By Bob Seidenberg
Wards 8 and 9 sit next to each other on the southern edge of the city.
Ward 8, with 8,845 people, according to the 2020 Census, weighs in at just above the average population for Evanston’s nine wards.
Ward 9, on the other hand, with a population of 7,920 people, is the city’s least populous – falling 8.7% below the average ward size average of 8,679.
The two wards were the focus of the city’s Redistricting Committee virtual meeting Nov. 22. Committee members have taken a ward-by-ward approach in officials’ first serious redistricting effort since 2003 to create new political boundaries for city.
“Rather than throwing out the map and starting with a blank sheet of paper,” explained Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma, chair of the committee at the meeting. He led off the discussion by saying, “Our desire is to minimize confusion and ideally get as close to the zero deviation as possible, by just adjusting borders on the margins.”
Currently, there is a 20.4% difference between the most populous ward, the Third, and the smallest, the Ninth. Committee members are adhering to the state statute that mandates that if a city redistricts, it should seek to establish wards “as nearly equal in population and shall be as compact and contiguous, as practical,” said Fourth Ward Council member Nieuwsma.
He threw out for consideration the possibility of shifting portions of Florence Avenue, Austin Street and Custer Avenue from the Eighth Ward into the Ninth Ward, beefing up the under-populated ward that way.
Eighth Ward Council member Devon Reid said that is a logical approach, though he stressed the need to be “intentional” in preserving the diversity of the communities in any such move.
“I think it makes sense to keep like communities together,” he said. “There’s half of my ward that is primarily single-family homes and that is more in line with what’s going on in the Ninth Ward; and then there’s another half of my ward that is a mix of single-family homes and apartment buildings – there’s a lot more density. And I think it makes sense to keep those folks together, too.”
Ninth Ward Council member Juan Geracaris, seconded Reid’s views about the need to take into account the “the feel of the different neighborhoods.”
He indicated, though, that it’s hard to make a determination until more current block-by-block data is available.
“Keep in mind,” he told Committee members, “when we’re looking at these numbers, one large apartment building or new development can really shift the number. I think once we get those kinds of block-by- block numbers, it’s going to be a bit easier to figure out.”
Deborah Jetzer, one of the dozen or so people attending the meeting online, noted the limited factors that committee members have to work with.
She noted that Ward 3, the city’s largest populated ward and located just east of the Eighth and Ninth ward, “has this natural boundary of the train line. So if you don’t want to mess with that, the only thing that I can see that is going to need happen that everything from Ward 9 up has to shift upward.”
“It’s almost like starting with 8 [the 8th Ward] and then moving up, you’re going to have to pick and choose and grab as you go up,” she said to Committee members.
Discussing that point later, Nicholas Cummings, the city’s Corporation Counsel, said to Committee members that he knew “that train tracks are seen as sort of a little bit of a border, but as we move north in the city, those train tracks are less of a border. Is the committee considering anything in the Third Ward?” he asked.
Responding, Geracaris acknowledged that the train tracks in this case “seemed like a natural border.”
Reid, though, said he appreciated knowing “that we don’t have to focus on the train-track thing.”
In the interest of “keeping areas and constituents that are aligned together, there’s a new development that’s happening in the Ninth Ward right near the cemetery [Calgary] just off Chicago Avenue,” he observed.
“That will be a more lower-income, more moderate-income development,” he said. He said he thought it would be a benefit if Committee members “were to jump across the tracks and make some moves to put more neighborhoods like that in the Ninth Ward,” ensuring that the new residents’ “voices aren’t diluted amongst a very different community that has very different interests. …”
The Redistricting Committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2023, with the city’s First Ward (population 8,088, which is 591 people or 6.8% under the average) and the Third Ward (9,691, which is 1,012 or 11.7% over) on the agenda, according to the city’s website.
The group’s original timetable called for release of proposed map or maps in January, with public comment to take place from February to April.
A final new ward map for the city would then be acted upon by the Council in May, according to the schedule.
Any map approved by the Council would then apply to the municipal election in 2025, when ranked-choice voting will also go into effect.
By Bob Seidenberg