City hires urban design firm to plan Mason Park expansion, develop Mayfair railroad


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

The city hired urban design firm Teska Associates to begin initial plans to expand Mason Park and develop the unused Mayfair rail line.

Saul Pink, Assistant City Editor

City Council has approved a contract with Evanston-based urban design firm Teska Associates to expand Mason Park and develop an abandoned railroad embankment that runs alongside the 2nd Ward park.

The project’s main goals include making use of a triangular plot of land between the park and the railroad, as well as improving safety for students who use the railway to access Evanston Township High School, according to a memo from Senior Project Manager Stefanie Levine. The proposal passed at the Sep. 12 council meeting.

Teska landscape architect Jodi Mariano, who is managing the Mason Park project, said the firm will engage in 12 to 16 months of “stakeholder engagement” before coming up with a design. This process includes public surveys and meetings with neighbors. 

“This is a visionary and unusual project because it’s not contained within a confined area,” Mariano said. “It is a project that spans along and across multiple properties, and so it is going to involve a lot of communication with various stakeholders and public groups.”

The freight bypass, known as the Mayfair Cutoff, was constructed in 1889 to create a rail service between Chicago and Evanston. The train stopped running in the mid-1980s and has remained largely abandoned since then.

Citizens’ Greener Evanston, in partnership with Northwestern student organization Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations, found in a 2018 study that segments of the Mayfair Cutoff near Mason Park could connect it to existing recreational areas. 

The study cited elevated trails such as the 606 in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood and New York City’s the High Line as examples of how the land could be converted into public space.

The study also said the Cutoff has historically supported a racial and economic divide between the western and eastern portions of the 5th Ward by acting as a physical barrier between communities.

Eva Holland-Switchett moved into a house across the street from Mason Park’s tennis courts in 1961, when she immigrated to Evanston from Belize at age 13. After moving out in 1984, she moved back to the same home in 2012. 

Holland-Switchett said she supports developing the cutoff because it has become an unsafe area with no adult supervision for students traveling to and from ETHS. 

“If you take a walk around here in the evening time, maybe between the hour of 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock, you would have to determine yourself exactly what (the students) are doing out there on the railway,” Holland-Switchett said. “And it’s nothing too nice.”

Holland-Switchett said the city should add a dog park to the unused land, as Mason Park is a popular destination for dog owners, but there’s no specific area for pets.

Darlene Cannon, a local activist and former 2nd Ward City Council candidate, emphasized that neighbors of the park should have the primary say in the project. She cited the construction of two NHL-sized ice rinks at the Robert Crown Community Center as a city project that caters to visitors from outside of Evanston, rather than residents. 

“It’s really critical that we move forward based on what the residents who will be impacted want in that area,” Cannon said. 

The city awarded $168,654 to Teska for the first phase of the project, which includes community engagement, data collection, conceptual design, programming and site evaluation, according to the memo. 

Levine hopes the project will turn the Mayfair Cutoff, which has historically divided the neighborhood, into something uniting. 

“The goal is to reimagine some really underutilized space,” Levine said. “So, turning something that’s a negative space into a really positive space for the community. That’s the hope.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @saullpink

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