Evanston’s Redistricting Committee members appear to agree that downtown should continue to be split among at least three wards.

But Tuesday night they considered shifts in which wards get a slice of the downtown pie, and even an option for adding a fourth ward to the downtown mix.

The meeting was called to focus on the 2nd and 4th wards. Those, along with the 1st Ward, each have a portion of downtown now.

A map prepared by Redistricting Committee Chair Jonathan Nieuwsma showing 2020 Census population variation by ward.

The fundamental goal of the redistricting process is to give all wards roughly equal populations — to meet “one-person-one-vote” guidelines.

Based on 2020 U.S. Census data, the 2nd Ward has 5% more people than would be ideal, and the 4th Ward 2.4% fewer people than the target.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said, “One of the values of the map we have now is that there are three council members whose wards contain portions of the downtown.”

“It’s always been valuable to have the 2nd Ward council member be involved with the downtown issues, just like the 1st and 4th Ward members,” she added

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) suggested that “given the equity lens” the Council wants to apply to the redistricting process and what he said was “the history of downtown maybe not being the most welcoming place to be for people of color” that perhaps both the 2nd and 5th wards “should have a slice of downtown.”

“It could really shift the dynamics in the city,” Reid added, “and put us in a stronger place in achieving our equity goals.”

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) suggested he might be open to having the 5th Ward replace the 2nd in having a slice of downtown, given that the 2nd Ward has other “pretty large commercial areas” — at Dempster and Dodge and on Main Street at the western edge of the city.

“But I’m not advocating for that one way or another,” Burns added.

Burns, Reid and Wynne are members of the committee, which is chaired by Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th).

Among the residents who spoke at the meeting, Carlis Sutton, who lives in the 5th Ward, said he’d like to see that ward’s boundary extend further east along Church Street.

“We have a large population of new residents in Church Street Village, and I don’t see the benefit of that” being in the 2nd Ward “other than diminishing the effectiveness of the Black vote,” Sutton said.

AsianOtherTwo or more
2nd Ward population by race

Nieuwsma presented census data indicating that the white population of the 2nd Ward increased slightly between 2010 and 2020. During that period the Black population declined substantially but number of residents who identify as multi-racial or Asian increased substantially.

The census data indicates that the share of 2nd Ward residents who identify as Hispanic remained unchanged at 18%.

The committee has included among its goals maintaining the existing pattern of having at least three wards with “majority minority” populations.

Nieuwsma suggested that much of the section of the 2nd Ward south of Main Street would need to shift to the 9th Ward to bulk up the population of that ward, but said that issue would be discussed further at a future committee meeting.

Turning to the 4th Ward, Wynne suggested that it could pick up what she called “the panhandle” of her ward — along the west side of Chicago Avenue south to Dempster Street or possibly even to Main Street.

There’s been a lot of new construction along Chicago Avenue in the last 20 years, Wynne said, which before “wasn’t a residential corridor at all.”

But she resisted a suggestion from Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) to move any of the 3rd Ward south of Main Street into the under-populated 9th Ward.

“Maintaining neighborhood continuity and recognizing natural borders,” is important, Wynne said, adding that her ward “has a very strong sense of itself as a ward east of Chicago Avenue.”

AsianOtherTwo or more
4th Ward population by race

Nieuwsma noted that his ward has lost white residents over the past decade, while gaining residents who identify as Asian or being of two or more races.

Hispanics have increased from 6% to 8% of the ward’s residents during that time.

Nieuwsma suggested ceding a sliver of his ward to the 9th Ward — giving up the largely residential south half of the blocks south of Main Street between Custer and Elmwood avenues, while keeping the largely commercial north half of those blocks.

Wynne said she agreed that having two alders represent the Main Dempster Mile commercial district — her and Nieuwsma — was a good idea, but that adding a third would make addressing the district’s issues more complicated.

The committee has set a goal of having one or more proposed new maps to present to the City Council by May 2023.

Related stories about ward redistricting in Evanston.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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