The community of Evanston is a neighborhood located within the city of Cincinnati. It is bounded on the north by Norwood, on the west by Avondale, on the south by Walnut Hills, and on the East by Hyde Park. Each surrounding neighborhood is composed of varying demographics and social issues, making for a diverse and complex local region. The community of Evanston was especially changed by the construction of I-71 Expressway, which cut through and effectively removed Evanston’s once vibrant business district.
Captain James Lyon purchased most of the land that makes up Evanston from John Cleves Symmes in 1796. It remained farmland until 1875 when the Homestead Land & Building Association platted east of Montgomery Road. Lots in this first subdivision sold slowly until the Cincinnati, Lebanon, and Northern (CL&N) Railroad came through the area in the late 1870’s. The availability of rail transportation into Cincinnati accelerated residential development, and two new sub-divisions, Idlewild and Ivanhoe, were established on the western side of Montgomery Road. By the late 1890’s, a small commuter suburb existed immediately north of Woodburn and East Walnut Hills.
The success of Idlewild and Ivanhoe encouraged developers to start other subdivisions. Some of these, intended for affluent buyers, were given names such as Woodburn Heights to associate them with fashionable Woodburn and Walnut Hills. Others were designed for middle-income families, and ultimately, middle-income housing predominated in this area. In 1893, Evanston Village was incorporated and named after the Chicago suburb of Evanston.
Rail transportation to downtown Cincinnati helped spur Evanston’s growth as a late 1800’s “bedroom suburb,” a neighborhood where business owners and other middle-class families could live away from the pollution and traffic from the factories and shops that filled the central city. Because Evanston had a small population and no industry, yet wanted to provide residents with a wide range of superior services, Evanston Village taxes were among the highest in Hamilton County, certainly higher than those of Cincinnati. Evanstonians, therefore, viewed annexation to Cincinnati, which came in 1903, as an attractive prospect.
By World War I, Evanston had become a stable, working-class community with its own churches, neighborhood organizations, and a newspaper. The 1950’s brought about a racial change in Evanston as it divided along color lines into two neighborhoods. West of Montgomery Road, Evanston was largely black and middle class; the east side was still predominantly white, working-class, and Catholic. In 1954, a black Episcopalian priest moved into the east area and most of the white residents began moving further out of the city, segregating a community that is now over 95% African-American.
The organization of the Evanston Community Council took place in 1957 with the meetings being held on Sunday’s at the Old Manse Hotel in Walnut Hills. In 1962, the community council moved to St. Andrews Episcopal Church, where the council became more active and was involved in such issues as the location of the I-71 Expressway, as mentioned above.
Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, Evanston attempted to improve its situation as community leaders accepted the futility of revitalizing the neighborhood business district and instead began concentrating on the encouragement of other individuals, families, organizations, and landlords to invest into the community. Through the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, with the help of the Community Building Institute at Xavier University, Evanston Community Council has created a comprehensive agenda, addressing many of the community’s structural needs such as Safety, Education and Youth, Housing, Beautification, and Athletics. The executive board and council leadership were integral in advocating for the community. Current president, Ms. Anzora Adkins, has continued this tradition of advocacy and expanded it to include a number of large scale projects on behalf of Evanston residents and the Community Council.
The Evanston Community Council is active today and remains a central force uniting the community. Council is “Dedicated to the well-being of all residents and to the development of the community through education, business, and spirituality.” The most significant accomplishments starting the 21st century are the establishment of the Evanston Employment Resource Connection Center to help individuals find and prepare for quality employment opportunities. Secondly, the 2012 Evanston Housing Strategy seeks to revitalize the health and well being of the community from housing to safety and beautification. Currently, the Community Council—under the guidance and leadership of President Adkins—is implementing a 2014 Housing and Commercial Development Strategy in partnership with the City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County Port Authority, Model Group, LISC and the Community Building Institute. This project will return 20 currently vacant, abandoned and tax delinquent properties to fully-rehabbed use for families interested in long-term home ownership as well as stabilizing seven critical commercial properties to positive community use.
The Community Council is also implementing the Ten Year Plan (2013-2023). This plan outlines ten deliverables to keep Evanston’s vision towards the future. A partnership with Interact for Health is pioneering two initiatives, a Safe Routes to School and Play Paths. The Safe Routes to School assists children in the safe passage to and from school, as many of Evanston’s students live in the neighborhood and walk to and from school each day. The Play Paths project is constructing safe activities along this route to promote outside activities and an inspiring walk to and from school. The final project worth highlighting is Evanston’s first worker-owner cooperative, Community Blend Café, which is “Brewing Coffee and Social Change at the Corner of Montgomery Rd. and Brewster Ave.” This cafe will provide local jobs to residents at a living wage, a third-place for residents and Cincinnatians alike to meet and congregate. The cafe will serve hot and cold coffee and teas as well as breakfast items, handmade sandwiches, salads and soups all at an affordable price—all of which was not previously offered in the community. This project is the result of collaboration with Interfaith Business Builders under the leadership of Ray West. Moving forward, Evanston Community Council and President Adkins are striving to fulfill the mission of council and commit to reaching the goals outlined in the Ten-Year Plan (2013-2023).