Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add a link to the city’s proposed map at the end.

Members of the city’s redistricting committee have released a map proposing the first new political boundaries for the city in 20 years, saying they used a light hand to keep ward lines as close to the present as possible.

The City of Evanston’s proposed new ward map. Credit: City of Evanston graphic

City Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma of the Fourth Ward, committee chair, introduced the map at the April 10 City Council meeting. The proposed changes brought the deviation in population among the city’s nine wards down from 20.4% to 3.4%. Ideally, a deviation of less than 10% is regarded as compliant with federal “one person, one vote” standards.

In the new map, the city’s Second Ward, with a population of 8,517, sits just 1.9% below average, stands as the least populous, and the Fourth Ward the highest, with a population of 8,808 — but still at only 1.5% above the average. At the start of the process, the committee grappled with how to bring into balance a much wider gap.

Currently the far south Ninth Ward is the least populous, with 7,920 compared to 9,691 in the Third Ward in central and south Evanston, according to 2020 census figures.

“We talked about throwing the whole map out and starting with a blank sheet of paper,” Nieuwsma said. “But we decided to get as close as we can to equalizing populations through just a very light touch approach, which would impact as few residents as possible.”

Committee members worked incrementally, devoting meetings to only a few wards at a time.

“It’s a bit of a Tetris game. You can’t move one thing without moving another,” Nieuwsma said about the challenge. “So it’s not quite as simple.”

The committee – which includes Nieuwsma, City Council Members Melissa Wynne (3rd Ward), Bobby Burns (5th Ward) and Devon Reid (8th Ward) – also agreed to certain conditions early on.

The new map would maintain three majority non-white wards — the Second, Fifth and Eighth. In addition, the downtown area would be split among wards, giving as many City Council members as possible a voice in that area.

Officials estimated that 4,592 people would find themselves in new wards in the changed map.

The City of Evanston’s current ward map. Credit: City of Evanston graphic

At the March 28 committee meeting, several members of the 250-unit Sherman Plaza condominium complex questioned the building’s shift from the First to the Fouth Ward under the new configuration.

In the past, Sherman Plaza representatives have been strong voices on downtown issues at First Ward meetings.

One woman asked whether firefighters and police officers would be arriving from greater distances because of the change. Nieuwsma said the change would not affect service.

Fred Tannenbaum, another downtown resident, noted that the Evanston Police Department “has specific officers for downtown Evanston.”

Taking “us out of downtown Evanston, it will affect their beat,” Tannenbaum maintained. “That will change unless you want to talk to the police chief,” he said to the committee, speaking from a remote setup. “And make sure that the same officers that are in downtown will be taking care of the people on our block.”

During public comment at the April 10 City Council meeting, another speaker, Carl Klein, said that with one map as the sole focus, “You should allow for a full community outreach program to have comments on the ward map and you should have more than one ward map.”

He also spoke of the limited involvement in the drawing of the map. At the committee’s Feb. 28 meeting, maps proposed by Nieuwsma and Third Ward City Council Member Melissa Wynne received the most interest from members as having the potential to move forward.

Council Member Reid had proposed a map that would extend his far south ward east, giving it a slice of the lakefront that now is in the Third Ward.

Just as committee members were conscious of having “multiple wards and diverse wards representing downtown,” there is also a value in “having multiple and diverse wards representing the lakefront,” Reid argued.

Further, the Eighth Ward would be the only majority-minority ward that would have some lakefront area if that move were made, he said. Other committee members expressed concern, though, noting some alleys would have to be sliced through in drawing lines.

Wynne argued against the change, citing one of the guidelines committee members have adopted: “Keeping communities of interest together.”

“I took my shot,” Reid said in that discussion.

At the April 10 City Council discussion, he said, “I proposed an alternative map; I gave up that battle. I still support somewhat of an alternative map. I think we’ll have more time on committee to have those discussions.”

Nieuwsma stressed that the map shown to the City Council should be regarded as “a draft map, subject to additional comment. This is not the map we are proposing for formal approval tonight.”

He said the committee, which held several town hearings last year, including one in Spanish, is set to meet April 25, and residents can give more feedback then.

“We’ve allowed ourselves another month to take public input into account and do remapping that that we see fit.”

He said the intent is to propose a final map for formal City Council recommendation at the committee’s May 23 meeting. Council would then approve the map “in June or thereabouts.”

Committee members purposefully did not want to rush through this process prior to the special election in April, feeling “it would have been really confusing to people,” Nieuwsma said. “But we wanted to get this done sooner rather than later.”

State law gives a deadline of mid-November 2024 for the process to be completed, he said.

The proposed map can be viewed at cityofevanston.org/redistrictingmap.

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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  1. Bravo, Bob.
    RT, because the city is sometimes less adept with graphics, two suggestions for next time:
    1. The map graphics are sized appropriately for rapid transmission. However, even when enlarged on a hi-def laptop screen, they do not show street names legibly enough to spot block-by-block differences. A link to the 8.5×11 pdf’s or something of the sort would allow for that.
    https://www.cityofevanston.org/home/showpublisheddocument/4216/637991808010300000 RT could even store copies of the two files on its own site.
    2. Despite the desire to provide pacing of the story scroll on a phone, I think it might be worth putting the two maps in immediate proximity (stacked on phones, perhaps side-by-side on big screens) to allow immediate visual comparison.