After chastising arboretum activists for failing to consider “diversity and inclusion,” Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl cast a tie-breaking vote Monday in favor of repaving the Ladd Arboretum path with asphalt.

The mayor spoke after hearing arboretum advocates suggest that children who now end up walking to school down busy McCormick Boulevard adjacent to the arboretum should instead walk on the other side of the canal and that wheel-chair bound residents should do the same.

Tisdahl, who appoints members to the Ladd Arboretum Committee, said she was “very sorry to have heard” what she’d heard over the past few months on the path issue.

Arboretum activists have argued for rebuilding the path with crushed stone, similar to the existing path, even though city staff said that surface can’t be successfully plowed during the winter and tends to flood during warmer months — making it unusable for many people much of the year.

With Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, absent from the meeting, the aldermen split 4-4 on the path project.

An example, from a staff memo, of what an asphalt path through the arboretum might look like.

None seemed eager to follow the compromise recommended by staff — of using a porous concrete surface, which would in some ways resemble the crushed granite favored by the activists but could be plowed and would be less prone to flooding..

With federal funding available for up to $580,000 of the project cost, the crushed granite or porous concrete options would both have roughly quadrupled the cost to local taxpayers of the path, compared to an asphalt surface.

Instead, Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, suggested dropping the project completely, saying that although he voted for the path project a year ago he was now convinced that preserving the arboretum environment “is more significant than creating a transportation corridor.”

He was joined in voting no by Aldermen Fiske, Rainey and Tendam.

But Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said it was irresponsible not to do anything to upgrade the half-century old path and that she felt strongly that anything paid for with tax dollars should be accessible to everyone.

“There were 11 speakers at the last meeting. We have very vocal people who speak out,” Holmes said, “But there’s a ton of other people out there who may never show up to speak” — including the kids who walk in the middle of McCormick and the wheelchair users at Over the Rainbow.

Holmes said she wanted to speak on their behalf.

She was joined in voting to approve the asphalt path plan by Aldermen Braithwaite, Grover and Wynne.

Related stories

Workshop gathers views on path alternatives (2/18/15)

Viewpoint: Opt for asphalt for arboretum path (2/16/15)

Aldermen delay vote on rebuilding arboretum path (2/10/15)

Fancy path choice to quadruple local taxpayer cost (2/8/15)

Arboretum planned to get asphalt path (3/11/14)

City gets grant to upgrade arboretum trail (3/31/13)

Evanston to seek grants for bike, walking paths (4/10/12)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Playing politics

    The path in Ladd is for Recreational use versus walking from school.  The city needs to build a sidewalk on the opposite side of McCormick – ( that is the Northside) the side walk should run from Ridge to bridge street which would allow the kids and the people from over the Rainbow to use it.  Also it about time the city cleans up the mess on the North side of the street which they do not maintain well through out the year!

    As some pointed out the city would never clear the snow, the eight foot path will be too difficult, a regular side walk much better.

    The Mayor once again is just playing politics whith her phony statements on diversity and shows us her limited ability to solve a problem.

    1. Serving all the citizens

      I congratulate the mayor for representing all of the citizens of Evanston. Asphalt is a good compromise for making it functional for all and still not be too expensive. The arboretum is in the city and must be for everyone to use and it must make adjustments for being part of the city. The path needs to be functional for everyone including students walking to school. A sidewalk on the north side of McCormick is a good idea but does not/should not influence the arboretum path which is also for walking on by anyone.

        1. Couldn’t agree more!

          Hurrah to Alderman Holmes for giving a voice to those who should be able to use the path through the Arboretum, regardless of their age or ability. If only briefly, what a great opportunity to share in the special path. And congratulations to Mayor Tisdahl on providing the deciding vote. At the same time, it is so sad that the "activists" seek limits and restrictions and impediments and obstacles, and even seek to quadruple the cost to erect them.. Shame on you for giving voice to such a narrow view.

          1. “activists”
            They’re only “activists” because the author of this blog has labeled them as such. We could call him an asphalt “activist” because he has spoken out in favor of the asphalt path. While I agree with this particular decision, people who speak out at public meetings shouldn’t be labeled as “activists” as if speaking up is a bad thing. I once saw on this blog the term “neighborhood activists,” which apparently just referred to neighbors.

          2. No shame in being an activist

            Hi JL,

            You are leaping to a false conclusion in assuming that there is something pejorative about the term activist.

            People who advocate for a position are activists on that issue.

            Some local media outlets use the term “neighbors” in a way that leaves the impression that all neighbors share the views of the neighbors who happen to turn out for a meeting.

            I try to avoid falling into that trap.

            — Bill

          3. Who’s an activist?

            The concern I have is that the people you label as "activists" often hold a view that is opposite to yours. For example, you published an editorial in favor of the asphalt path, while you labeled those opposed to it as "activists." 

            How do you decide who's an activist?

            When a nearby neighbor of a proposed project shows up at a zoning hearing to speak out against allowing zoning variances for the project that will directly affect that neighbors property, I don't think that person can be called an "activist." The developer proposing the project is every bit an activist for vigorously advocating for the project, yet you don't identify developers as such.

            There may be nothing wrong with being an "activist," per se, but the way you use the term often suggests that the person takes an extreme view not shared by others, when I don't think it's your role to make that call (I'm not even sure how you can). Evanston Now readers are pretty smart, and they know that not everyone shares the views of the people who show up to speak at a meeting, but the readers can judge those comments on their own, without the speakers being labeled as activists.

            By the way, when a zoning issue that will affect many neighbors comes along, I wish the City Council would give it as much consideration as they gave to an asphalt path, which appeared to be a no-brainer, so I'm not sure what kind of activist that makes me.

  2. Only in Evanston …

    … can we turn the paving of a park path into an issue of "diversity and inclusion."

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