Vakil: Students should explore more than just downtown Evanston


Caroline Vakil, Columnist

Unlike most Northwestern students, I am both an NU student and an Evanston native. Evanston was an incredible place to grow up because it is unique from the rest of the North Shore and is home to a diversity of races, religions and socioeconomic statuses. It also has a quirky culture all its own complete with fashion (think Birkenstocks with socks), lingo (“That pizza was flame!”) and public art (yarn-knitted cozies adorning trees).

My love for Evanston is something I sometimes take for granted, and I often assume that students know as much about its culture as I do. Yet, when I asked a few friends about what parts of Evanston they had explored while on campus, I was disappointed when they only noted the downtown area of Evanston.

Don’t get me wrong, downtown Evanston is fun to peruse, but students are only scratching the surface of a culturally vibrant city. Students shouldn’t just concentrate on the commercial downtown area of the city. If you travel to the north side of Evanston, for instance, you can go to the Evanston Art Center to take art classes or admire the art installations made by Evanston residents. If you travel southwest of the city, you can go to Merrick Rose Garden, on the corner of Oak Avenue and Lake Street, which is known for its famous rose bushes. You’d never know that these gems are here, however, unless you expanded your scope of the city.

Before you go ahead and tell me how difficult it is to get around Evanston, I think it’s worth noting that students make trips to Chicago all the time even though Chicago is farther away. If students have the ability and time to travel through Chicago, they have the energy to get to know all of Evanston. Living in and appreciating Evanston doesn’t just mean making regular commutes to the Windy City — it means challenging yourself to walk around Evanston and explore different areas.

Plus, there are four different bus routes that do a great job of shuttling people around all different parts of Evanston. CTA bus 201, which is free for Northwestern students, takes passengers from Old Orchard through the northern borders of Evanston to the Howard “L” station (the southern border of Evanston). CTA buses 205 and Pace bus 208 circulate near central Evanston while CTA bus 206 is the Evanston Circulator, which covers most of Evanston. Not to mention the fact that there are eight “L” stops within Evanston filling in the gaps between bus stops. With so many bus routes and “L” stops available, exploring Evanston is incredibly easy.

Beyond seeing Evanston as a spot for entertainment, students should be mindful of the community they are living in. Evanston doesn’t revolve around NU. It’s a community that celebrates the accomplishments, art, sports teams and businesses of its residents. It’s also a community that has its own set of issues to deal with such as rising property taxes and struggles over how to manage violence in parts of the city. NU students should be sensitive to these issues, too. However, this sensitivity is only possible if you make an effort to get to know the rest of the city.

Increasing our awareness of the city we live in will provide us with ways to promote Evanston. Traveling to lesser-known areas of Evanston allows us to support businesses in the city. I’ve taken many of my friends to places like The Brothers K Coffeehouse and Ten Thousand Villages. After a few trips, my friends find them popular places to go to on the weekends. Plus, the businesses benefit greatly from NU students joining their customer base.

So, my challenge to NU students is to get out of your comfort zone and explore a slice of Evanston, even if it means just walking south down Chicago Avenue. Even after living in Evanston for most of my life, I still find myself exploring new restaurants and shops that I didn’t know previously existed.

We can always learn more about the place we live in and we can only benefit from this exploration. By having an open mind and learning more about the city, we can make the most of our experience living in Evanston.

Caroline Vakil is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.