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Libraries not ‘walkable’ for most

While branch library backers defend the branches as providing “walkable” access to library services, a new city report indicates that only 38 percent of Evanston residents live within walking distance of any city library.

While branch library backers defend the branches as providing “walkable” access to library services, a new city report indicates that only 38 percent of Evanston residents live within walking distance of any city library.

The data shows that roughly 16 percent of Evanstonians live within walking distance of the main library, 14.8 percent within walking distance of the south branch, and 7.5 percent within walking distance of the north branch.

The city memo defined “walkable,” based on academic studies, as living within a half mile of a destination. City staff then calculated the population within walking distance of each library based on 2000 census block group data.

The data suggests the city might need five or six additional branch libraries to provide walkable access to nearly all residents.

At an approximate operating cost of $250,000 per branch per year, providing walkable library access for nearly everyone in town could add as much as $1.5 million to the city budget, setting aside the initial cost of establishing the additional branches. The city’s spending on all library services this year totals $4.2 million.

The study also shows that, contrary to assertions of branch library backers, the branches do a relatively poor job of serving the portion of the city’s population that lives in poverty.

The data shows that of the 7,392 Evanston residents listed as living in poverty in the 2000 census, 33.4 percent live within walking distance of the main library downtown, 12.4 percent live within walking distance of the south branch library on Chicago Avenue, and only 2 percent live within walking distance of the north branch library on Central Street.

The analysis, included in a budget memo prepared for Monday’s City Council meeting, was requested by Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward.

The alderman didn’t discuss the library budget, including the city manager’s proposal to close the branch libraries, Monday night, but are expected to address the issue when they hold another special budget meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

(Editor’s note: The city study omitted data from two census block groups that were roughly evenly split between the walkable and non-walkable zones. For this story we’ve added those areas back in, dividing their populations evenly between the walkable and nonwalkable categories, so that percentages could be calculated based on the city’s total population.)
 

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