10 ways to lose your C-U virginity, part 4: Searching for the Elusive Silverback in the depths of Campustown
Even though the school bell is about to ring, Campustown isn’t just for students. The “townies,” especially the ones with mobility issues, require our respect and the lion’s share of the sidewalk. Or else…
My mom is old.
Yes, age is subjective; I get it. Bolivian Carmelo Flores Laura is supposedly the world’s oldest person, and he’s lived primarily on fox and lizard meat to reach the “ripe” old age of 123.
Our family calls my mom The Bionic Woman.
She has a pacemaker, an automatic de-fib unit, and a glockenspiel installed in her chest cavity just to keep her heart working. She has two prosthetic knees, and every time she pops down the footrest on her ol’ La-Z-Boy, I fully expect her to eject — Shih Tzu and all — up from underneath the TV tray, through the ceiling, and into the upstairs neighbor’s apartment.
Champaign has its share of the elastically challenged, too. According to the 2000 Census, of the city’s 27,071 households, 6.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The 2010 Census reported that number has increased by about a hundred folks or so.
Where are they all supposed to go when the world spills its “yutes” onto the streets of Campustown? I know if my mom were making her way down Green Street with her combo walker/wheelchair/rocket sled, I’d feel better if school was out.
By most reports, summertime business in Campustown has been good this year, and that’s due in part to us year-rounders: those who have called C-U home for decades. It serves the university and the community to make Campustown a place for everybody.
It is, as they say, by design. The four-and-a-half acre redesign embraced by the Hitchcock Design Group in 2000 that provides the backdrop to Campustown — which came in a half-million dollars under budget — incorporated built-in landscape spaces, ornamental grasses, elm trees, and benches backed up to planters. Michelle Ryan, an editor with LandscapeOnline.com, said that the design “reduced crime, provided adequate parking, and improved personal safety.”
It added extra room to the sidewalks, backlit some of the street signs, put up custom fencing to discourage jaywalking, and designed “knuckle” intersections to facilitate deliveries… all while keep traffic moving.
What I didn’t know was that U of I and the non-profit group “Campustown 2000” made the decision to revamp the area in order to create a welcoming atmosphere for the Chicago Bears and fans who came to U of I Memorial Stadium for their 2002-2003 NFL season.
So how is it holding up?
Well, Da Bears are gone, but the stadium, the students, the streets, and the senior citizens remain. I decided to brave Campustown during move-in day this past Thursday to find out.
I wanted to research a couple things that our elders think about when they come to town. Are there bathrooms? How far will I have to walk? Is there a place to sit down?
I stepped into half a dozen or more businesses on Green Street, asking an employee at each place my first question:
“If an older person came in here and wanted to use your restroom, but you KNEW they weren’t going to buy anything, could they?”
It was nearly unanimous.
Of those surveyed, all but one did not hesitate with the affirmative. Some even thought that I was the “older person” in question and offered to show me the way.
Christina Pett, an Optician at Illini Eyecare Express, said she has many elderly customers.
“We’ll even walk them out to their car if they need us; parking can be confusing.” Pett even went as far as to suggest that a new, special parking area and a shuttle might improve the original design for older shoppers.
As for a place to rest, the benches, planters, and custom fences abound. This is possibly an unintended benefit to the interesting design feature of barrier posts surrounding each corner.
I waited with Anne Johnston for the light to change at Fifth Street. She was in no hurry and used one of the posts as a place to rest her cane. Johnston was on her way to work and spun my perspective on this issue 180 degrees.
“You have to watch out for the kids,” she said. “They have their minds on other things, and they’ll walk right in front of you against the light.”
As with many great ladies of her day, Johnston wouldn’t tell me her age, but did tell me that she works at Campus Florist on Green Street every day of the week but Sunday. She has no problem making it around town.
“During the day it’s not much trouble. Outside the campus is fine,” she said. “At night it’s good to pair up, but I guess that’s true just about everywhere.”
What’s not true “just about everywhere” is a college-town community in which people of all ages, from around the world, look out for one another.
So, the next time you’re in a hurry behind somebody who’s a moving a little slower, you might take a moment to realize that your footsteps are heading in the same direction.
For more information about services and accommodations for your family members when they hit town, use the Champaign County Mini-Resource Guide for Seniors or contact Family Service of Champaign County.