About 30 Evanstonians called for more green spaces as well as drainage and lighting improvements and worried about the city’s commitment to transparency during a lively discussion Tuesday night about the proposed expansion of Beck Park.
“What we really need to find out right now is what do we want in this park, and how do we get there,” said Brett Weidl, a landscape architect and project manager at urban design firm MKSK, which is serving as the city’s lead consultant in the project.
“I want the city to look at people affected in the immediate area,” said Glenn Mackey, 61, an engineer and lifelong Evanston resident.
The project is in its initial planning stage. Tuesday’s session was the first of four meetings tentatively scheduled for this phase of the project going into next year.
Beck Park sits between Church and Emerson streets just east of McCormick Boulevard and the North Shore Channel.
Trust is a key question, Mackey said, adding that the city has at times ignored the community’s voice.
“People have to see feedback incorporated in the decisions that affect them,” said Council Member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward. Trust is at the core of the city’s actions, which he said, is a “delicate” balance.
Members from the city’s design team reaffirmed that commitment. “We’re here for open, candid dialogue,” with the community, Weidl said.
However, members of the community remain skeptical about being adequately heard.
“The city does what it wants to do,” said Mackey, stressing the need for greater engagement from the city.
Other attendees echoed the sentiment.
Kelli Michelin, a program assistant at Northwestern University’s financial aid office, expressed hope about people coming together to agree on a vision for the park. Michelin, 43, added she would like to see the path extended, so people can get around safely, as well as lighting improvements, citing the park’s orange lights – as opposed to the white lights at nearby Butler Park.
“We live here. We should be listened to by the city,” said Michelin, who grew up in the Fifth Ward and is a regular at Beck Park.
“I think this is a good first start,” to get the community involved, Michelin said.
Other audience members pushed for a balance between green space and parking. Meanwhile, city officials are tackling another issue: funding. The Beck Park expansion project is expected to be one of the city’s most expensive plans, according to Lara Biggs, capital planning & engineering bureau chief for the city.
She added that as general obligation debts fund most city projects, “we don’t know what funding [for the expansion] looks like.”
The Tuesday discussion built on previous attempts to develop the park. The city previously held a meeting about a proposed Beck Park expansion in 2019.
The city’s current plan is set to reach its design phase halfway through next year, with implementation now slated for 2024 or beyond, Weidl said.