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The many partnerships between the City of Evanston and Northwestern University formed the basis of the City Council’s discussion on the Council’s “Northwestern University” goal on Nov. 23. The goal, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz reminded Council members, was one with “no particular parameters.”

NU/City Interests

Mr. Bobkiewicz outlined several junctions of City and University interest: policing, H1N1 vaccinations, intergovernmental relations, internships, student housing, athletics, infrastructure, economic development, the promise of a new fire engine, and the University’s strategic plan. The partnership between the Evanston and University police departments is “good and longstanding,” Mr. Bobkiewicz said, adding, “This is one of the partnerships that is held up as a model, not only in the Big Ten [universities] but also nationwide.”

Last month the City assisted the University Health Service in providing vaccinations against the H1N1 virus to many Northwestern students.

Internships at the City for Northwestern University students have increased; the Mayor and some aldermen now have Northwestern interns, Mr. Bobkiewicz said.

In other areas, such as student housing, the interests of the City and the University touch but do not meld. Discussion of these problem areas and efforts to resolve the issues continue, Mr. Bobkiewicz said.

A point of contention at present is the University’s use of the former Seabury Western property. The University has created a “great hall” for students to use as a mini student-center, with food provided – a use that some neighbors say violates the City’s zoning ordinance.

There are also ongoing conversations about infrastructure concerns, such as lighting and water, he added. Finally, he said, he has learned in his short time in Evanston that the “City’s relationship with the University has sometimes been contentious. Some of these [problems] have centered around communication. Maybe the City can be a better catalyst to share our information.”

Council Discussion

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said, “My interest in the [City’s] ‘Northwestern’ goal is in the area of economic development. I would like us to be working as closely as possible with the University – our university – to attract and retain businesses. I’d like to improve the City’s relevance [to Northwestern].”

She said she often has the idea that Northwestern looks past Evanston – to Chicago or further – but would like for University officials to look to Evanston for some of their plans and ideas. “Having a top-tier university makes it incumbent upon us to help the University achieve its goals. We have to make Evanston strong and vibrant. What we can do to make Northwestern maintain its top-tier status will be a benefit to all of us, to our City,” Ald. Grover said.

She added, “In the Seventh Ward, I’d like to have us implement the Central Street plan, particularly with respect to University-owned properties.”

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he echoed Ald. Grover’s ideas on economic development and said, “I’d like to see us aggressively pursue internship activities and access [for City staff] to [audit] courses at Northwestern.” He also said he believed the University had made a commitment in the 1960s to give a certain number of scholarships each year to Evanston students and would like to see whether that promise has been kept. Finally, he said, “I appreciate the fire engine, but I would like to see a long-term commitment [by the University] on budget issues … to show that we do matter to them, and, of course, they matter to us.”

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, “Based upon my experience as Seventh Ward alderman, I found it sometimes frustrating that I would call the University and have a great deal of difficulty getting to the right person. Talking with the neighbors who are frustrated about the cafeteria [we all say], ‘There has to be someone to call.’”

Mayor Tisdahl said that when she was alderman, she referred all calls to James Wolinski, then the director of the City’s community development department, who then figured out who to call. “I would like to designate a staff person – not hiring one but adding to his or her existing duties – with direct contact with the University and who knows the right person to call.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if Northwestern had a person on staff that we could call? Perhaps that is something we can ask for. We have the complaints and they have the answers.”

Northwestern and Evanston

In an interview with the RoundTable last month, Northwestern president Morton Schapiro, together with Alan Cubbage, vice president for University relations, responded to questions about some of the same City/University issues discussed by City Council.

Student Housing

The friction between students living off campus and their surrounding neighbors is “”not so different from that of many liberal arts instituions,”” Dr. Schapiro told the RoundTable. The University and the City have taken steps to ameliorate the problem, and they continue to meet to discuss issues of common concern. Housing, he said, is at the crux of the matter – 2,600 students live off campus. “”The [neighbors] would be a lot happier if we had more student housing [on campus]. … The University has built two new residence halls [in the last few years] to increase campus living. … It also extended its disciplinary regulations to include what happens off campus. We enforce this; we patrol the area,”” he added. The University “”wants to make sure the students are good ambassadors for the University, that they are safe and that property standards are kept,”” Dr. Schapiro said.Economic Development

“”We need a vibrant town here,”” Dr. Schapiro told the RoundTable. Evanston [should be] a place where our faculty and staff want to live.””Strategic Plan

Some residents have expressed concern that the new music school and other plan projects involve blocking or partly blocking the south entrance to the lakefill, used by Evanston residents and the University community as a park.

Dr. Schapiro said there are “”no plans to block off that south entrance.”” Mr. Cubbage said there might be temporary closures during construction.Donations to the City

Dr. Schapiro told the RoundTable that his conversations with Mayor Tisdahl did not represent anything new in town/gown relations but were a continuation of previous dialogues between mayors and NU presidents – most recently former mayor Lorraine Morton and former president Henry Bienen.

There will be no cash payments to the City for its budget, Dr. Schapiro said. “”We should figure out things that help us and help the town, but there will not be a payment.”” He said, though, that projects might arise that would be mutually beneficial to the City and the University or the University and the School Districts.

Marking the beginning of Dr. Schapiro’s tenure at the University, Northwestern donated $550,000 for the City to purchase a new fire engine.The University and the City

Dr. Schapiro said he hopes that there will be a lot of participation by residents in Northwestern activities. “”At Williams [College, where Dr. Schapiro was president] we worked really hard to make residents feel that they were not visitors but part of our lives … and we had some success. … It’s really nice at Wildcat games to see people who are not connected with Northwestern. I wish there were more. I hope we can do a better job of convincing people that this is their university. … We’re here – take advantage of it. We’re not going away, and we want to send out a welcome mat. We want Evanston residents to be proud to be associated with one of the greatest universities in the world.””

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...