How would you feel if several of Evanston’s recreation services became privatized? I’m told there are proposals for consideration – including “letting go" of the Ecology Center, Chandler-Newberger Center, and the Noyes Cultural Arts Center – during a special city council meeting Tuesday, March 22 at 6 p.m.
While considerations like this should come as no surprise in these economic times, when I first heard about the proposals last week via several worried emails from community members, my first reaction was, We simply cannot and should not close places like this. At least, not in Evanston. That’s not to say changes cannot or should not be made, but selling off several cultural and recreational outposts to save money just feels wrong to me.
I understand the economics on a basic level -- if we can’t afford something, we shouldn’t have it. But, where my heart lies is more in the fight for what we -- as a community – represent. Selling off some of our most beloved community gathering sites seems like the wrong answer. But what is the right answer? Attracting corporate sponsors to put up signage all Around Town to make some extra money? Allowing big chain stores or businesses that don't sit well with many residents? Limiting public health and safety services? Building taller and taller buildings?
I applaud the city council members for wrestling with all the opinions they’ll hear on community priorities, and have no doubt there will be emotional perspectives shared from every angle. I’m also grateful to live in a town where the residents are permitted and encouraged to speak out.
At the very heart of the matter is the concept of closing something. Even when something closes for rational, agreed-upon reasons, it’s rarely an easy thing to do, especially if the entity holds any amount of fond memories. Think of a great book. Or a playgroup that ended when too many members moved away. A senior year. A pregnancy. A friendship that's simply run its course. A business. A school. A doctor’s office that relocates beyond your commute. A marriage. A playground. A train stop where you used to meet your friends. A beach with lightning crisscrossing over the lake (or high bacteria levels). Closing things, shutting things down, moving on, changing it up, starting a new chapter … each of these acts has the potential for unanticipated emotions rising to the surface.
No doubt the Evanston city council will be prepared for serious debate as our community presents and discusses options moving forward. In a time when so many things are closing – businesses, opportunities, and sometimes minds – I’m grateful to live in a city where our elected officials will keep their eyes and ears open to many viable alternatives.