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Building on a Solid Foundation

7th Ward Alderman Jane Grover talks about the Evanston - Northwestern partnership

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June 10, 2010 | by Stephen Anzaldi
When Elizabeth Tisdahl decided to run for Evanston mayor and leave her seat as 7th Ward alderman, she asked Jane Grover to consider running. "There's no easy way to say no to Liz," Grover said. "So I ran for alderman. And here we are, one year later."
Grover's first role in public service in Evanston, after she retired from the practice of law, was as a member and chair of the Evanston Mental Health Board. When a couple was hit by a car and killed in a crosswalk on Central Street, she worked with city staff to improve the crossing and took on pedestrian safety issues in her neighborhood. Over the years, she closely followed deliberations of the Evanston City Council.
A little more than a year into her new job, Grover represents an area in the northeast corner of the City that also includes a large swath of the Northwestern campus.
She talked with Stephen Anzaldi, editor of internal communications, about her work in Evanston's government, the City's multifaceted partnership with Northwestern and her ideas for future collaboration.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Municipal government presents very interesting policy issues, with repercussions for residents' everyday life. My work as an alderman creates opportunities to help make things happen, to solve problems and bring people together.
But I could make very little happen without the involvement of our residents and the expertise and support of City staff and my colleagues on the city council. I've come to know some extraordinary people in the last year. Evanston's greatest asset is its people.

Can you explain a key issue in your ward that involves Evanston and Northwestern?

While the University's six or seven home football games generate good business for Central Street and tax revenue for the City, the games also present a number of challenges to the residential neighborhood around Ryan Field.
Last year, anticipating problems, residents began contacting me before the football season opened to express their concerns. I realized I needed to better understand how the University hosts 30,000 fans for its football games and directly convey residents' concerns in the planning process. The athletic department also understood the value of including the neighborhood's representative, so I attended its planning meetings for home football games. We discussed anticipated crowd size and temperament, the game-day schedule, traffic management, police presence, port-a-john placement, marketing and special events and accommodating neighborhood concerns. We've already begun talking about the upcoming season.

When is the relationship at its best?

Most recently, representatives from Evanston and the University joined forces in Springfield to lobby our state representatives and department directors on issues of mutual interest and benefit. (See story on page 3.)
I've always appreciated the many ways in which City and University staff work together and build bridges between our institutions. The Evanston and Northwestern police departments have a long history of mutual aid.
But it's the individual interactions that happen every day and don't make headlines that solidify our partnership. The student teacher in my fourth-grader's classroom is a Northwestern student, as are some of the coaches in another son's basketball league, to name just two.

How is Evanston a great college town?

There is no better place to go to college because of Evanston's great amenities, location and people. We have a vibrant downtown close to campus, with great shopping, theater and dining. And if you must leave the City's limits, Evanston is a transportation hub. Evanston is well positioned as a green, urban city in a large metropolitan area where interesting things happen. And did I mention the lake?

How does your family enjoy Northwestern?

My sons' interests most often dictate how my family spends its free time. We're mostly interested in sports, and we have Big Ten athletics in our backyard. A few years ago, I took my boys out of school the afternoon the softball team returned home from almost winning the Women's College World Series, which the boys had been following. We met the team bus at Wildcat Alley, and the boys collected the players' autographs.

Can you talk about the new hands-free law?

Last fall, the city council identified safety as one of its goals for this year, and it became clear from our discussions that pedestrian safety would be part of that goal. The City of Chicago and Village of Winnetka already ban hand-held devices while driving, and the State of Illinois bans texting altogether, as well as cell phone use in school and construction zones while driving. There is good local precedent.
Evanston's new ordinance requires drivers who must use the phone while driving to use a hands-free device. The data we studied to support the ordinance shows that distracted driving - talking on a cell phone or texting - quadruples the risk of an accident. As a runner and cyclist, I understand firsthand the dangers of using a cell phone while driving.
 
How would you like to see Evanston and Northwestern collaborate in the future?

The University's gift of the fire engine last fall was a significant and meaningful contribution, and there will be more opportunities for collaboration. I see real potential for joint undertakings in a renewed investment in our technology innovation center, in leveraging our partnership in Washington and Springfield and in supporting the new businesses that grow from the University's seeds and in keeping those businesses in Evanston.
Mayor Tisdahl and President Schapiro have laid a good foundation. And we will build on it.