Mayor Biss talks Evanston-NU relationship, economic recovery at State of the City address


Kimberly Espinosa/Daily Senior Staffer

Mayor Daniel Biss. The mayor chairs City Council as a mostly non-voting member that presides over council discussion and votes.

Casey He, Assistant City Editor

About 100 Evanston community members filled the auditorium at Evanston SPACE for Mayor Daniel Biss’ second annual State of the City address Tuesday.

This year’s event, which was free and open to all Evanston residents for the first time, was a departure from previous addresses held at the Evanston Chamber of Commerce. Biss said he wanted to make the address more intimate and accessible. 

Mayor Daniel Biss speaks with Northwestern University President Michael Schill.
Several local leaders, including Northwestern University President Michael Schill, were in attendance at the event.

Several local leaders, including Northwestern University President Michael Schill, attended the event. In his address, Biss said he hopes to continue working with NU and leveraging University resources to benefit the city. 

For example, the city has been partnering with NU on a recent guaranteed income pilot. In December, Evanston began granting $500 each month to 150 residents on a lottery basis, and University researchers are studying how the money improves recipients’ quality of life. 

“This kind of partnership where we do work that advances our shared values is really, I think, the most important part of our potential relationship,” Biss said.

Biss also touted several policy areas in which Evanston has made significant progress this year.

Early in his address, Biss highlighted the city’s environmental efforts. Evanston has expanded its fleet of electric vehicles and made strides in creating electric buildings, passing an ordinance to build an all-electric facility for the Evanston Animal Shelter. 

He added that City Council also voted Monday to implement a complete plastic bag ban, making Evanston the first city in Illinois to do so. 

Biss acknowledged Evanston needs to do more to further its Climate Action and Resilience Plan goals, which include a goal of 100% renewable electricity for all properties by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. He noted that the city is considering improving its building codes and banning natural gas connections in new construction.

“We’ve got big agenda items this year,“ Biss said. “They are not going to be uncontroversial, necessarily, but they are important if we believe in our climate objectives.”

As Biss turned to discussing Evanston’s economy and fiscal conditions, he said the city has seen “a lot of important recovery” since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He added the city needs to rethink its “three-legged stool” economic model that is supported by residents, NU and the downtown office population. 

“Frankly, the office situation just is not what it was in February 2020,” Biss said. “What I do think we can all say with real confidence is it’s not going to just be what it was before.”

Biss applauded a recent report by Evanston Thrives that aims to revitalize downtown Evanston by replacing office workers as one of its main customer bases.

“(Revitalizing Evanston) relies on people wanting to be downtown. It relies on events being downtown,” Biss said. “It relies on all these different things that are going to take time to completely put in place, but that gives us the opportunity to have a new version of an even more vibrant downtown.”

Near the end of his speech, the mayor also addressed the deadly shooting at Clark Street Beach in April.

Biss said he appreciated the work of the Evanston Police Department and the Parks and Recreation Department during the incident. The city needs to expand both its gun control policy and youth outreach and workforce development effort, he added.

“These tragedies become repeated so often that there is sometimes an instinct that even if we feel it with the depths of our soul, there’s still nothing we can really do to change it,” Biss said. “That’s not true.”

Biss said he has made a referral for a gun safety storage ordinance, modeled after states like Massachusetts and Oregon, which would strengthen existing Cook County regulations.

The mayor closed his speech by addressing a climate of “isolation” and “polarization” that has resulted from the pandemic.

Many of the ordinances the city has enacted in the past year, including one in support of Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s plan to build a neighborhood school in the 5th Ward, are meant to bring the city residents together, he said. The city will continue to aim to do so, he added.

“As long as I am mayor, the city of Evanston will do whatever it can to facilitate our being together,” Biss said. “Our living together, our working together, our learning together … Our helping each other and lifting each other up together so that we can build collectively a society where everybody has been nurturing human relationships that we all need to thrive.” 

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