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The Death and Life of Evanston, Illinois
"At first glance, downtown Evanston, Illinois, doesn’t look revolutionary—just another a gentrifying urban core with the obligatory Whole Foods, the local organic sustainable restaurants serving $14 cocktails, the towering new, high-end luxury apartments filled with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops," writes T.R. Goodman in a longread feature for Politico Magazine.
"It takes, in fact, a few extra minutes in the neighborhood to realize what’s different—and what’s missing. Downtown Evanston—a sturdy, tree-lined Victorian city wedged neatly between Lake Michigan and Chicago’s northern border—is missing cars. Or, more accurately, it’s missing a lot of cars. Thanks to concerted planning, these new developments are rising within a 10-minute walk of two rail lines and half-a-dozen bus routes. The local automobile ownership rate is nearly half that of the surrounding area."
Goodman traces the ideas upon which Evanston built that "concerted planning" to Jaime Lerner's example in Curitiba. Evanston adopted the Curitiba model, according to Goodman, in response to a decline that began in the 1950s as farther flung suburbs began to rack up successes. "Beginning in 1986, a new plan for Evanston embraced the idea of a '24/7' downtown, pouring resources into increasing the density of its downtown—a density that also meant decreasing residents’ reliance on automobiles. As a compact city, Evanston couldn’t compete with the vast sprawling parking spots of the Old Orchard Mall. It had to build a different sort of appeal," writes Goodman.
Explaining contemporary planning terms, inspired by Jane Jacobs and Jaime Lerner, like TOD, density, and mixed use Goodman notes that terms like those have become so mainstream. In fact, and cities all over the country have embraced these concepts:
"Today, more cities are embracing transit-oriented development and heralding it as an antidote to climate change, a cure for the anomie of our 'Bowling Alone' culture and an economic boon to cash-strapped local governments. From northeastern 'suburbs' like Arlington, Virginia, to western car-centric cities like Salt Lake to Dallas, local officials are pushing for mixed-use, high-density development within a few minutes walk of a transit line."
The article is a longread, so there is a lot more on the details of Evanston's zoning code, an explanation of the role of parking requirements in the creation of sprawl, the challenges facing a density-focused planning agenda, the still-powerful political support behind car-centric thinking, how Millennials figure into the whole redevelopment equation, and more.