America’s population is growing — in absolute numbers and in diversity. In this election season, Evanston Now is asking you — and the mayoral candidates — whether Evanston should be growing as well.

Once upon a time Evanston’s population grew proportionately faster than that of the state and the nation.

From 1890, when Evanston had a population of 9,000, to 1930 when 63,338 people lived here, Evanston’s share of the state and national population more than tripled.

Despite racial segregation and other problems, Evanston in many ways was a “welcoming community” then — with a broad array of single- and multi-family housing stock, including modest workman’s cottages and bungalows …

(Google Maps image.)

… like this bungalow at 2323 Lake St. that my paternal grandparents bought new in 1930, on his salary as a clerk at the Evanston post office.

After 1930, the pattern changed. While Evanston’s total population continued to gradually increase to a peak of 79,808 in 1970, its share of the national and state population leveled off and then began to fall dramatically.

Evanston was almost fully built up by 1960, and with a decline in industrial and office jobs in the city and the hollowing out of downtown retail following the rise of the suburban mall, the city’s population hit its modern era low of 73,233 in 1990.

Since then there’s been some modest growth — reaching its fastest pace between 2010 and 2015. Evanston’s population now is growing faster than that of Illinois, but still much more slowly than the nation as a whole.

Arguably Evanston has become a more desirable community in recent years, as some Americans reject suburban sprawl for more urban, walkable neighborhoods with easy access to jobs and public transit.

If supply doesn’t keep up with demand, a more attractive community will become less affordable 

But many residents object to any changes in the familiar fabric of the town.

We asked the candidates for mayor about this, and we’d like your thoughts too. Post them in the comment section.

Read what the mayoral candidates said:

Gary GaspardSteve HagertyBrian MillerJeff SmithMark Tendam.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. But where ?

    Where to put them is one question. Do we know what wards or even other boundaries are gaining/losing people ? I’d think the downtown area is about as ‘built’ as it can get. From the lake to at least Ridge the homes/buildings are probably already too expensive to re-develop [e.g. tear down and build larger places]. Lincoln/Central north probably has the ‘space’ but again existing stock is expensive and like the lake to Ridge would get such howls over re-development that it could take years. Pre-1985 was probably the high point in Evanston growth—if not population, certainly potential. The other is what would attract them. While Evanston is not a ‘bedroom’ community like Highland Park or Wheaton, decisions by the Council, residents and others have made it a quasi-bedroom town—though with crime typical bedroom communities have. We have a lot of restaurants and fast food places but not stores to shop [clothing, electronics, appliances and such]; very little manufacturing or service like electrical repair. Residents have to drive or take public transportation for these–which means they go to Chicago or Old Orchard—thus taxes go to those communities and taxes rise in Evanston to cover our costs. Without NU, ENH and St. Francis, we would have much higher un-employment—yet the community fights these. With CTA/Metra, Evanston is a good spot to get quick access to jobs in Chicago—but while providing spending money and money for houses, we loose a lot of potential revenue and jobs. Small business and tech/innovations should should flow from NU, are cut out have they get on their feet by high taxes, high rents and groups like the Council that dog them. Don’t even get started on shopping !

  2. Reduce taxes and pressure NU to pay more to Evanston

    “We need to think of ways to expand our tax base so the burden does not fall as much on residents and homeowners,” Steve Hagerty. We have a winner!!!

    I like Steve Hagerty’s response the best – alleviate the tax burden on residential property by bringing in more business and thus jobs to Evanston. We need more jobs in Evanston. There are too many vacant retail stores in Evanston, especially in the Sixth Ward.

    Speaking of the Sixth Ward, Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam was the only mayoral candidate who did not provide a response. I hope voters return the favor at the ballot box. No response, no vote.

    Gaspard wants more affordable housing policies, which means more goverment control of the free market. Not good. 

    Miller wants the local goverment to control the citys’s population – “We must ensure that the desires of the community are considered before undertaking any development in the City.” Not good.

    Smith’s long winded response was OK – basically he wants to be mayor not a social engineer. I can appreciate that.

    We need more private sector jobs in Evanston. Period. That means a more business friendly city goverment that doesn’t pick favorites by giving grants and loans out so freely and instead reduce overburdened taxes and regulations. It’s difficult and costly just to open a business in Evanston. There’s too much goverment. And the city has to deal with a state weighted down by billions in debt.

    I’d be in favor of going after Northwestern University to pay more to the city. NU has something like $11 billion in endowments. There’s a town vs gown trend going on in America. A Providence City Councilman a few years ago introduced a resolution calling on the state to remove Brown University’s blanket property tax exemption. That pressured Brown to kick in $31 million over an 11 year period on top of the $4 million it was already giving Providence. Evanston could use that kind of city councilman or mayor. That would be a good question to ask candidates.


    1. People need to learn about endowments before they speak

      Maybe endowments should be used for other things—but there are laws and contractual requirement by donors on major portions.

      I wish donors would give to scholarships and academic programs instead of new sports and music complexes but they made their choices—maybe the university administration and others should educate donors better but it is administration that determine what structures/programs they want and then asks for donors.  How often do they request money for scholarships and academic programs rather than new buildings or sports facilities ?

      The endowment should also be considered by number of students. Princeton has EIGHT times the endowment per student that NU has—o.k. that is wealth and donor results. But size of the school vrs. endowment must be considered. You don’t compare the budget of Podunck Iowa with Chicago—Chicago is much larger and thus has a much larger revenue/expense budget. With NU or any school, more than the absolute amount must be considered—the question is where NU is spending the money and how well are they spending it—good education or just making student and donors happy, e.g big sports teams/facilities and new building that are not needed [“if it is new and has more features, it must be better.”

      1. The city also needs to consider its ‘endowment’

        Just as I think NU and other schools don’t use their endowment wisely, perhaps the city is even more guilty. Despite it supposedly being a servant of the taxpayer—and getting their money from taxpayer—the Council keeps giving money away to businesses that they pick as “winners” [do the businesses even ask for money—Borders did not when they moved to Maple],  and every type of theater anyone asks for.  Somethings the Council proposes knowing it will go no where—but they get credit for “proposing” and others they figure it is not their money, they may get votes for having  proposed it, and if it fails, blame it on “the man behind the tree”—i.e. a roundabout campaign fund. The old “chicken in every pot.”

        The Council [and residents] need to start living in the real world and put first things first.

    2. Jobs but how ?

      In mayoral and alderman meetings, church and other group discussions, jobs is sure to come up—both as to tax reduction, shopping, programs for youth.  But what are the SPECIFIC solutions speakers propose or even mention ? Instead they have a vague statement just like saying ‘more jobs’ will create them.

      Taking just jobs for youth.  Getting beyond the usual questions of whether they have the skills [e.g. knowing how to use a computer/cash register], personal skill [knowing how to deal with people and be curtious], and work ethic [showing up on time and every day],etc. what has the city done to open-up opportunities. 

      Look at the businesses that Evanston lost and fails to attract. Without companies, you can’t have jobs. I know someone will say “…look how soon they closed [other] stores” but Evanston had a chance to have a Sears in Sherman Plaza but the Council debated so long that Sears pulled-out—how many jobs would that have brought. I doubt the Council had the skill to predict Sears downsizing given their record at ‘picking winners [and losers]. 

      Stories differ but what did the Council try do to keep McDonalds and Osco downtown ? The story is both had been told they could return when the respective buildings were re-hab’d/rebuilt—but then developers said ‘no.’  How many existing and new jobs went away.

      I don’t favor the kinds of special deals the city made with some businesses to come/stay here—but how many of our jobs problems are the result of snail like discussions by the Council and other groups, fear of [irrelevant] over regulation [remember ‘sign inspectors’] not to mention taxes–rents are also a factor but the Council at least does not control them.

      Jobs don’t appear out of thin air and not by pie in the sky political speeches. Responsible and timely government decisions and a business friendly reputation—and ‘fact’ is necessary.

    3. Pressure NU to pay more

      And lest we forget, neither ENH nor St Francis pay one penny in real estate taxes —— where’s their support?   And don’t talk about “they provide needed health care.”.   Each one makes mega – bucks in profit, each year ! 


  3. Grow, grow, grow.  The city

    Grow, grow, grow.  The city is starved for funds, and more people means more property taxes and more sales taxes, and the city will find a way to spend all of that and more.

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