out in her ward to talk to students.

About two months ago, she spent a weekend asking student bicyclists passing by at Chicago Avenue and Clark Street whether the bike riders would appreciate a protected bike lane. Nearly all the bicyclists said yes.

“It’s my job to anticipate these issues,” Fiske said of her initiative to engage with students. “And the issues are not rocket science. It’s safety, it’s convenience, it’s lighting.”

Fiske responded Thursday to some students’ claims that campus lighting was inadequate. She reiterated that the 1st Ward was never part of the city-University partnership to fund street lighting.

The 5th Ward, home to many of NU’s off-campus dwellers, led to lighting improvements.

The area around campus in the 1st Ward was the first to receive lighting improvements in the last few years, Fiske said. Lighting on Orrington Avenue, Sherman Avenue and other 1st Ward side streets near NU are at the highest lighting level those fixtures can handle.

The only way to further increase lighting levels would be to replace all the street lamps, which the city cannot afford. When asked if the University would be willing to contribute to replacing the lamps, Fiske said “that would be part of a community conversation.”

Fiske said it was an “honest mistake” that she did not respond to requests to attend an ASG-organized light walk in October. All communications to her about the event stated the walk would focus on the 5th Ward. However, a portion of Library Place, which falls in Fiske’s ward, was included in the walk.

These dim lighting moments aside, Fiske described her “safe routes to campus” initiative that is slowly being implemented. Mastheads along Sheridan Road have already been replaced, and Fiske said the project will also improve the Chicago Avenue path to downtown.

The 1st Ward alderman referred to “safe routes” as one of the projects discussed at her quarterly ward meetings.

Fiske says she wants more students to be a part of the surrounding neighborhood that, contrary to student conceptions, completely supports the students.

“Every single person that lives along Orrington Avenue or Sherman Avenue or any of the side streets, if there ever was a problem, you could ring their doorbell, and they would respond,” she said.

That shared sense of community, however, does not mean Fiske and the University will always see eye to eye. She said she wished the University asked for public input from residents near the new visitors’ center, which she called an “eight-story parking garage.”

As for the over-occupancy ordinance, Fiske supports effort to make the colloquially named “brothel law” more practical and user-friendly. However, she wants to discourage landlords from rushing ahead of reforms, an effort that will require inspection of units.

“If it’s 10 bedrooms, and they’re all legal bedrooms, there’s no reason 10 people can’t live there,” said Fiske, a former realtor. “And I said that, first thing.”

When students head to the polls April 9, Fiske said, she hopes they recognize her efforts to increase city-student engagement and to increase government transparency. As someone who has lived in Evanston long enough to see issues evolve, Fiske sees Tivador as someone who does not really understand the issues.

“It’s really important to me that Northwestern students understand that they are a very valued group of people not just because they’re just spending money on the downtown,” she said. “Aside from that, as neighborhood residents … they’re very important to the community.”

Check out The Daily’s Q-and-A with Fiske’s challenger, Edward Tivador: