Evanston’s Streets Alive! promises environmentally friendly fun

The idea of Evanston’s so-called “Biggest Block Party Ever” playing a role in achieving an environmental goal presents no conflict as far as Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl is concerned.

“If we can reduce our carbon footprint, we should have a fun way of doing [so],” Tisdahl said Thursday at Hip Circle Studio, 709 Washington St., joining other officials to unveil plans for the Sunday, Sept. 7 Street’s Alive event.

A solid mile of Main Street, stretching from Hinman Avenue to the Robert Crown Center, will be closed to vehicle traffic.

Organizers plan a wide range of activities for all ages, including talent shows, limbo, Hula-Hooping, basketball challenge games, badminton, a giant chess board, an imagination playground, local performing artists, food trucks and more.

“Streets Alive gives community members an opportunity to experience our public street like never before,” Tisdahl said. “This free event is a great way to enjoy our beautiful city, meet your neighbors, support local businesses and celebrate car-free modes of transportation.”

Streets Alive Chair Natalie Watson, who helped bring about the celebration’s inaugural event last year, said this year’s event has two goals.

The first is to increase overall levels of active transportation, said Watson, herself an avid cyclist. A major emphasis of public health in the future will focus on people choosing non-automobile modes, such as walking, biking and taking transit, she said.

“By making the streets a very appealing place, we can create the desire for those healthy, active social habits,” she said.

A second goal “is to repurpose our public spaces,” she said. “We do not know the full potential of our public spaces, but evidence suggests they can be transformative in building a more compassionate, intimate community.”

State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-9th, said such issues are pigeonholed too easily into narrow categories of public policy.

There’s no question the work of Citizens for Greener Evanston encouraging non-emission activities “is crucial” if “our towns [and] communities [are going to shift] lifestyles away from cars and toward travel on foot, bicycle and public transit,” he said.

But there’s more, he said.

“To me there’s an issue of economic justice,” he said. “The truth of the matter is cars are insanely expensive. The structure of our society, which demands of people to have a car in order to be able to have a job, is a very, very regressive, unjustly structured society.”

He said there’s also an economic benefit at play.

“We know that density creates economic activity, and putting people near each other creates ideas, innovation [and] economic development opportunities,” he said. “Let’s brag about the fact, that we’re encouraging growth, we’re encouraging prosperity by making these lifestyle changes.”

Evanston Township High School Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, who also spoke, was interested in the life lesson such events provide.

“Just being part of this, walking the length of Main Street and not having to dodge any cars is such a great message for our young people,” said Witherspoon, who also emphasized the fun of such activities.

Greener Evanston President Eleanor Revelle spoke of the city’s goal to achieve a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2016.

“Transportation is a major source of greenhouse emissions in our community,” she said, “and so it’s a major focus of our efforts.”

Cyclists naturally embrace the event.

“The Evanston Bicycle Club with over 500 active members in Evanston, the North Shore and Chicago, is pleased to join Streets Alive! in support of cycling in Evanston,” Evanston Bicycle Club Board member David Boyce said

Organizers invite the public to learn more, by visiting evanstonstreetsalive.org or calling/texting 847-448-4311.

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