October 6, 2022
City Council has approved a contract with Evanston-based urban design firm Teska Associates to expand Mason Park and develop an abandoned railway embankment that runs alongside 2nd Ward Park.
The main objectives of the project include the use of triangular land between the park and the railway, as well as improving the safety of students who use the railway to access Evanston Township Secondary School , according to a note from Senior Project Manager Stefanie Levine. The proposal was adopted at the September 12 council meeting.
Teska landscape architect Jodi Mariano, who manages the Mason Park project, said the firm would commit to 12 to 16 months of “stakeholder engagement” before coming up with a design. This process includes public inquiries and meetings with neighbours.
“It is a visionary and unusual project because it is not contained in a confined area,” said Mariano. “This is a project that stretches along and across multiple properties, so it’s going to involve a lot of communication with various stakeholders and public groups.”
The freight bypass, known as the Mayfair Cutoff, was built in 1889 to create rail service between Chicago and Evanston. The train ceased to operate in the mid-1980s and has remained largely abandoned since then.
Citizens’ Greener Evanston, in partnership with North West student organization Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations, found in a 2018 study that segments of the Mayfair Cutoff near Mason Park could connect it to existing recreation areas.
The study cited elevated pathways such as 606 in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood and New York’s High Line as examples of how land could be converted into public space.
The study also indicated that the Cutoff has historically supported a racial and economic divide between the western and eastern parts of the 5th Ward by acting as a physical barrier between the communities.
Eva Holland-Switchett moved into a house across from the Mason Park tennis courts in 1961, when she immigrated to Evanston from Belize at the age of 13. After moving in 1984, she moved back to the same house in 2012.
Holland-Switchett said she supports the development of the threshold because it has become a dangerous area without adult supervision for students traveling to and from ETHS.
“If you walk around here in the evening, maybe between 6 and 9 a.m., you’ll have to figure out for yourself exactly what (the students) are doing there on the railroad,” Holland-Switchett said. “And that’s nothing too nice.”
Holland-Switchett said the city should add a dog park to the unused land because Mason Park is a popular destination for dog owners, but there is no specific area for pets.
Darlene Cannon, local activist and alumna Candidate for the municipal council of the 2nd arrondissement, stressed that the neighbors of the park should have a say in the project. She cited the construction of two NHL-sized rinks in Robert Crown Community Center as a town project that caters to visitors from outside Evanston, rather than residents.
“It’s really critical that we move forward based on what the residents who will be impacted in this area want,” Cannon said.
The city awarded Teska $168,654 for the first phase of the project, which includes community engagement, data collection, conceptual design, programming and site assessment, according to the memo.
Levine hopes the project will transform the Mayfair Cutoff, which has historically divided the neighborhood, into something that unites.
“The goal is to reimagine a truly underutilized space,” Levine said. “So turning something that is a negative space into a really positive space for the community. It is hope.
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