3-29-2007 Letter on Central Street Planning

The following letter from CSNA President Jeff Smith, summarizing the fundamental Central Street planning issues from residents' perspectives, and urging community participation, was sent to local media on March 26, 2007.

The 2000 Comprehensive Plan for Evanston identified areas along Central Street as possible redevelopment sites, but urged study of the impact higher density would have on traffic, retail, home values, and quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods. Unfortunately, such study never occurred. Recent rapid land value increases have now made the Central Street neighborhood a target for redevelopment on a piecemeal basis. Without responsible limits, it’s not a question whether bulldozers and cranes will transform the area, but only how fast.

In urban ecology, a thriving district of independent retail and stroller-friendly sidewalks does not occur by accident, but requires nurturing conditions. Profitable speculation in wholesale condo construction benefits individuals, but is not necessarily best for the community, independent merchants, or Evanston as a whole. Growth is not cost-free.

The Central Street planning process now underway is better late than never. The City Council gets kudos for a construction moratorium to give planning some breathing room. Over the past 8 weeks, a few hundred citizens have participated in one or more workshops. The message to downzone, correcting obsolete zoning classifications to prevent unanticipated overdevelopment, has been consistent and clear.

Those who love Central Street, if they wish to preserve the charm of the area, are urged to attend the last public workshop 6:00 pm this Thursday, March 29, at the Civic Center. Only with the participation of an informed citizenry can we maintain a community that is liveable, walkable, shoppable, and economically vital.