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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Evanston residents attend workshop on Parks and Green Space Strategic Plan

Megija Medne/The Daily Northwestern
Tuesday’s public workshop focused on a strategic plan for managing green spaces throughout Evanston.

On Tuesday, about 25 Evanston residents attended a public workshop at the Robert Crown Center to provide feedback on Evanston’s Parks and Green Space Strategic Plan — a city project that aims to inform future policies and projects for outdoor spaces including parks, playgrounds and beaches.

Stefanie Levine, senior project manager, said the workshop’s goal was “to make sure that (the city is) meeting the community’s needs and goals.” 

During the workshop, attendees could choose from five goals they wanted to prioritize for the plan’s creation process — equitable access, natural experience, sustainable operations, welcoming water access, and adaptability and flexibility. 

Attendees were encouraged to leave suggestions for improvements, using stickers and Post-it notes to indicate which goals and strategies they wanted to prioritize. 

“I appreciate the goals that might be protecting our environment, so that’s important,” attendee Tim Kenney said. “And then I appreciated the smaller goals that maybe have an impact on the parks that my kids use, or will use, because again, I do have a growing family.” 

Planners outlined several strategies for each of the five goals. Attendees by and large expressed support for enhancing existing naturalized landscapes, increasing the capacity of lands and parks to retain stormwater and creating parks that provide relief from heat and contribute to cooler surroundings. 

Celia Michener, an Evanston resident who volunteers at Harbert-Payne Park, noted the need for improved staffing, facilities and maintenance at local parks. 

“In past years, the water has gotten so deep that it’s covered areas of the paved bicycle path, and there was a kind of traditional remediation done with building drains near the bicycle paths to take the water into the sewage,” Michener said. “I would prefer a softer, natural kind of remediation by planting trees that will absorb that water quickly.” 

Implementation efforts for the plan come amid city deliberations on how to fund parks repairs in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget. At a Sept. 18 City Council meeting, Parks and Recreation Board President Robert Bush told councilmembers that the city’s parks were “at a crisis” and challenged councilmembers to allocate 5% of their $400 million budget toward them. 

According to Matt Poole, assistant director of the Parks and Recreation department, some changes, like increases in outdoor education, can be implemented more quickly than larger scale capital improvement projects. Officials noted that the strategic plan will provide recommendations to guide future budgets and projects over the next ten years.

Evanston officials are collaborating with the firm Agency Landscape + Planning to conduct technical analyses and inventories across its natural spaces. 

Rhiannon Sinclair, an urban planner for Agency Landscape + Planning, said workshops like these help identify key priorities, strategies and actions to take. 

“(Our firm) really is about processes that are really community-centered,” said Jill Dixon, another urban planner for Agency Landscape + Planning. “We want to make sure we’re working with communities that value that as a principle.” 

The city previously collected feedback by surveying a representative random sample of Evanston residents, meeting with selected focus groups and hosting a public workshop on August 3. According to Dixon, officials working on the plan will determine whether they will open further opportunities for community feedback after Tuesday’s workshop. 

Evanston officials will revise the strategic plan before presenting it to the City Council in late 2023 or early 2024.

“The City Council will have a guideline about what is needed, which will help them determine the levels of funding,” said Capital Planning and Engineering Bureau Chief Lara Biggs. “Over time, we’ll start rolling out all of the strategies and the capital improvement projects, updating and modernizing both our parks and recreation areas and our operations.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @_megija

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Twitter: @edwardsimoncruz

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