Opinion | Free beach days a half measure

In the beginning of summer 2021, the beloved Evanston beach admissions became free to Evanston residents on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays after Alderman Devon Reid (8th Ward) suggested making them free seven days a week. Alderman Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th Ward) proposed Sunday and Monday, which was eventually expanded to also include Saturdays, according to the Chicago Tribune. The ultimate goal is to allow free access to Evanston beaches every day next summer, and this is a “short-notice compromise” until then. 

These new changes became possible when Evanston Fight for Black Lives made a petition in June demanding Mayor Daniel Biss and the city council to allow greater access for all residents, which received more than 6,500 signatures. Their main argument was that Evanstons beach pass previous system was racist and classist, both of which are true. 

The City of Evanston website explains that a single Evanston beach pass costs $30 starting on April 26th, until June 11, when this price rises to $38. This beach season stretches from May 29 to Labor Day, and beach passes cannot be reused for more than one season. For larger families hoping to buy multiple tokens, the prices quickly start to add up and can come to over $100 for a single season. Additionally, teenagers age 13-18 can pick up a 10-punch free beach pass at Evanston community centers like Robert Crown. 

“My family and I apply for free lunch every year for me and my siblings. My mom was lucky enough to be told that she could also apply for free beach tokens and since then we’ve received free beach tokens yearly. We were lucky we were told this, but many families have missed their opportunities to receive free beach tokens because this information isn’t told to anyone.” says senior Alisa Bytyqi.

This is an unreasonably expensive beach season, and one that is not attainable for everyone. There is limited accessibility to this information for those who need it, as they are expected to search for this information on the City of Evanston website. Also, considering most beaches in the Chicago area and other cities are completely free for residents, it’s clear Evanston has been setting a price barrier for residents, particularly low-income people. 

This only limits access to natural land and nature to primarily the white upper-class people, who have the privilege of getting beach tokens every year, and these high beach admissions fees are a clear way to block marginalized residents from Evanston’s recreational spaces.

“I think free beaches benefit the people who can’t afford to buy a token for themselves or for their families. Last year I went to South Blvd beach and there were a lot of people coming from Chicago and places other than Evanston, but you would only buy the one-day pass,” says sophomore Kaia Cmarko. 

 Overall this a short-notice compromise, and though it is a great push forward, Evanston still has a long way to go. The previous system of unaffordable tokens was problematic and in need of change because of its racist and classist effects. The beaches being free on these select days gives opportunities to families who deserve to enjoy this integral part of our city without any of the bureaucratic, complicated half measures that may have existed before. 

“Larger families are able to enjoy the beach without tokens for the first time in years but this is not enough, as we need to eradicate the beach token system,” explains Bytyqi.

I look forward to the day when one of Evanston’s most popular recreation areas becomes accessible and free every day of the summer rather than just three days a week.