Your guide to the city of Evanston


Daily file illustration by Meher Yeda

You’re spending the next four years in Evanston, so here’s a primer that’ll help you learn about the city.

Delaney Nelson, Summer Managing Editor

When people hear you’re going to Northwestern, they might think you’re going to school in Chicago. The billboards throughout the Chicagoland area that call NU “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” might lead to even more confusion. However, NU is in Evanston, and it’s important to learn about the community you’ll be entering and staying in for the next four years. 

Town-Gown Relations 

Throughout your time at NU, you’ll hear the phrase “town-gown relations” used to describe the relationship between the University and Evanston. Evanston, a northern Chicago suburb, is a city made up of over 70,000 people, nine wards and an elected City Council. 

In 2015, the city and the University established the Good Neighbor Fund, to which NU donates $1 million each year. The money is spent on projects and services, including city infrastructure and service support, on which both the mayor and the University president agree to. Earlier this year, former Mayor Steve Hagerty and President Morton Schapiro announced a $1 million allocation of the Good Neighbor Racial Equity Fund — marking 2021 as the first year, according to the University, in which the funds are entirely focused on “dismantling systemic barriers faced by historically marginalized communities.”

But not all residents and city leaders agree that this is a substantial enough contribution by NU — marking one point in what is sometimes a contentious town-gown relation. NU does not pay property taxes in Evanston because of its university status, and many within the community say it should pay more for the land and city services it uses. In Evanston Fight for Black Lives’ official voter guide for the April municipal elections, many aldermanic challengers expressed frustration with the relationship.

However, there are many areas of collaboration between the city and the University, including partnerships with local schools and organizations. Together, they have established programs in trade skill training, equitable education access, local business support, professional mentoring and more. 

Local businesses

There’s an abundance of local businesses to visit throughout your time in Evanston — and not just in the downtown area.

Since the start of the pandemic, dozens of Evanston businesses have shut down, including Andy’s Frozen Custard, Barnes & Noble, Burger King, Century 12 Theatre, La Macchina Cafe, Panera Bread, Unicorn Cafe and Whiskey Thief Tavern. 

In the face of hardship, the Evanston community showed up in many ways for local businesses. Last fall, resident Ande Breunig created the Adopt-a-Shop Program, where members of her Support Evanston Shops, Salons, and Studios Facebook group chose a specific business they each wanted to support. 

In January, 4 Suns Fresh Juice owner Gabrielle J. Walker tested positive for COVID-19, causing the shop to temporarily shut down a month after its grand opening. Community members immediately rallied behind the smoothie and juice bar, sending Walker and her family messages and food and contributing to a GoFundMe for the business — raising about $5,000 in one day. 

Throughout the pandemic, the owners of Gyros Planet and Taqueria struggled to keep their business afloat. In February, they decided to close the business — but were able to stay open due to community support. When Dear Evanston founder Nina Kavin launched a GoFundMe to fundraise $30,000, enough to cover six months of rent, the fundraiser met its goal in 24 hours. 

Community organizations

Evanston is a fairly civically engaged community, with a wide range of community organizations, grassroots efforts, activism and more — and you can get involved, too. 

Some local groups include Evanston Fight for Black Lives, Interfaith Action of Evanston, NAACP Evanston/North Shore branch, Democratic Party of Evanston, Evanston Pride Inc, Citizens’ Greener Evanston, Evanston Community Foundation and more. 

You’re going to be not only a student at NU, but a resident of Evanston as well — and that means you’re able to register to vote in the city. There are many ways to keep up with what is happening around the community, including by getting involved with local organizations, watching City Council meetings (during which there is a public comment portion) and reading local news coverage. 

Earlier this year, The Daily covered the municipal primaries and general elections, and covers politics year-round. Another helpful resource to get involved is NUVotes, a non-partisan, on-campus organization that helps students “get registered, get educated, and get to the polls.”

For the students who are not from the Evanston community and for those who will likely leave the city after they graduate, it’s important to recognize and learn about the space you’re in and get to know people who live here. This community has been here long before any of our arrivals and will continue to exist long after.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @delaneygnelson

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