Central Street neighborhood wins national award

Patrick Svitek, City Editor

The American Planning Association on Friday named Evanston’s Central Street neighborhood one of the best in the country, applauding its civic activism, unique businesses and lakefront amenities.

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit included the north-Evanston corridor as the only location in the Chicago area on its annual list of “Great Neighborhoods.” The neighborhood centers on Central Street between the lakefront and Evanston’s western border.

City officials and neighborhood leaders are expected to announce the national award during a 3 p.m. news conference at Independence Park.

“Central Street is indeed a special place, not just to those who call it home, but to all Evanstonians,” Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said in a news release. “We are happy to receive this recognition and to showcase the extraordinary neighborhood.”

The APA said the Central Street area is “not a typical college neighborhood,”  despite its proximity to Ryan Field and the Northwestern campus. The neighborhood is also a “foodie’s paradise” and a go-to destination for eclectic shopping, according to the APA.

The APA commended the neighborhood’s “long history of planning,” dating back to its mapping and platting in the 17th and 19th centuries, respectively. Today, the neighborhood maintains that legacy with wide bike lanes and savvy traffic patterns, the APA said.

“By weaving together its many assets — a lakeside locale, niche retail, college sports and active recreation opportunities, and transit options — Central Street emerges as a colorful and attractive hometown, college town and regional destination,” APA CEO Paul Farmer said in the news release.

Ald. Jane Grover (7th), whose ward includes about half of Central Street in the city, thanked “all of Evanston” for making the national accolade possible.

“This is an award for everyone who has made Central Street a destination, whether through decades of thoughtful development planning or for living, walking, shopping, and dining,” she said in a statement Thursday evening.

The APA also singled out the “engaged residents” of the neighborhood, an apparent nod to the Central Street Neighbors Association. The group formed in the 2000s in opposition to the potential “canyonization” of the street, which would have brought large, multi-use buildings to the area.

John Walsh, president of the association, said it is hard to imagine Central Street would be what it is today if residents had not “spoken up” and organized against the controversial development.

“The award is a wonderful recognition of what we at the Central Street Neighbors Association have been working for and advocating for many years and what everyone who lives and works in the Central Street neighborhood has known for many years,” said Walsh, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1976.

Walsh also praised the long-term lure of the neighborhood, recalling taking his son to Independence Park when he was 2 years old. Now, his son takes his own children to the park, which is near the intersection of Central Street and Stewart Avenue.

“His daughters love playing in that same park. It’s decades later,” Walsh said. “There’s a sustaining livability about the community that creates a wonderful atmosphere and friendliness.”

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