About 100 people attended Citizens’ Greener Evanston Earth Day brainstorming session on April 24 at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, hearing and offering suggestions about how to make Evanston a community that is livable for all residents. After a speech by Veronica Kyle of Faith in Place, residents separated into groups to discuss the challenges and opportunities for action posed by three barriers to sustainable living here: the lack of affordable housing, the need for economic development, particularly on the City’s west side, and violence in the communities.
Ms. Kyle addressed those issues broadly, saying lending institutions should be included in discussions of affordable housing, noting that gun violence stems from a desire for power and control by people whose world is materialistic, and stressing the need for a living wage.
After the three groups presented summaries of their conclusions and suggestions, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl gave her response, saying even if the problems affordable housing, gun violence, racism, and economic development may not be solved, the community will continue to address them and seek solutions. She said she has been working on getting jobs for all Evanston youth who need them and on getting wrap-around services for the some 30 youth who are causing most of the violence in Evanston, as ways of addressing violence. The City’s diversity, she said, “is threatened by the lack of affordable housing.” She also said Northwestern University is becoming a stronger partner in offering job-training to Evanston youth and in hiring locally for some of its construction work.
“We have serious problems in Evanston, and we have always had serious problems. … What strikes me most is the willingness to be honest about our problems,” Mayor Tisdahl said.
Eleanor Revelle, president of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, which sponsored the event, said the conversation about each of these issues can continue on Facebook, where there will be individual pages for each topic.
Evanston has lost 3,000 units of affordable housing in the past 10 years, said Sue Calder, chair of the City’s Housing and Homelessness Commission. Housing affects every aspect of a person’s life, she said, such as health, education, and life expectancy. A homeless person living on the street can cost the community up to $20,000 per year in services. “Socio-economic diversity is healthy – it is good for the community and good for business,” Ms. Calder said. Among the suggestions of the group was a review of the City’s policies on affordable housing.
The discussion about violence, led by Evonda Thomas-Smith, chair of the City’s Health and Human Services Department, initially focused on its manifestations and effects, such as anger, poverty, trauma, and more violence. “Violence disrupts the community and disrupts our environment,” she said. “If we create environmental stability, we can create a movement that says violence is unacceptable.” Members suggested being more open to “others, teaching conflict management and taking it to heart, and ending residential racial segregation.
While Evanston’s unemployment rate is lower overall than the State’s, for black men it is much lower, said Robin Simmons of Sunshine Enterprises, who works with small business-owners in the Fifth Ward. One of the challenges to economic prosperity in certain parts of Evanston is that many available jobs are low-paying and do not fit the available workforce, she said. “The minimum wage is not a livable wage,” she said, in summarizing the group’s discussion. Connecting people with available resources, supporting small and home-based businesses and leveraging the opportunities in green construction were other suggestions of the group. “Gun violence and affordable housing are directly linked to economic opportunities,” Ms. Simmons said.