All Evanston Should Respect Stadium Neighbors’ Objections

The Central Street Master Plan and its implementing ordinance were designed to keep the neighborhood welcoming, walkable, and liveable. The American Planning Association honored this in naming Central Street one of the “Great Places in America,” that combines “an edgy urban vibe with a small-town pace and sensibility.” Such an asset generates value for all of Evanston. The Central Street Neighbors Association (CSNA) has worked for years to preserve the viability and human scale of the area, to amplify the neighborhood’s character and strengths, and to promote liveability and sustainability.

Northwestern University’s bid for dramatic zoning change, so as to hold as many as a dozen 35,000-person stadium concerts plus numerous other large events, would put these goals at risk. Injecting such a scale of outdoor commercial entertainment would disrupt the neighborhood ecosystem. So, while the board of CSNA does not oppose a new stadium, we cannot support the unprecedented proposal for enormous change in U2 district use.

The Ryan Field proposal isn’t just technical text change. NU’s ask would saddle an adjoining Evanston residential and business district with frequent crowds bigger than those of Rosemont’s Allstate Arena (whose concert capacity is less than 20,000), the United Center (23,000), or Tinley Park Arena (28,000). Concerts and festivals this size, plus vaguely described smaller “plaza” events, would turn what the neighborhood currently tolerates on game days — clogged traffic, disappeared parking for shoppers and residents, noise pollution, and intoxicated attendees leaving by both foot and car — from an occasional nuisance to a constant problem. This would also congest a principal route used by emergency vehicles.

Football games, a college life staple, are expected in a stadium neighborhood. But only 6 or 7 weekends a year. The commercialization for which zoning change is sought, more resembling the business of a for-profit entertainment conglomerate than higher educational purpose, wasn’t what any homebuyer or tenant bargained for and would triple the days when residents must deal with the greatest influx of traffic clogging the streets and gobbling up parking, on top of the many medium crowds from basketball games, baseball games, and graduation.  No other midwest Big Ten school runs a comparable commercial venue in such a family-dense neighborhood; neither do DePaul, Loyola, or Chicago.

Typical concerts are multiples louder than football game average volumes. So, while an awning roof may reduce some game loudspeaker and crowd roar, and a commitment to reducing light pollution is welcomed, overall frequency and amount of event noise will dramatically increase. Since the stadium won’t be covered, we know the shows won’t be winter concerts — not in Chicagoland. This translates into traffic and noise at least every other warm-weather weekend, perhaps weekly, during the times of the year when families treasure parks and yards for picnics and get-togethers. The very nature of “residential” and “quiet enjoyment of the premises” is threatened by this scale of activity.

Northwestern’s plan also suggests new food or even alcohol sales outside the stadium on tax-free land, which is troubling from both a nuisance and policy perspective.

Northwestern got permission several years ago for a pilot program of a few large concerts, to demonstrate that it could minimize the disruptions anticipated. It never did so. Now it has upped its ask many times over, without the showing of being able to manage it.

A new stadium is one thing; constant event zoning is another. If, as NU asserts, it needs big show revenues to run the new arena, perhaps it is overbuilding. Spending half a billion dollars on a stadium is Northwestern’s choice, but the City shouldn’t endorse sacrificing quality of life for thousands of neighboring families. The venerable University is an integral part of Evanston, but no Evanston institution should ignore human environmental impact, or, cynically, seek to divide residents by wooing constituencies outside the stadium neighborhood with financial promises. It’s hard to imagine any other neighborhood in Evanston wanting its backyard regularly transformed into RiotFest. So far, local stakeholders’ input has been minimal. At community meetings, Northwestern has been doing more talking than listening. A blitz is appropriate for football, but is not how you have a dialogue.

Few Evanstonians agree on everything, but we are bound by mutual respect and empathy. Not all of CSNA live near the stadium, but we stand in solidarity with the residents faced with such a shock. CSNA cannot support the plans for a drastically expanded and commercialized stadium district and event schedule, nor zoning change to enable that. All of us need to respect the legitimate objections raised by our fellow Evanstonians who would have to bear the brunt of these disruptions.


The Board of Directors of Central Street Neighbors Association

Jeff Smith
David Staub
Mark Sloane
Megan Lutz
Joe Hill
Mary Rosinski
Jim Hughes
Connie Heneghan
Carl Bova
Mary Lou Smith