I am asking for property tax justice for Evanston as a “sayer,” and not a “nay-sayer.” I feel compelled to point out the growing and yawning capital disparity between Northwestern University’s $16 billion endowment and the diminutive funds and budget that Evanston squeezes by on, with ever-increasing property taxes resting solely on Evanston residents.
This is a gross economic injustice. The increasing property tax burden on Evanston’s citizenry is effectively gentrifying the socio/ethnic diversity, and middle/lower income families right out of our community.
As a “sayer,” I am also very grateful to Northwestern University for the cultural, economic, and employment opportunities that this hallowed institution brings to our community.
In fact, my great, great, grandfather Elhanan John Searle was the valedictorian for the first graduating class of five students at Northwestern in 1859, and my Evanston family benefits from his legacy today.
Yet now the town/gown imbalance swells more as we have NU’s bid to further the commercialization/commodification of Evanston through the demolition and rebuilding of a new stadium complex.
With this plan comes the scheduling of many more commercial for-profit stadium events, well beyond the half-dozen football games that it was traditionally intended for. And NU reaches for further enrichment as it lobbies our city council for more tax exemptions for these commercial uses for the new stadium!
Why aren’t more Evanstonians asking “What is in it for us?” The juggernaut of NU’s capital plans offer very little to Evanston residents as we continue underwriting the university’s property tax exemption and its city services. Ask your Evanston City Council Member about this.
The cost and stress of the new stadium plan would impose environmental, physical and mental health deficits upon residents in the neighborhoods via traffic, noise and air pollution.
Significant stress and damage will also be inflicted upon the town’s infrastructure and services by the demolition and construction of the proposed stadium. This is certainly not what Evanston residents signed up for. It’s also inaccurate to compare this situation with Wrigley field, as the demographic and zoning of north Evanston is a far cry from that of the Wrigleyville Chicago neighborhood.
The new stadium’s carbon footprint also flies in the face of NU’s bold and laudable new campaign to have a zero carbon footprint by 2050. By replacing Ryan Field, NU will create a carbon footprint deficit that will span a half century and more, erasing and trivializing Northwestern’s new “green campaign.”
As I mentioned, Northwestern happens to have one of the largest private university endowments in America, greater than $16 billion.
And yes, for the record, many (other) universities DO pay property taxes. Yet we Evanstonians passively underwrite Northwestern’s expenses for their city services with our property tax dollars. For reference, this Time magazine article discusses how major universities burden communities by not paying property taxes.
While Evanston is grateful for the kind municipal compensations that NU occasionally makes to our town, these offerings are virtual pocket change compared to the immense savings on property tax exemptions the university enjoys in our town.
Change NU’s founding charter. NU was able to handily change one of its founding charters prohibiting alcohol to be served within five miles of its campus. NU can now change its charter to finally abolish its property tax exempt status, and give E-Town residents a break.
Evanston is also part of a bigger picture, an existential global crisis (climate change and mass extinction) that is caused by unsustainable and wasteful human consumption practices.
As a 50-year Evanston resident I continue to expect our community to have a higher-than-average consciousness and wisdom to put human and environmental values to the fore, by bringing balance and restraint to the often unsustainable and destructive impulses for convenience, comfort, consumption and commerce – forces and mentalities that clearly imperil our town and planet’s future.
Property tax justice between Northwestern University and Evanston residents will bring our community into a wonderful new era of parity, cooperation and sustainability.