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Eight months into the research and development stages, 10 separate committees are working on Evanston 150’s 10 big ideas to celebrate Evanston’s sesquicentennial next year.

Last year, Evanston 150 organizers invited the entire community to come up with big ideas that would enhance living in Evanston and be feasible to implement within about two years. A selection committee winnowed those ideas to about 100, and the community voted by paper ballot and online to select the top 10 from among those. Groups coalesced around those ideas, and volunteers have been working since January on these 10 projects. (See sidebar)

“Each of the 10 groups has a monthly meeting, and we try to get a newsletter to the community each month,” said Stephanie Kulke, publicist for Evanston 150.

“We’ve had good successes so far,” said Jay Lytle, a member of the Evanston 150 Steering Committee and former mayor of Evanston.

“A common misperception is that everything has to be finished by Dec. 29, 2012.” While that is not the case, Mr. Lytle said, “We want [groups] to be well on the way and have a program … by then. … It just takes a while to develop the chemistry to have people working together and have confidence [in the group]. … Big ideas take time.” Still, he said, “We think these 10 groups are really progressing beyond expectations. … You can’t overestimate how hard it is to start something from scratch,” Mr. Lytle said.

Paul Arntson, professeor emeritus at Northwestern University, is familiar with many of the challenges these groups will face, both in coalescing as a group and in finding concrete ways to accomplish their goals. He spoke at the work-group gathering in January, offering some community-organizing principles about how “to build and sustain consensual interdependence. … Only when you see you need each other [will it work].”

From the literature on community organizing and from his own experience, Dr. Arntson said, there are “four verbs that people have to constantly refresh: articulate, align, discover and mobilize. Articulate and align the self-interest, the values and personal goals – to bring people to the table. Get a shared passion – that’s ‘articulate.’”

The second pair, discover and mobilize, speaks to the cohesiveness of the group: “Discover and mobilize the assets and resources and the people in the group. … People need to have an asset or a resource they can share.”

Dr. Arntson said the leadership of a group can help it coalesce and retain its members by “moving from diversity to divergence to convergence to action.” Diversity – “getting different people and different ideas to the table” differs from divergence, which is “getting the different voices to be heard.” Convergence is “getting the diverse ideas to meld into a cohesive idea so that everyone is behind it.” Getting a group to move on to action can be difficult, he added.

The groups will shift and go in fits and starts. “Community is sort of a messy thing – it’s disorganized,” Dr. Arntson said.

As for how the groups will fare over the next year, Dr. Arntson said, “I keenly want this to work. Lord knows, Evanston people are busy.” Time, though, he said, is relative: “These groups are not on institutional time – they’re on community time. … For us [in institutions] time is money; for community, time has its own value.”

Evanston 150’s 10 Big Ideas

• Establish literarcy centers and free wi-fi throughout Evanston

• Establish a community health center for meddical, dental and preventive care and other services to all, regardless of ability to pay

• Develop sustainable local food sources, such as community gardens, green houses and composting sites.

• Commit to pedestrian and bicycle safety; encourage use of bicycles.

• Make Evanston one of the greenest cities in the United States.

• Create a youth development center.

• Develop a vocational/co-op technical school.

• Establish a year-round indoor/outdoor community market as the centerpiece of a revitalized public space.

• Ensure that all Evanston residents have access to water recreation. Teach all children to swim.

• Provide the foundation for success in school through high-quality, affordable, universal preschool experiences for 3- and 4-year olds so that all Evanston children are ready for kindergarten and prepared for success later in life.

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...