Communication from city officials on major big ticket projects is not enough, according to a small group of community members at the Fifth Ward meeting Thursday. 

Bobby Burns Credit: Richard Cahan

Sixteen people attended the virtual meeting, which spanned over two hours, and six people spoke about a number of issues, but the discussion focused on three large projects: the proposed District 65 Fifth Ward school, renovation of Northwestern University’s football stadium and a new affordable housing project under development.

With all three projects, residents’ concerns were the same: the city seems to be making decisions without sufficiently explaining and/or listening to people.

“I hope that your sharing information will be as equitable as possible in the Fifth Ward,” said Judith Treadway, secretary of the North Shore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP Evanston.

Developments and school updates

Fifth Ward Council member Bobby Burns admitted that the acquisition process was rushed when it came to the affordable housing project at Emerson and Jackson streets.

However, he said, “we’re going to have a comprehensive planning process” with public meetings to get the community’s insight.

Evanston resident Priscilla Long asked Burns how the community would find out about these meetings, and he said updates would be shared through digital newsletters and flyers. Long urged Burns to keep in mind many people do not have internet access: “Don’t forget the paper people.” 

Also, earlier this month, the city surveyed residents online for their views on the proposed District 65 school, in a ward which has some of the fewest number of people online in comparison to other wards.

(A 2016 study conducted by Evanston Public Library about the digital divide found nearly 14% of Evanston residents had no Wi-Fi at home, with socioeconomic status and geography playing a key role in internet access. The numbers have likely changed after the pandemic but according to that study, nearly 20% of Fifth Ward residents were without internet, as opposed to just 3% in the Sixth Ward.)

Burns said the city has yet to release the survey results on the District 65 school. 

But he also assured ward residents that his communication style is one that is open and inclusive. “I love to really sit down and plan with the community,” he said, “That’s what I’m about. Everybody here will have an opportunity to weigh in on everything that we’ve talked about today.”

Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

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  1. Sadly, I believe that the building of a 5th Ward school and constructing a new Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center will seal the 5th Wards gentrification fate. The City of Evanston has accelerated the rate of gentrification in our community through housing policy that discourages affordable housing. The new amenities being proposed will not benefit the historically Black population in the 5th Ward, but will instead usher in a wave of white Chicagoans who desire safe neighborhood schools for their children. They can and will pay cash for 5th Ward homes whose values will then double overnight due to the white migration. The building of the new school makes it all but inevitable. The city’s elected officials refusal to pair these projects with massive affordable housing options says to me that it welcomes the gentrification. It’s unfortunate.

    1. Kevin makes an interesting point.

      Of course, let’s clarify that it was the District’s decision (administration and school board) to build the school–not the City’s.

      I think it is curious that the superintendent started a new corporation just weeks after he started as Superintendent to “purchase and lease real estate across the United States.” Because his company, St. Chi Enterprises, is private we don’t know much about their activities, such as where they are acquiring properties. But given the potential impact on property values in the neighborhood related to the new school, some transparency would be welcome.

      You can see the Articles of Organization for Horton’s business here:

      We also know from NBC’s reporting that Horton has a long history with real estate investment while a public employee. In fact, they found that he owed $63,000 to the city of Chicago for a variety of violations related to his various properties:

      As Kevin points out, the decision to cite a school in this neighborhood is likely going to result in gentrification. The people who profit from that are real estate developers.

      It is troubling to see that the person making the ultimate decision about the school has a long history in personally profiting off of real estate investments and is still engaged in acquiring properties across the country.

      I am not suggesting that anything untoward is occurring. But given the evidence, the amount of public money involved, and the potential impact on housing affordability, more transparency is needed.