The city of Highland Park is about to get a lot more colorful.
Highland Park council members unanimously approved on Monday, Sept. 11, an updated city-art and mural policy that will support more public art throughout the city.
“We have had businessowners and people come to us and say this is a way to bring vibrancy into our community and all we do is put it off, and it’s time to do it,” Councilmember Annette Lidawer said.
After a nearly two-hour debate with presentations from Director of Community Development Joel Fontaine and Chair of the Cultural Arts Advisory Group Joanne Bernstein regarding policy recommendations, the council passed the ordinance with several amendments.
The amendments to the ordinance include the elimination of a maximum height for the murals, addition of an exception for privately owned underpasses in any zoning district,, an increase in the permit limit to 15, the removal of the two-year minimum for murals and the addition of language to prohibit certain murals, such as offensive content and advertisements.
According to Bernstein the majority of the Cultural Arts Advisory Group, including herself, were opposed to the maximum height restriction on city murals.
Councilmember Andrés Tapia was also in support of eliminating a maximum mural height of 30 feet in order to prevent the city from limiting the creativity that goes into the artwork.
Tapia was also opposed to creating a two-year limit for the city’s murals.
“I don’t think that’s realistic or even in the spirit of murals. Some murals are iconic and last for decades, even 100 years, others could just be ephemeral for a few months,” Tapia said. “For us to guess what would be the perfect amount of time for a mural to be up is not congruent with the concept of art.”
Multiple council members voiced reservations about the ordinance’s ambiguity regarding what content could be prohibited in a mural, leading to the tighter language developed in the amendment.
Councilmember Yumi Ross expressed concerns regarding the use of the word “prurient” in the ordinance as it was initially proposed.
“It didn’t cover hate speech and I think we have to be really specific about that to the extent we can be specific,” Ross said. “I’d hate to see something misogynistic, racist, and I don’t know what we can protect against.”
Councilmember Anthony Blumberg, who stepped in as the presiding officer in Mayor Nancy Rotering’s absence Monday, voiced his confidence “in corporation counsel’s ability to craft appropriate language” to regulate content for the city’s murals.
Councilmembers move forward with sustainability plan for 2023-2027
The City Council also unanimously approved a two-part sustainability plan with a goal of reducing Highland Park’s greenhouse gas emissions up to 45 percent by 2030 and becoming net zero by 2035, according to a presentation by Kelly Shelton from Quercus Consulting.
Councilmembers, including Jeff Hoobler and Tapia, were hesitant to vote on the ordinance on Monday, wanting more time to familiarize themselves with the plan before coming to a decision.
City Manager Ghida Neukirch approached the approval of the plan differently, encouraging councilmembers to view the plan as an evolving document that will be a guide for future efforts.
“I would suggest if you’re comfortable having a sustainability plan with different components, adopt the plan this evening,” Neukirch said. “As there are certain elements that we want to talk about in greater detail, such as greenhouse gas, we bring that to a committee of the whole meeting and focus on that specific topic.”
Councilmember Kim Stone supported approving the plan, citing that the city is already behind in its sustainability efforts.
Rosie Newmark is a 2023 Record intern and an incoming senior studying journalism and history at Northwestern University. Rosie has written for multiple campus publications in addition to the Hyde Park Herald and American Libraries Magazine.