City reevaluates local parks for future city council

Kristina Karisch, Reporter

Evanston officials are asking residents for input on the cleanliness, safety and functionality of the city’s parks and recreational facilities.

This month the city introduced Parks Scorecard, a new program that takes online surveys in which residents assign letter grades to each of the city’s parks and identify what needs to be improved. The survey results will be presented to city council in May along with findings from independent consultants hired to evaluate the parks.

“This is step one to create a tool that will be used for future investment purposes,” said Lawrence Hemingway, director of Evanston’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services. “There’s no time frame yet scheduled for when we’ll present it to council, but again, it just helps start the conversation.”

After the survey results come in, consultants will evaluate the parks and facilities, giving each a letter grade. Then, the city can deliberate and make a plan of how to invest in the parks, Hemingway said.

He added there are no exact plans for investments yet, and parks will be treated on a case-by-case basis once all the information has been collected. Hemingway said he hopes problems in parks with the lowest grades and the most visitors will be addressed first.

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the park assessments will be wrapped up by the end of the year. After a new city council is elected in the spring, the results will be presented and inform the 2018 budget process.

The city will also evaluate outdoor spaces at elementary schools in District 65 and Evanston Township High School, Bobkiewicz said. Other park districts within the city limits such as the Ridgeville Park District and the Lighthouse Park District will receive evaluation.

Bobkiewicz said although there are facilities and buildings at Evanston’s various parks, the main focus of the park assessments will not be on the infrastructure.

“Primarily we’re looking at parks and athletic fields,” he said. “There are folks who play every imaginable sport outdoors.”

Some Evanston residents said they enjoy the city’s parks and look forward to future improvements to the public spaces.

Judith Erikson, a retired teacher from Chicago, comes to the park with her dog and husband.

“The dog loves it and of course we go to the dog beach with her, so we love it,” Erikson said.

She added that she can tell the parks are being maintained by the city, with maintenance crews coming to cut the weeds and making sure the fountains are working properly.

Tom Rakowski, a retired judge for Skokie, Illinois, said he walks through Evanston on his way from Wilmette to Chicago three or four times a week. He said that while he loves the city’s parks, he thinks they should add more washrooms.

“The parks are great for everyone,” Rakowski said.

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