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.
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.”