Moving to Evanston for the first time? Here’s what you need to know


Daily file illustration by Fiona Wang

Evanston has plenty to offer incoming students and a rich history of its own.

Olivia Alexander, Senior Staffer

When people who aren’t familiar with Northwestern ask me where I go to school, I often find myself telling them my university is in “a suburb just outside of Chicago.” 

Once you’re here, though, you’ll quickly realize Evanston is a strong community of 78,000 people with a long history and many sites to explore. Here’s The Daily’s overview of the city we call home. 

A brief history

NU actually preceded the founding of Evanston. Plans for the University began in 1851, and classes started in 1855. But it was in 1854 that one of NU’s founders submitted plans for a city to the county judge, including a wish to name the town Evanston. In 1857, the request was granted. 

Later on, Evanston became known for its role in the Women’s Temperance Movement. Evanston native Frances Willard became the second president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in 1879 and served until her death. 

Until 1972, Evanston prohibited the sale of alcohol entirely. In that year, City Council voted to allow liquor sales in restaurants and hotels, and by 1984, Evanston allowed retail stores to sell liquor in city limits. 

Town gown relationship

Residents have mixed feelings about the University’s presence in Evanston. As an institution with a tax-exempt status, NU receives criticism for not contributing more resources when the city needs them. 

City and University leaders have committed time and energy to bridge the gap. From 2015 to 2020, NU donated $1 million to Evanston each year. 

In 2021, the University provided $500,000 to support solutions for racial inequities in local neighborhoods through the Racial Equity and Community Partnerships grant program and $1 million to strengthen underserved communities in Evanston through the Good Neighbor Racial Equity Fund.

University President Morton Schapiro has focused on building a better relationship with Evanston Township High School. Schapiro and former ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon established a partnerships office on the high school campus in 2012, which oversees up to 100 programs connecting the NU and ETHS each year focusing on academics, college preparation, mentorship and community engagement. 


Evanston is home to two public school districts. Evanston/Skokie School District 65 serves students in early childhood education through the eighth grade, while Evanston Township High School District 202 is the public high school for students in the ninth through 12th grades. 

Leaders in both districts have dedicated their work to advancing equity work and closing the racial achievement gap. Their joint literacy goal aims for 100% of students to read proficiently by the time they graduate.

Restorative Housing Reparations

You also might have heard that Evanston became the first city in the nation to pass material reparations for Black residents. While the Restorative Housing Reparations program is the first of its kind, some Evanston residents have said the initiative should be called a housing program rather than reparations. 

In January, the city named the first 16 recipients of the program. Each will receive $25,000 for housing improvements and can choose to put the funds toward a down payment on a new home, an existing mortgage or renovating an already-owned property. To qualify for the program, Black residents must have lived in Evanston or had parents living in the city from 1919 to 1969.

Food and entertainment 

The Century 12 movie theater, which closed in 2020, is set to reopen this fall alongside a trampoline park and a video game facility.

Evanston is also home to a multitude of restaurants of various cuisines. From the timeless classic Hecky’s Barbecue, to the newly established vegan spot Elephant + Vine, there is a little something for everyone. Tomate Fresh Kitchen and Coffee Lab & Roasters on Noyes Street are also NU student favorites.  

Recently, Good To Go Jamaican Cuisine and Reza’s Lounge have become popular with NU students. Bob’s Pizza and Stacked & Folded also both have weekly trivia nights, which NU students frequent. 


Of course, you can’t see any of these places without a way to get there. Evanston is mostly walkable and has many sidewalks and bike paths, which makes getting around easy for college students. For farther locations, the Chicago Transit Authority is an important resource for students, most of whom don’t have cars with them in Evanston. 

Conveniently, the CTA Purple Line’s Noyes and Foster stops are just a few blocks west of the Evanston campus. The Purple Line runs north-south from Linden Avenue in Wilmette to Howard Street on the Evanston-Chicago border. At Howard, riders can transfer to the CTA Red Line to continue traveling further south to Chicago, or transfer to the Yellow Line instead to reach Skokie.

During limited times, you can also catch the CTA Purple Line Express for faster access to Chicago. Monday to Friday from about 5-10 a.m. and 2-7 p.m., Purple Line trains run between Linden and the Loop.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oliviagalex

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