|Municipality||City of Evansville|
|Population and Growth|
|Population (2014 if available, otherwise 2010, indicate)||5,012 (2010)|
|WI Workforce Development Region||11|
|Young Adult Gaining Measure||40% (WI median is -22%)|
|Young Adult Maintaining Measure||30% (WI Median is 24%)|
|Racial stats, 2010 Census||
93.3% White (non-Hispanic)
2.7% White (Hispanic)
0.8% African American
0.5% American Indian or Alaska Native
1.5% Two or More Races
|Mean Income||$65,650 (2015)|
|Median Income||$57,273 (2015)|
|Year of Latest Comprehensive Development Plan||2015|
|Year and Amount of Last Referendum Passed||(2014) $4,566,297|
|Notes||Evansville is served by the Evansville Community School District|
|Elementary||Levi Leonard Elementary School||K-2||Public|
|Theodore Robinson Intermediate School||3-5||Public|
|Middle||J.C. McKenna Middle School||6-8||Public|
|High||Evansville High School||9-12||Public|
Conducting the Case Study in Evansville
Out of the fifteen case study municipalities, we chose Evansville as our second. Collaboration continued to characterize our approach to data collection. The following points briefly review how we developed our interview guide and interview contacts:
- Connect to University of Wisconsin-Extension:
In September of 2016, we reached out to UW-Extension in Rock County, requesting recommendations for community leaders who might be interested in our project.
- Connect to Evansville Leaders:
Sheila De Forest responded, and suggested government, nonprofit, and business leaders who agreed to join the core group. Each agreed to provide feedback on our interview guide and contact list.
- Develop Interview Guide and Contact List:
In October, we met with the core group members to go over the following questions:
- How is this project relevant to Evansville, and your role in Evansville?
- What questions should we include in our interviews?
- Who should we invite to interviews?
- Conduct Interviews:
We conducted twenty-seven interviews in October and November of 2016. Sixteen people participated in group interviews and eleven had individual interviews.
- Present and Revise Results:
We met with the core group, with the addition of Nick Baker of UW-Extension in Rock County, in November, after we conducted the interviews. We provided a preliminary analysis of our findings, and then revised the report based on their feedback.
Evansville Interview Guide
- How long have you lived here?
- Do members of your extended family live in this community or in a nearby community?
- What brought you here? Why did you move to Evansville?
Tell me about your experience in the community.
- What does community mean to you?
- What would you say to a young adult, ages 20-39, thinking of moving here?
- Why do people move here?
- Why do people stay here?
Tell me about the quality of life in your community.
- What is entertainment like around here? What do you do for fun?
- How would you want your town to grow?
- Who would not feel comfortable here?
Tell me about growth in your community.
- How does population growth affect you, and how does it affect your community?
Tell me about your experience in the community.
- Who contributes to your community?
Results for Evansville
While the identities of the 27 interview participants remain confidential, a few key characteristics may prove useful to readers in their analysis of these findings.
- Participants ranged in age from the mid-20s to retirement age in appearance, though we did not collect exact age information.
- Four participants had lived in the community for fewer than five years, three for 5-9 years, fourteen from 10-19 years, one from 20-29 years, three from 40-49 years, and one for more than 50 years. One person responded that they had lived in Evansville "all my life." Five people grew up in Evansville, one of whom moved away and returned.
- Nine people had extended family in Evansville, and five others had extended family within an hour.
Housing Costs and Property Taxes are Enticing
Most of the people we spoke with did not grow up in Evansville, but had moved there at some point in their lives. In some cases that was because of family in the area or a new job. But, to the extent people could choose from a variety of communities in the region, part of what made Evansville attractive was cost of living. Twelve people specifically mentioned the affordability of housing in Evansville. One person described the housing as "modest" and attractive to new home buyers for that reason, a sentiment that others agreed with, telling stories about how they knew people who got a smaller lot and a smaller house in Madison for much more money. Another called the local housing market "ideal." One person also believed that Evansville has good landlords for those wanting to rent.
Proximity to Cities
Another aspect that twelve people valued about Evansville was the accessibility to other places such as Janesville or Madison, particularly for work, shopping and entertainment. One interviewee believed that 60-70% of people in Evansville commuted to work. When asked why people move to Evansville one person said, "Close proximity to Madison is a large part of it."
But the attractiveness of Evansville to young adults is also about its distance from Madison. For another interviewee, Evansville is "removed from work... It's a place to call home." The amount of felt distance from the cities was affirmed by another interview participant. It is also not just Evansville's proximity/distance in relation to Madison. One couple mentioned that Evansville is a midway point between their two jobs.
The attractiveness of Evansville to commuters, however, also presents some challenges for the community. A number of our interviewees had long lists of retail and entertainment options they desired in Evansville, but some of them also said things like "It's so easy to run to Janesville or Madison." So many commuters conveniently meet their needs on the way to or from work. Some also voiced a tension between "old guard" and "new guard." And one person expressed a concern that many of the commuters were highly educated white collar professionals, but didn't offer their education and skills to benefit the community.
The school district was mentioned as a draw and benefit of living in Evansville. Sixteen people had positive things to say about the schools and many believed the school system's reputation was a major draw for young adults. People often mentioned the school district not only as an important resource for children and students, but also as part of the community:
- "The school system here is great, [you] feel connected, everyone attends all the events. They're community events, every parent attends."
Another interviewee described the high school's annual homecoming parade as a major community event. Two others described the schools as just the right size, "not too big and not too small," though they wished the pool referendum would have passed. Two other people expressed concern about the school district being "overwhelmed" because of Evansville's popularity.
Sense of Community
While people in most of our other case study communities mentioned the sense of community they felt, our Evansville interviewees may have expressed that sentiment the most strongly. Evansville is place that feels safe and comfortable, especially for families. It is a place where "people greet you from the porch." Even in a context of an expanding community, people still feel not just connected, but mutually supported. Interview participants told stories of rallying around one resident paralyzed in an auto crash, and supporting the owner of a restaurant/bar damaged by fire. Some of the other things they said include:
- "...I love it here. It's really friendly, and not everyone is into the small town thing, but its homey. I feel safe here. I walk around a lot at night by myself."
- "You can be alone or you can find people who will treat you like family"
- "It's dangerous for us to run errands because anything can become a social opportunity."
There were some interview participants who were concerned that not everyone might feel the same sense of community in Evansville. Though families with kids might find everything they need, some respondents indicated that there may be fewer amenities and social opportunities for those who were single or did not have children. One interviewee noted that "For sure single people, I have single friends who are like, 'no way'. There's not many apartments here so it's not [good for singles]."Additionally, two people worried that people of diverse races might not feel comfortable in Evansville, though both attributed that to Evansville being almost completely white rather than any overt racism in the community. One interviewee, for example, said "I don't see a lot of ethnic or racial diversity here. I think we're very welcoming here, but if you are the first of any group, it feels a little strange." And, indeed many interviewees mentioned a desire for more diversity in the community. Two interview participants did believe that people identifying as gay or lesbian are accepted in the community.
Additionally, when asked what kind of people would not be comfortable in Evansville, two people mentioned that people who are introverted wouldn't like it there. But one of the main responses, brought up by six interviewees, referred to people looking for an urban lifestyle:
- "My friends in Madison like the anonymity of not knowing everyone in the grocery store."
- "People who want a Starbucks every 50 feet [would not feel comfortable]."
- "You have to be OK with being bored."
Recreation and Entertainment
People talked about the recreation and entertainment opportunities Evansville offered and lacked. Nine people mentioned the importance of Evansville's parks for both individual leisure activities like walking and biking and group activities like disc golf. Smaller groups mentioned strolling downtown (3 people, who also appreciated the renovations of downtown), biking in town or on trails (3 people), and festivals like the annual July 4 festival (4 people) which one person described as "Ginormous, it involves everyone." Four people also mentioned the bowling alley, some with hopes that new ownership and hours would make it more of an attraction.
A few people also mentioned attractions of the past, such as the now closed roller rink, or the restaurant that burned down, in discussing a lack of things to do in town, particularly evening activities. Three people wished there were a theater in town, and others mentioned that was one of the things they left town for. Most desired was some kind of nice restaurant, which seven people specifically mentioned. Five people also desired a pool, though two others noted that the community actually did have a pool. And one person was sensitive to the need for teen activities:
- "I think that it would help if we have more activities for those younger teens."
Growth and Change in Evansville
The people we interviewed in general seemed to want a little more to do locally. Along with noting the desire for restaurants and a theater discussed earlier, there was a general desire for various kinds of retail options in the community. A few specific ideas that emerged from people include a pharmacy, convenience store, and kids clothing store. Apparently the desire for a Kwik Trip, noted by three people, is widespread:
- "Everyone wants a Kwik Trip. I only go if I need something right away. It's a back-up for sure."
Two people also desired some more local industry to hopefully bolster the tax base and create more better paying local employment.
There is not a clear consensus on whether, and how much, Evansville should grow. One person described how people who grew up here say "it was nice when it was small," while others say "it's still small!" There is some sense, expressed by six people, that village services, such as emergency medical services and police, are at or past their limit and that the school class sizes are too large. Two people worried that Evansville is approaching a "tipping point" where it is moving from being a small town to something larger with less sense of community. Two others cited nearby Oregon, with a 2010 population of 9,231 people, as having passed that tipping point.
To the extent that people wanted growth, it seemed the focus was more on growth of services and businesses than population. In responding to a question about desired growth one person said "I don't think it does [want to grow]." Though another person said they wanted growth to occur "Responsibly- commercial, retail, and residential all occurring at an even keel." And three people wanted any growth to be carefully planned.
How practical such growth is remains uncertain. Some interviewees expressed concerns that, due to their perception of Evansville as a "bedroom" or "commuter" community, there aren't enough people in town during the day to support a business staying open for a better part of the working day. There's not enough "stop-in business." The concern is that with so much of the working population employed out of town, the lack of regular customers limited opportunities for new businesses.
Evansville Compared with Other Municipalities
Our research team also conducted a case study on Brooklyn, a smaller community just north of Evansville, prior to our Evansville study. We found some important similarities and differences. In both communities, proximity to Madison and Janesville was important for employment, entertainment, and shopping. People in both places also valued their distance from cities so that they could maintain a small-town culture. That distance also made for a more affordable cost of living for the people we interviewed. People in both communities also saw the schools as important community resources not just for the students, but for families. Restaurants and pools were desired and valued in both communities.
There were also some differences between the two communities. You could say either that Evansville is more than three times the size of Brooklyn, or that it has about 3,600 more people. Regardless, size does make a difference. Brooklyn has no high school, and some people move from the community when their children reach high school age and their incomes increase enough to afford housing closer to Madison. In this way, Evansville's high school is an important community resource. And the lack of commerce cited by interviewees in Evansville is even more pronounced in Brooklyn because of its even smaller population base.
Another community we can compare Evansville to is Delavan, about a half hour to the southeast. While Delavan is larger, at 8,463 residents, it is similar in its distance from larger cities and the presence of important outdoor amenities. Evansville interviewee's comparisons to Oregon may also apply to Delavan. People in Delavan seemed a bit less concerned with the potential drawbacks of growth, which may mean that they've already reached a population size related to that "tipping point." At the same time, Delavan was not so large that people felt all their shopping and entertainment needs were satisfied. Delavan was also one of the most diverse communities we studied, and provides an interesting window into what the future might hold if Evansville's residents who desire greater diversity achieve that goal. Our Delavan interviewees both appreciated the diversity in their midst and were still working on ways to make the most of that diversity.
The other interesting contrast between Evansville and Delavan is that, while both have well-developed outdoor spaces, those spaces seem to be much more valued in Evansville. Evansville parks are valued very highly, and appear to be one of the community's most important attractions.
So What? Implications for Evansville
Some of the results from our study may not be surprising to you. Many of the themes brought up by participants are indicative of a healthy, thriving community. While you may not be surprised to hear that a strong school system and proximity to another urban area for shopping and/or jobs are important to community members, it is important to remember that there are many communities that are struggling to retain their young adults due to a lack of these community amenities and attributes. We hope that the results of this case study affirm the good work being done in your own community while aiding others who will greatly value the observations and results gathered in your community.
Our research findings also hold some implications for Evansville.
Balance of Small Town Life and Urban Amenities
The balance between small town life and access to amenities is difficult to manage. Many people referred to their travel to nearby cities for amenities such as shopping and entertainment. People didn't describe these trips as particularly burdensome, just as part of life. The convenience and drivability to cities like Janesville and Madison for work, entertainment, and shopping is clearly important to many people. But most important to them is being able to live in Evansville instead of those larger places. They chose the qualities of the small-town community over some of the big city amenities because they get the benefits of small towns with larger city amenities an easy drive away. However, there was also a clear desire for some more basic conveniences: access to small conveniences that are not worth the trip to Janesville or Madison, but would be valuable in increasing the quality of life. And there was a strong desire for more evening entertainment—particularly restaurants and perhaps a theater. How practical those wishes might be without a larger population base, however, is difficult to determine.
The conflict that Evansville may face in the future is how to balance maintaining the small town feel with enough of the amenities that people enjoy and cite as reasons for staying or moving to the community. For example, people value the school district for the educational value but also for the social aspect. Maintaining the quality of the schools will be important in the future because it is a draw for new residents and also helps maintain the quality of life for current residents. Already, there are some residents who feel a concern about class size in the schools.
Family Life and Single Life
Another facet of life in Evansville is that it is very family friendly and family oriented. This is a great strength in Evansville as new families can easily find the resources and networks that would fit them best. The reality may be, however, that such a culture may leave out younger single people could have a more difficult time becoming integrated into the community. There may be no way around that. Evansville may be a community that young adults return to once they have begun a family, rather than a place they stay in during the transition from youth to young adulthood.
Old and New Residents
Another kind of balance issue facing Evansville is potential differences between life-long residents and newcomers, part of which also may involve class differences. To the extent that newer residents who commute identify more with the professional class, and with amenities such as arts and fine dining (mentioned by a few of our interviewees) compared to other residents who are more comfortable with informal DIY—do it yourself—community activities and fewer amenities overall, there will be tensions over community development in Evansville. Perhaps the most important wisdom about that tension comes from our interviewees who worry about Evansville reaching a tipping point and emphasize that growth needs to be careful and planned.