At the request of Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, Evanston aldermen tonight are scheduled to revisit their decision from two-and-a-half years ago not to add a fence to the top deck of the Sherman Plaza garage.

Fiske says residents of the neighboring condo tower have continued to complain that young people sometimes sit on the four-foot high parapet wall surrounding the top deck of the garage and occasionally throw objects off the garage roof.

The proposal aldermen rejected in July 2014 would have installed a six-foot tall chain-link fence on the garage floor just inside the parapet wall, ostensibly making it more difficult for people to sit on the ledge.

At least two people have committed suicide by jumping from the Sherman Plaza garage — one in 2015 and another in 2013. But aldermen concluded that a fence wouldn’t deter somewhat who was determined to kill themselves.

After the 2013 incident there was also discussion of constructing a more elaborate suicide net system at the garage, as has been done in some other locations.

A rendering of a suicide fence proposed for a bridge in Ithaca, N.Y. At 8-feet-4-inches tall, it would be substantially taller than the six-foot fence being considered in Evanston and would curve inward to make it more difficult to climb.

The cost of the fence rejected in 2014 was estimated at about $25,000.

People have also tried to commit suicide by jumping from the city’s Maple Avenue garage — a woman died there in 2013 and a police officer saved a man from committing suicide there in 2015. But the current proposal does not include fencing the roof of that garage.

The staff memo about the proposed fence also does not address whether a fence might make it more difficult to rescue someone who had gained access to the ledge and was contemplating a jump.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Fence On Garage Roof

    Bill,actually there have been five suicides since 2007!  I think that may be enough to warrant a $25k expenditure?  Luckily there have been no law suits filed which I suspect would cost more than the fence?

    1. Fence

      I think there are a range of questions worth asking, including:

      1. Would a fence of the size proposed actually deter suicidal people?
      2. Would it actually deter people who want to just recklessly sit on the wall?
      3. Would the fence make it more difficult for police to “talk someone back from the edge”?
      4. Would a fence deter people from dropping items over the edge of the wall — since surely just about anybody can heave something over a six-foot fence?
      5. Would another device — say pointy metal objects attached to the top of the wall — be better at deterring people from sitting on the parapet wall?
      6. Who will clean windblown debris that gets caught in the fence, and how will it be done safely?

      Some intervention may — or may not — be a good idea. But it needs to be one that will have the desired effect.

      — Bill

    2. Sherman Plaza Fencing

      My son Devin St. John, a Northwestern Ph.d candidate ended his life on November 20, 2016 from the Sherman Plaza structure. He had just turned 29. In addition a 35 year old man in October 2016, did the same. I contacted Alderman Fiske and requested her assistance in revisiting this issue in the most recent city council meeting. Apparently, this was once again, dismissed. This structure seems to be a “sure thing” for those individuals with suicidal ideation. As a mental health clinician and grieving mother, a deterrent such as fencing, a safety net, or signage must be implemented.  It is a matter of social and ethical responsibility-and a sure way to eradicate the obviously common knowledge that the Sherman Plaza is easily accessed and used as a means of suicide.

  2. Reason
    Sounds like revisiting this is more of a result of neighbors complaining about disturbances (and risky behavior) of people sitting on the ledge, and throwing trash down, rather than people looking to jump.

  3. Garage Cameras

    If the cameras on site at that garage are not sufficient to watch the rooftop, perhaps more should be added.  The onsite security personnel for the garage could monitor the cameras and call police when any of activity warranted it.  Surely, no one wants to allow a situation where someone can commit suicide, but if someone wants to jump from a roof, they are going to find a roof to jump from.  Can we fence all the high rooftops in Evanston?  Do we want to set precedent by beginning with this one?  Those are just a few questions…. I’m sure everyone has an argument for/against a fence, but we need to consider the best options available.

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