Council Members Melissa Wynne (3rd Ward) and Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th Ward) mull changes to a proposed new ward map at an April 25 Redistricting Committee meeting. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

With a few clicks of the computer on Tuesday, members of the city’s Redistricting Committee moved the Sherman Plaza condominium back into the First Ward, responding to residents concerned about the building no longer being part of downtown.

Those who live in the 250-unit building, one of Evanston’s first luxury high-rise buildings downtown, have been the most critical thus far of the initial map the committee proposed, which shifted their block from the First Ward to the Fourth.

In the past, residents of the building at 807 Davis St. have been strong voices on downtown issues. The proposed change from the core downtown to a more single home residential ward, residents said, would deprive them of their voice.

Map would ‘surgically remove’ block

Speaking at the April 25 Redistricting Committee meeting, Sherman Plaza resident Calvin Bradford said that under the committee’s initial remap the First Ward would contain all of the downtown blocks, stretching from the CTA station to Chicago Avenue, from Davis Street to Clark Street.

Carol and Calvin Bradford were among a handful of Sherman Plaza residents to attend the Tuesday, April 25 meeting of the Redistricting Committee. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

“All of those are in the First Ward except the one [Sherman Plaza’s block] which is assigned to the Fourth Ward,” Bradford said.

“This project would surgically remove the block containing Sherman Plaza, one of the city’s largest residential buildings, out of downtown, but it’s essentially downtown. It sits directly across from Fountain Square, and it’s east of the CTA.”

He maintained the change also would undermine Illinois guidance that wards should be compact and contiguous as well as the city’s guide “recognizing existing neighborhoods and geographic boundaries.”

Valy Lev, another resident, spoke and added to that. “Sherman Plaza is obviously an integral part of the First Ward,” he told committee members. “When we wake up in the morning we see the First Ward all day long. When we go out of the house, or shopping, to a restaurant …

“If we want to go for a walk with our dog, if we have one, it’s the First Ward.”

Sherman Plaza has been the issue which has generated the greatest response so far. In response, Fourth Ward Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma, chair of the committee, and Melissa Wynne (3rd Ward), the primary authors of the first map, worked with city staff using special software and viewed several alternative maps at the meeting.

Evanston’s current ward map shows a 20.4% deviation in ward population. Credit: City of Evanston

One change switched two blocks from the Fourth Ward back into the First Ward, including the block where Sherman Plaza is located.

That would leave the Fourth Ward as undersized, noted Nieuwsma.

To compensate, the committee looked at moving a section of the Third Ward, currently the most populous in the city, into the Fourth Ward.

Under those changes, the deviation between wards citywide dropped from from 3.35% to 2.57%, Nieuwsma said. The new map would affect 4,175 people, moving them into different wards, compared with the 4,592 people affected under the first map.

‘Wipe the ward lines clean’

“We could probably get even closer to zero, but the map would end up looking funky,” Nieuwsma said, “and we’d be displacing people here, there, [with] real, real impact.”

The committee, which also includes Council Members Bobby Burns (5th Ward) and Devon Reid (8th Ward), went into the redistricting process with the goal of tweaking boundaries but keeping the wards as close as possible to their current configuration.

“We’ve tried to make sure that we straightened out some corners, but we’ve maintained the integrity of neighborhoods,” Wynne said. “So far we’ve responded to comments. I mean, we’ve actually dropped the percentage,” she said, referring to the deviation in the new map.

But Meleika Gardner, an Evanston activist, maintained that while the committee addressed the Sherman Plaza issue, it didn’t address any of the other issues raised by her and several other speakers during public comment.

Nieuwsma responded that the committee tried to address some of the issues, though not “all of them, for sure.”

“And we’re not going to be able to get through the process with 100% of the people being completely happy,” he said.

“Let me guess which group of people won’t be happy,” responded Gardner, who has been a strong voice on issues affecting the African American community.

In comments to the committee earlier, she had called for drafting of a new ward map for Evanston, urging committee members to “completely wipe the ward lines clean and start new, where each ward is able to get a piece of the natural amenities and economic assets that Evanston has to offer and that we love – even if the Eighth, Fifth and Second wards [with majority minority populations] get a block of the lake and … downtown. Every ward should get a piece,” she said.

Historically, Gardner said, the city uprooted the Black community and moved residents. She said it’s time to bring in a sociologist and urban planning consultants and involve residents in creating a new ward map.

“It should not be drawn by aldermen,” she said.

In response to Gardner’s call for the city to start fresh, Wynne said that one of the committee’s goals was “not to throw everything in the air and start fresh, but to keep people in the wards that they knew, with the least amount of change as possible.”

Wynne moved that the committee move forward with the alternate map, with Burns seconding the motion. The motion passed 3-0, with Burns, Nieuwsma and Wynne in favor; Reid did not vote.

Nieuwsma said the proposed new map will be posted on the city website with feedback forms. The map will be viewable at Community members are encouraged to submit public comments online.

The committee is scheduled to meet May 23 to review comments they receive on the latest draft. The group is aiming for June 12 to submit a map to the full council for approval. Once approved, the new ward map will go into effect for the municipal election in 2025.

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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