Arts Green

A Northwestern University consultant got a round of applause from about three dozen city residents Thursday night as he ended a presentation of the school’s new 50-year plan for its Evanston campus.

Consultant Ricardo Dumont of Sasaki Associates, which developed the plan in consultation with a committee of university faculty, staff and students, said it seeks to adhere to existing zoning for university-owned land and doesn’t envision expanding the university’s footprint into the city.

The presentation came at a meeting of the NU-City Committee at the Civic Center.

In one of the most prominent of the plan’s many proposals, it calls for creating a new crescent-shaped alignment of buildings on the lakefill campus to mirror a smaller existing crescent of older buildings facing Sheridan Road.

The new crescent is shown at the top of this east-facing image.

To complete the south end of the new cresecent, the school would have to remove an existing parking deck that walls off the southeast corner of campus from the lake.

Parking deck
The parking deck, just south of Arts Circle Drive in this north-facing city aerial photo, would be replaced with a more compact parking garage if the provisions of the framework plan were implemented.

That would open up dramatic views of the Chicago skyline in the distance that are now blocked by the parking deck.

In response to a question, Dumont said the school has no intention of closing off access to the lakefront for city residents. He said the plan would actually enhance access by adding new pedestrian corridors to the shore as extensions of the existing walkways from the Foster Street and Noyes Street Purple Line stations.

Robert Atkins, the president of Northwestern Neighbors, which has opposed various university projects in the past, said “it’s praiseworthy” that the plan calls for replacing the Foster-Walker dorm complex, with residential building that would enhance the residential character of that street.

But he suggested building new homes there, rather than moving homes that now face Sheridan Road and are used to house administrative offices.

Judy Fiske, a candidate for 1st Ward alderman, said that under the settlement of a lawsuit between the city and university, the buildings along Sheridan were to be permantly preserved on their current sites.

But she praised plans for replacing the Rebecca Crown administration center with a new mixed-use gateway to the campus. “This is a lovely way to integrate the university and the downtown,” she said.

Asked about the future of land now used by Garrett and Seabury Western seminaries, Elizabeth Hitchcock, a facilities planner for the university, said that Garrett’s lease has options that don’t run out until 2138 and Seabury’s runs for more than 100 years.

Jeanne Lindwall, a candidate for mayor and city planner by profession, said she wanted to commend the university for doing a master plan.

She said she’s lived near campus for over 30 years “and it’s always been frustrating, because the univeristy just seemed to plop down buildings on vacant spots.”

She praised inclusion of plans for three new parking structures in the plan. “I hope you size them on the generous side,” she said. “I think that would alleviate some of the neighborhood parking issues whenever school is in session.”

Dave Schoenfeld, a member of the NU-City Committee, suggested trying to increase the percentage of students who live on campus to minimize friction with neighborhood residents.

Ron Nayler, the school’s associate vice-president for facilities management, said about 63 percent of students now live on campus, and there are limits to how much that percentage can be increased.

While freshman tend to want to be on campus, he said, by senior year most students want to live off campus as they start to build lives as independent adults in the community.

Committee members said they hope to schedule another meeting in about two weeks for further discussion of the plan. The university has set up an e-mail address,, that residents can use to submit comments.

The full plan document is also available online.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Bill – the consultant mispresented the lake access issue!
    Bill – Ricdaro mispresented the access to the lake.
    The question was by me.

    Your comment “In response to a question, Dumont said the school has no intention of closing off access to the lakefront for city residents. He said the plan would actually enhance access by adding new pedestrian corridors to the shore as extensions of the existing walkways from the Foster Street and Noyes Street Purple Line stations.”

    The access may not be closed completely to the Lake – since the plan allow east west access at several points but the north-south access along the lake to the campus for those using bikes would be completely blocked. Thus the connection to the city parks to the south is gone.

    He used his pointer to claim that there was access around the music school which clearly there is no path, as I asked how are bikes going to go into the sand?

    While I think the view of most was favorable – I would guess few if any understand how to read an architectural drawing, thus if someone is claiming something they might believe what they hear versus what the actually see.

    This does not mean the entire plan is bad by any means – since it does offer an oppurtunity for residents to comment. The access issue is not hard to correct – if NU wants it done. I noticed some other technical problems – but they are going to be problems for NU – versus residents –

    If you noticed the planner claimed the main bike route was along sheridan which I am not certain I would agree since I have seen many people walk and bike along NU campus.

    Bill at the end of the meeting a resident who had a planning background approach me and agreed I was correct – in my review of the plan and what it would do to the North-south access.

    1. Red herring
      The consultant said flat out that public access would not be reduced.
      And, when I look closely at the plan drawing reprinted in the story above showing the crescents, I see a path long the lake shore.
      Of course no promise and no drawing made today can guarantee that someone in authority at the university won’t come up with a bad idea in the future.
      But I think you’re trying to gin up a controversy where no real dispute exists.
      And, frankly, if the university were to choose to close off access to the lake for its own students and staff — a truly stupid move — I don’t see why Evanston residents would have any enforceable claim that their access should be preserved. It is private property, after all.

      1. No Red Herring. –
        Bill – I know the consultant stated flat out lake access would not be reduced. I do not agree with that! The consultant clearly want to deflate the issue.

        I was at the recent Sheridan road meeting and even a member of NU staff made the statement access at the south end would be disrupted by the new music building.

        NU is in the planning stages of their new music building which is on the plans, it clearly is going to go right over the existing path.

        Given this is a 50 year plan the other access paths do not presently exist as the landscape architect presented – thus if the music building is built as plan there will be a very restrict access to the lake for all even NU students.

        Also during construction even if there was a planned path going around the new music building which you see on the drawing – it would not be available – since NU would have to put up a construction fence thus – there would be no access for several years – a sidewalk at the edge of the building clearly will not work – to keep access.

        Bill you stated “But I think you’re trying to gin up a controversy where no real dispute exists.”

        I am not interested in creating a controversy were none existing – I can read the drawings and understand their planning approach – I realize the plan is not respecting the current North south movement along the lake shore that currently existing.

        The NU neighbors maded an interesting statement that there were certain legal agreements over the years that required NU to allow access to thier Lake front. While the statements were made in reqards to the cooling pond and its modification.

        Your point about NU is a private property is true – but lets point out the fact NU gets Millions of dollars of federal grant money -thus it it not such a private University – ( I am not talking about the issue of Evanston property taxes ) – also development along the lake which effects the shore line has other agency approval well beyond the city.

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