Evanston City Council goes green

    The city of Evanston is making strides forward toward its goal of becoming the most livable city in America.

    At their meeting Monday night, the Evanston City Council voted unanimously to adopt an Evanston Livability Plan, which aims to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2016, debated banning plastic bags in the city and gave an update on their plan to improve city bike lanes.

    Evanston Livability Plan

    The livability plan is a continuation of Evanston’s long-term Climate Action Plan, and sets a higher bar for the city following their successful reduction in emissions by 13 percent from 2005 to mid-summer 2013 underneath the Kyoto Protocol targets. The 20 percent reduction by 2016 will build upon the 13 percent already accomplished, according to Catherine Hurley, Sustainable Programs Coordinator for the city.

    “We believe this is a bold but achievable goal,” Hurley said. “[Reducing emissions by 13 percent] was a tremendous accomplishment, and now is a great opportunity to continue to mark ourselves in the sand and figure out what our next goals will be.”

    The plan — written in collaboration between the city and Sustain Evanston, an informal network of environmentally-concerned citizens and organizations — sets five specific strategies for achieving the significant emissions reduction:

    • maintaining 100 percent green power for residents and small businesses,
    • developing a green power program for medium-sized businesses,
    • intensively retrofitting buildings to improve their energy efficiency,
    • encouraging citizens to use alternative modes of transportation by making alternatives to car use more competitive,
    • and asking the seven major employers of Evanston (including Northwestern University) to reduce emissions by 2 percent a year.

    The city met its first goal of 13 percent reduced emissions mostly by switching to 100 percent renewable energy for residents and small businesses, as well as lowering the city’s energy use by 32 percent, according Hurley. Now that they’ve eliminated most of the “low-hanging fruit,” Hurley said, the second step of the city’s climate action plan will more directly involve the public through community engagement campaigns so that most reductions will come from people changing their lifestyle habits.

    The aldermen and mayor all spoke in favor of plan, with many citing the economic incentives in addition to the environmental benefits of the plan.

    “I strongly support retrofitting residences,” said Ald. Mark Tendam (6th Ward). “It seems to me like we can accomplish more than just efficiency, but we can really help people who are struggling financially.”

    Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward), on the other hand, emphasized that the economic impacts also mean the city should try to connect with all demographics in the city.

    “I take a lot of pride in the work that we’ve seen, particularly in sustainability,” said Braithwaite. “As we all understand it, it has economic impacts both to families and also for families. One of the challenges I’d love to see us tackle as the City of Evanston is to do more outreach to the broader community, particularly black families and Hispanic families.”

    The aldermen also praised Hurley and the sustainability officers of the city because, out of the many communities that originally agreed to try to reduce emissions according to the Kyoto Protocol, Evanston was one of the few to make a formal plan and one of even fewer to meet their goal.

    Potential Plastic Bag Ban

    Following the vote to pass the livability plan, the council debated whether or not to enact a citywide plastic bag ban similar to the one adopted by Chicago on April 30. Almost all aldermen spoke in favor of the ban, but most brought up potential problems — such as providing legitimate alternatives for citizens — they said should be remedied before anything official was put forward.

    Evanston has been debating a plastic bag ban for years, Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th Ward) said, but this is the first time she has seen widespread support from the council.

    “I’m 100 percent supportive of doing a bag ban in Evanston,” said Ald. Jane Grover (7th Ward). “I think Chicago’s initiative makes it much easier for us because we won’t be the stand alone as we would have been two years ago. So with the momentum from Chicago, it’s a really good idea for us to seriously consider and I hope pass a bag ban and maybe start a more regional effort… and start changing the consumption culture.”

    Most public commenters spoke in favor of the ban, including Michael Vasilko, an Evanston resident, who spoke about the plastic gyres that form in the oceans, as well as reportedly the Great Lakes.

    “The plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually to the molecular form that’s entered into our food chain by the fish and the water that we drink and eat,” said Vasilko. “We are beginning to eat the garbage that we dispose of. Please ban those bags.”

    However, Evanston resident Betty Ester said the council needs to consider the senior citizens and poorer citizens who rely on the plastic bags and cannot necessarily afford alternatives.

    “Not everyone can purchase canvas bags,” Ester said. “If we can’t come up with an alternative without having people pay extra money for a bag, we don’t need to be getting rid of them until we have a solid plan that will help the homeless and the seniors that need the plastic bags.”

    But Ald. Ann Rainey disagreed, saying that the council needs “to give people more credit.”

    “It is just amazing how smart poor people, black people, old people, young people are,” said Rainey, mentioning the resourcefulness she’s seen at stores in Evanston where plastic bag use is already limited. “Just because some people use the bus… does not mean they can’t be thoughtful about the environment.”

    A community meeting about the plastic bag ban will be held on June 5 in the Ecology Center at 7 p.m.

    Evanston Bike Plan Update

    Public Works Director Suzette Robinson also gave a report at the council meeting on the progress of Evanston’s new bike plan.

    According to Robinson, Evanston residents have increased their use of bikes as a means of transportation by 46 percent since 2000 — and among the riders, 60 percent are students.

    A lack of bike lanes or unsafe bike lanes were the top challenges that a Public Works survey found, Robinson said, so their bike plan will certainly include the development of more “comfortable corridors” for student riders, as well as an expansion of locations where bikes can be parked.

    The Public Works department will present their final plan to the council in July 2014, Robinson said.


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