I spent some time exploring and photographing the mini parks of Champaign recently. The spaces varied quite a bit depending one where they were located, and surprisingly I didn’t capture any people enjoying these spaces. This was completely by accident. However, what I discovered was a wonderful variety of neighborhoods in Champaign that I plan to revisit with my family, with mini parks that are meant to provide a space for people to rest, enjoy a quiet moment, have a picnic, play a game, or just enjoy the scenery.

I had the chance to find out more about the mini parks of the Champaign Park District from Chelsea Norton, the Director of Marketing and Communications for CPD.

Smile Politely: What makes each mini park a park?

Chelsea Norton: Mini Parks are specialized properties that the Park District primarily utilizes for signage, beautification projects, and program advertising. These parks serve as a gateway to the Park District and the community it serves. Mini Parks are often situated on busy corridors and serve as a respite for pedestrians. It is preferable for these parks have bench seating, ornamental plant material, or some other modest amenity. Other municipalities may call a similar space a "parklet" or "pocket park" but here in Champaign the name "mini park" just kind of stuck.

SP: How do the parks get named and designated?

Norton: A name often honors someone or something significant in connection to the park's location — some parks are simply named after the subdivision they're in — but generally speaking the Park District Board of Commissioners designate park names officially by vote.

SP: How are the spaces used?

Norton: The majority of mini parks are used passively, with shade trees and seating being the most attractive feature. There are, however, a few mini parks with basketball courts, picnic areas, and grills. Some of the mini parks, especially those next to busy streets, have larger park signs that are used to advertise upcoming events or programs on replaceable banners.

SP: How to you think these parks improve the community?

Norton: Public open space that's cared for and attended to — even when small — is a subtle reminder, or reassurance, that we value the very idea of community. Preserving green space is incredibly important, and we’re grateful to have as much of it as we can!

SP: Are there ways any of the parks are particular individualized or unique?
Norton: Some mini parks are very small without park signage, while others are the center of boulevard-like avenues. All of them are special in some way; Trevett Finch Park, for instance, with its picturesque Osage Orange tree is an iconic gateway into Champaign when driving eastbound on University Avenue.

SP: Do you have a list of parks to visit?

Norton: The Champaign Park District's Program Guide is available at all our facilities and in PDF form on our website. The Program Guide has a thorough listing of our parks with corresponding location map. 

Photos by Angela Waarala