Evaluating Evanston’s Environs

I went to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois to attend the excellent International Transportation Economics Association meeting (we hosted an earlier version in Minneapolis in 2009). My photos are here.

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Evanston, like Berkeley, is an historically independent city founded in the 19th century with a major university, connected by rail to the nearby city but that was fully swept into the neighboring larger city (Chicago, Oakland/San Francisco) metropolis with the growth the automobile-highway system. It is what we would today call a first ring suburb, currently housing about 75K people. The town is very pleasant and the weather, as with all my visits to Chicago, was atypically nice. It has a high income (PCI of ~$40K, especially considering that students are counting on future not present income when spending) which adds to its pleasantness, as it ensures it is well maintained, that there is new development, and that storefronts are filled. The homes are generally well-kept, and the University is very much the archetype of university architecture, with both a strong central hand ensuring buildings keep with the look and feel of the campus, and the optimal location along the Lake Michigan waterfront.

The city is more or less on a rectilinear grid plan, though there are several different plans in place which collide awkwardly in downtown. The disadvantage is the impaired navigability of such askew streets. The advantage is the heterogeneity of spaces that are created, allowing more interesting forms and spaces to be created, beyond the uniform grid. It still has the small-town feel, with many low-rise commercial structures and diagonal parking spaces in part of downtown.

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Further, (and though I did not go there since my meals were already covered) they have a Pret a Manger, which makes me jealous, as I have to rely on Jimmy Johns for sandwiches (Pret:Johns::Johns:Subway).

Like most college towns in the second decade of the twenty-first century, Evanston has decided to establish green lanes for bikes. Though I did not see many bicyclists using them, school is out of session, and Chicago has just started its bike-sharing program, putting it 3 years behind the Twin Cities.

Strangely, given the relative completeness of the Chicagoland freeway and rail systems, Evanston is not well connected to O’Hare, taxis must use surface streets for extended distances to get to the airport, while rail goes through the city of Chicago.

My favorite part of the airport trip was discovering a Cadillac dealership at Lincolnwood Town Center. Note, doing an Internet search, I find there is also a Lincoln dealership in Cadillac, Michigan. Anyway, “he meant Lexus, but he ain’t know it” (NSFW – language).

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Lessons from Exploring Evanston

  • College towns have a head start on economic success.
  • Exploiting naturally provided scenic beauty helps.
  • Airport access is relatively unimportant – most people are not going to the airport most of the time.
  • Locating at the edge of a metropolitan area allows the best of both worlds, access when wanted, isolation when desired.