‘A region rather than separate municipalities’: Evanston aims to revitalize relationship with Chicago


Lily Ogburn/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston and Chicago have started to collaborate more closely to improve business on Howard street, the physical boundary between the two cities.

Aria Wozniak, Senior Staffer

With Chicago’s newly elected mayor, Brandon Johnson, set to be sworn in on May 15, Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss said he hopes the relationship between Evanston and Chicago’s local governments will have a more collaborative dynamic.

Biss, who endorsed Johnson prior to April’s mayoral runoff election, emphasized the importance of building a stronger and more prosperous Chicago area by working together with the larger city. He said he sees this happening with Johnson as mayor.

“On the things that are our top priorities — whether that’s public safety, racial equity, climate, action, sustainability, affordable housing — I think we’re going to have a partner who shares our values,” Biss said. “A partner who we can really get some good things done with.”

He added that Evanston’s relationship with Chicago is a fundamental part of the smaller city’s identity since Chicago is an economic and cultural center of the region. 

According to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning in 2019, 37.8% of Evanston residents work in Chicago. He thinks many people are drawn to live in Evanston because of the greater Chicago region’s cultural vibrancy.

Both cities have already begun collaborating on multiple collaborative efforts, including the “One Howard Street” project. 

The border between Evanston and Chicago sits along Howard Street. Evanston’s 8th Ward is just north of the street, while Chicago’s 49th Ward lies south. 

The “One Howard Street” project aims to increase and support business in the Howard Corridor and bridge the border between the two cities. 

Kyle Ryan, Chicago’s 49th Ward Manager of Economic Development, said he has been working directly with Evanston’s business affairs management team, Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak and Ald. Devon Reid (8th) to collaborate more closely on projects on Howard Street. They hold a working committee meeting every two weeks, Ryan said. 

“I've already seen things in the last two months that we've been able to coordinate a little bit better,” Ryan said. “It's already given both municipalities a little bit of push to say ‘we're not working against each other, and if we work together it’s more beneficial for both parties.’”

Ryan said he feels optimistic about the committee’s work so far.

He added that the committee recently noticed Howard Street is wide enough to support protected bike lanes without removing parking from either the Chicago or Evanston side of the street. Ryan said it was exciting to learn the cities could work together to ensure both sides of the street are paved with bike lanes.

Additionally, Ryan said the committee wants to help integrate the Chicago and Evanston communities to show that the border line, specifically at the Howard station, doesn’t mean the two cities operate separately. 

“We need to start acting like a region rather than separate municipalities,” Ryan said.

The partnership between the two cities is crucial for safety and crime prevention, according to Evanston Police Commander Ryan Glew. He said the Evanston Police Department and the Chicago Police Department have a long history of working together to keep the areas safe, and he is confident the partnership will continue. 

"We will always look to maintain our relationships and two-way communication with all our law enforcement partners in the area," he said. "(With) somebody new coming to the conversation, you’re hopeful and anxious anticipating their approach and what benefits that's going to bring."

He said given a significant number of common crimes like car theft in both cities, law enforcement stakeholders have taken a proactive approach about staying in communication and exchanging crime and safety information. 

However, despite some public safety concerns and economic challenges, local government authorities Glew, Biss and Ryan have expressed optimism about the future of the relationship between Evanston and Chicago. 

“I ran for this office because I saw a confluence of a time and a set of issues that I thought create room for really bold transformational change in areas like housing and public safety,” Biss said. “I think we are putting the pieces together to make that change happen.”

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Twitter: @ari_wozz

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