Members of Evanston’s redistricting committee discuss a remap of the city’s nine ward boundaries. Credit: Bob Seidenberg photo

After learning of a deviation in population of more than 20% between some wards, members of a city redistricting committee recommended on May 10 that Evanston move forward on a remapping effort to create greater balance.

At the same time, officials vowed to keep the process, the first real remapping since 2003 of the city’s nine ward boundaries, as straightforward as possible.

Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, is chairing the committee, which includes fellow council members Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward; Bobby Burns, 5th Ward; and Devon Reid, 8th Ward, who participated remotely.

Technically, council members are not required to redistrict under a strict reading of state law unless the city’s population (78,110, according to the 2020 Census) was to fall below 70,000 or rise above 90,000, officials said at the meeting.

But state law does allow the city to redistrict “for any other reason,” Nieuwsma said.

Significant deviation between some wards

With a population deviation of 20.4% between some wards, officials opted to move ahead, following a state statute that advises that if the city undertakes the process, “wards shall be as nearly equal in population, and the wards shall be as compact and contiguous territory as practicable.”

Evanston’s population increased by slightly less than 5% between 2010 and 2020, gaining 3,624 residents, according to 2020 Census results.

The population of the city’s nine wards ranged from 7,920 in the Ninth Ward in south central and west Evanston, to 9,691 in the Third Ward in central and south Evanston.

The average ward size is 8,679 per ward, according to the 2020 Census figures.

Nieuwsma noted that state law indicates that a 10% to 16.4% deviation can be acceptable if justified based on legitimate considerations; Ideally, less than 10% is regarded as compliant with the “one person, one vote,” standard.

“I’ll go as far as to say as close to zero as you can get if you’re really going for one person, one vote,” he said.

Committee members voted unanimously to move forward on the remapping effort.

Evanston will look at remapping the boundaries of its nine wards after the 2020 Census showed a large population deviation between some wards. Credit: Submitted by the City of Evanston

Simple and straightforward

To Nieuwsma’s query about what approach they should take, committee members backed one that would be as simple and straightforward as possible.

The changes could be as subtle as the block level. For instance, Burns, a first-time council member, pointed to a shift between the Second Ward and the Fifth Ward farther north, involving “neighbors that know one another, that are already working together anyway.”

Nieuwsma prepared for the meeting, reading past press news stories of city redistricting efforts, including some from 2003.

That year, officials ended up considering 15 different maps, balancing questions of minority representation and concerns that Northwestern University students were being split up.

Even so, he said, “I went into this process thinking that it can’t be that difficult,” he said. “We’ve just got to balance the numbers. We should be able to get through this relatively painlessly without too much angst, and I hope that will be the case in 2022 too.”

Those sentiments, however, were tested barely a half-hour into the meeting, with Reid suggesting officials consider mapping changes that would give other wards “a portion of the lakefront, spreading out representation” from the Seventh, First and Third Wards, whose boundaries run along the lake.

He said such a move would provide more ethnic diversity and also give other communities a feeling of ownership of the area.

Wynne, whose Third Ward includes a portion of the lakefront, said that to achieve that goal, the city would be violating criteria established for the remapping process.

“You’re going to slice through neighborhoods of contiguity, of natural boundaries, of man-made boundaries,” she told Reid.

“You’re looking at two train lines, Chicago Avenue which carries over 20,000 cars a day,” she said of the area’s individuality.

Such a change would break up neighborhoods, she argued.

“The blocks of Forest and Michigan are double blocks down there,” she said. “The 600 and 700 blocks are all neighborhoods where kids play back and forth. Neighbors know each other, blocks have block parties together. The community around Baker Park extends in a radius around it.”

Deciding “we’re not going to answer that question definitely,” Nieuwsma asked committee members to move forward on a hearing process on the remapping changes.

The group hopes to kick off the process with two separate town hall meetings to be conducted virtually, in July, one in Spanish.

The committee also plans to meet regularly at the start of the process, with another session planned online for Tuesday, June 28.

Committee members are aiming to bring their recommendations before the City Council in time for May 2023 approval, Nieuwsma said.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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