Evanston, Ill.: Working for the World They Want

1 / 2
Evanston, Ill., sits 12 miles north of Chicago (in background) along the north shore of Lake Michigan.
2 / 2
Residents frequently gather at Northwestern University for events that share the university community's expertise.

Each year, MOTHER EARTH NEWS selects a handful of sustainable communities to highlight in our annual Great Places feature. Check out the other towns featured in our 2014 installment:8 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.

Evanston, Illinois. In case you’ve ever felt that nothing you do can make a difference for the challenges we face these days, consider this: In 2006, dozens of Evanston residents partnered with city staff to draft the city’s Climate Action Plan, with strategies to fulfill the city’s pledge in signing the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

Evanston achieved its goal of a 13 percent reduction (from its 2005 baseline) in the summer of 2013, and in May, Evanston’s Sustainable Programs Coordinator and the group Sustain Evanston presented a new goal: a 20 percent reduction in emissions by 2016.

Home to Northwestern University, this suburban city 12 miles north of Chicago has taken on climate change in a real way. Its Office of Sustainability supports initiatives for renewable energy, energy efficiency, transportation, waste reduction and recycling, water conservation, and land use. The city recently installed protected bike lanes on two major streets and has plans to install more. More than 2,000 people gathered for the 2013 Streets Alive! event to show support for public transportation and a more pedestrian-friendly city.

According to Eleanor Revelle, president of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, citizen involvement helps make Evanston a remarkable place to live. As a gauge of this involvement, one of the ways the city celebrated its 150th year in 2013 was by logging 150,000 volunteer hours.

Residents have proved that they don’t mind getting a little dirt under their fingernails in the name of community involvement. More than 50 volunteers help twice a year at Perkins Woods, a 7-1/2-acre forest remnant in northwest Evanston, to eliminate invasive plants. Forest steward Libby Hill says the volunteers undertake this sweaty, dirty labor because they just love the woods.

“The individuals who first set aside this preserve felt people needed somewhere to go to get away and have some breathing room,” Hill says. “We are lucky as a city that we had influential leaders who had the mindset not just to make as much money as they could, but also to care about the community. We want to do something now that will matter in the same way to the future.”

Stats: Evanston, Illinois

Population: 75,570
Climate: 38” annual avg. precip.; January avg. high: 34 degrees F; July avg. high: 81 degrees F
Median Household Income: $68,051
Median Home Price: $367,800

K.C. Compton is an editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publication,GRIT. She has visited 44 U.S. states, and sees great places and meets great people everywhere she goes. Find her on Google+.