The expansiveness of the English language is invigorating. Without much ado, we absorb new idioms and new words. Terms from the culinary, fashion, music, and artistic worlds flow into the mainstream by word of mouth, through social media and other ways.
Here in Evanston three bywords of the community are evolving: livability, sustainability and diversity. This is happening, it seems, in part by osmosis and in part by design. As the community moves into understanding the expansion of these concepts, we will all be the better for it.
Merriam-Webster once defined livability as “viability” or “survival expectancy,” in particular as it applied to livestock or poultry. Now its definition is associated with quality of life, “including the built and natural environments, economic prosperity, social stability and equity, educational opportunity, and cultural, entertainment and recreation possibilities.”
For several years Evanston has had the goal of being “the most livable city in America,” and its focus has been on the built environment and on ecological practices. Now, thanks to a deliberate expansion of the term by Citizens Greener Evanston, the community is asked to think about livability in terms not of enhancements but of basics: affordable housing, violence in the community, and economic opportunity.
Similarly expansive is “sustainability,” practices that involve methods that do not destroy or wholly consume natural resources. It is easy to talk about sustainability from a middle-class point of view, and the do’s and don’ts can make sustainability seem more like a board game than a commitment to live more lightly on the planet.
Installing low-flush toilets, putting up solar or photovoltaic panels, and driving hybrid or electric cars are sustainable practices on a grand scale that is not attainable by all residents. But some small steps of sustainability can be accomplished at little or no cost, such as weather-stripping windows and doors in the winter; raking leaves onto plants for mulch in the winter and into a compost bin in the spring. Compost bins are available from the City at no charge. Community garden space is available for those registering early and lucky enough to win the lottery for a 10-foot-by-10-foot plot. Walking and biking are free in this City of scores of parks and miles of lakefront.
With diversity, though, we are still struggling. We have progressed from considering diversity as merely something different from but parallel to our own norms and culture to understanding that diversity appreciates differences in culture, race, lifestyle, sexual orientation and economic status.
Livability is not a zero-sum game. It is challenging but exciting to live in a community striving to make all residents feel that this is their home.