Fifty years ago, when former Mayor Jay Lytle moved to Evanston, the downtown area resembled a ghost town. Empty department stores lined the streets, foreclosed signs stuck out of the ground and Lytle said you could shoot a cannon in the early hours of morning without bothering a soul.
That same area today could not be more different. Downtown Evanston, which falls largely within the 1st Ward, hosts more than 3,000 businesses totaling more than $1 billion in annual retail expenditure. Local residents recognize the ward for its eclectic boutiques and booming restaurant scene but said they feel new development that has begun to bleed into surrounding neighborhoods could ultimately overtake the district.
Marsha and Hubert Fincher have seen a lot of change over the years in Evanston’s 2nd Ward.
“It’s starting to look more metropolitan,” Marsha Fincher said. “There has been within the last six or seven years an influx of people moving into the area.”
On May 17, 1970, prompted by the student strikes and shooting at Kent State University earlier that month, residents of the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Hinman Avenue, situated in the 3rd Ward, declared independence from the United States for two hours as a protest against the Vietnam War.
James Moran, a Hinman Avenue resident who later served as a U.S. Federal Judge, helped organize the event, which Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said shows the ward’s long history of being generally politically progressive — a trend she said continued in March’s Illinois presidential primary elections, when half the precincts in the 3rd Ward supported Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Evanston’s 4th Ward has a little bit of everything. A portion of downtown dips into its boundaries, the police and fire station headquarters are nestled just inside and three Evanston/Skokie School District 65 schools dot the ward.
“You can walk to downtown, you can walk to the library, you can walk to Main Street, and that’s kind of unique,” said Sue Calder, who has lived on Asbury Avenue in the ward for 37 years.
Colette Allen acknowledges the 5th Ward has problems. Other residents and community leaders agree — safety and economic inequality have been issues in the 5th Ward for decades.
Those problems, however, are being tackled head on by 5th Ward residents, said Allen, who currently works in the ward and spent her childhood in the area. Like any community, the 5th Ward has some good attributes and some that need more attention, but she said residents are proud of their home and consistently work to improve it.
Evanston’s 7th Ward could be its own city.
“I used to joke that the 7th Ward could almost secede from Evanston because we’ve got a hospital, a university, a really vibrant business district, schools, transportation,” said former 7th Ward alderman Jane Grover.
Quaint houses and residential streets dot Evanston’s 9th Ward, located in the southern part of the city. Residents say they enjoy the quiet comforts of a close-knit neighborhood, but a relative lack of economic development and public land leaves something to be desired in the ward.
“There’s nothing here to do for the kids,” longtime resident Bill Arndt, 67, said.