Smile Politely

BEST Culture 2023

A collage of three photos, left to right: Kingfisher, a DJ at a pride event, and a quantum network image
L-R: The Kingfisher UIUC on Facebook; Mae Antar/IPM News; Grainger College of Engineering

When I first took this position as Culture Editor, I kept asking myself: What exactly is the best way to sum up the culture of Champaign-Urbana? Where should I start? It turns out, what makes the culture of Champaign-Urbana so incredible are the people in this community. From touring the Ricker Library with Siobahn Micissick, to learning the history of Homecoming, to interviewing the one and only Spank Knightly, I have gotten to meet and learn from some amazing people this year. 

— Louise Knight-Gibson, Culture Editor

Intersection of Green Street and McKinley Avenue, Champaign, looking west on Green Street. There are four stop signs.
Jessica Hammie

BEST response to car accidents: Adding stop signs

After a handful of accidents at McKinley and Green Streets in Champaign, the city conducted a traffic study and decided to put in a four-way stop at McKinley and Green and Russell and Green. This is why we pay taxes and have public works and urban planning and other city departments that make changes when something is wrong. This is government working to make things better and safer for people! (JH)

An illustrated cat wearing a green kimono and holidng a leaf in one hand.
Julie McClure

BEST festival revival: Matsuri

For the first time since 2019 the Matsuri festival returned to Japan House. In my interview with Director Diana Liao, we chatted about the way the pandemic affected Matsuri, but how it was going to come back stronger than ever. Her passion and enthusiasm was evident in our chat and in the details that went into the festival itself. The experiences, entertainment options — and of course the food vendors — were fantastic. C-U showed up in a big way, clearly excited to have the festival back. (LKG) 

A stage with a DJ standing at a turntable between two large speakers. There are rainbow flags overhead and large balloon filled letters that say "VC PRIDE"
Mae Antar/IPM News

BEST new pride celebration: Pride in Danville

The Vermillion County Pride Coalition hosted their inaugural Pride celebration in Danville this year. In my interview with board vice president, Bonnie Marrow, we chatted about her expectations prior to the event. There was a great turnout and so much support from local establishments and community members. (LKG) 

A Kingfisher mascot is spreading its wings in front of a fountain with orange water and a group of people behind it. The mascot is a bird with a large grey beak blue, white, and orange feathers, and a blue and white body with an orange belt.
The Kingfisher UIUC on Facebook

BEST manifestation of a long-running project: The Kingfisher mascot costume

We have talked a lot about our favorite student-created mascot and why the Kingfisher is such a great option. This summer, the students behind the Kingfisher finished the mascot costume and the unofficial mascot has been showing up at all sorts of campus events this semester. After all of the work that went into the costume, it’s so fun to see the students and community embracing it.  (LKG)

A woman with dark hair stands in front of a purple and orange curtain in front of a table with adaptive clothes.
Equability Instagram

BEST new business dedicated to accessibility: Equability 

This year Hilary Pham launched Equability here in C-U. The adaptive clothing company believes in change[ing] clothes, so people don’t have to. Equability sells their own adaptive clothing, but will also adapt people’s own clothes for them. (LKG)

A digital illustration of a fiber optic network.
Grainger College of Engineering on YouTube

BEST thing that elicits excitement, even though most of us don’t know what it really means: World’s First Public Quantum Network

The Grainger College of Engineering recently launched the world’s only quantum network this year. I won’t do you any favors by trying to explain it to you, but you can watch this video or read our recent article if you want to know more about it. (LKG)

A side order of pancakes with a bacon upgrade.
Sean Ferrell

BEST use of PulsePoint: Saving the life of a beloved C-U resident

PulsePoint is an app that helps first responders connect with people in need. This fall it helped Shannon Walter, a Champaign Park District employee and CPR instructor, save the life of Lester Lindsey, a longtime employee of the Original Pancake House, who was in cardiac arrest. Walter performed CPR and saved his life. Lindsey is still in recovery and you can donate to his GoFundMe account. (LKG)

Two e-bikes are wedged in between two branches of a tree.
Spotted in Chambana on Facebook

BEST Enemies to Lovers moment: These two love birds

Having electric bikes that you can rent all around town is a great transportation option. There are two competing companies, Bird and Veo, but they had a sweet moment up in this tree together. We really love to see them getting along. (LKG)

A Barbie doll in a dress and apron is standing by a table, holding a brush. The table holds an open book, silver cup, and cat figurine.
Preservation and Conservation at the University of Illinois Library on Facebook

BEST way a global phenomenon showed up here: Conservator Barbie

The Preservation and Conservation department at the University of Illinois Library is always thinking of creative things, but our favorite this year was conservator Barbie, which was created this summer during the Barbie movie’s domination at the box office. The makeover included a sparkly sewing frame, a stippling brush, a broken case binding, and a gingham book snake. (LKG)

From the dance floor at Anthem, the view above is disco balls and lights.
Alyssa Buckley

BEST community response to a new business: LGBTQ+ response to Anthem 

Smile Politely has been a big advocate for queer friendly spaces. So when we announced that a new inclusive bar was coming to Downtown Champaign, it was amazing to see the response from all of you. We received so many comments and emails expressing excitement about finally having an inclusive and safe space for queer people in C-U. (LKG)

A yellow metal box on a stand next to a parking lot. It says Ballot Drop Box in blue block letters.
Champaign County Clerk & Recorder on Facebook

BEST voting accessibility development: Permanent vote-by-mail

So this technically went into effect in 2022, but it’s important enough to be included, especially since we are gearing up for a big (and likely messy) election cycle. While we watch Republican-run states make voting increasingly more difficult, particularly for marginalized communities and people of color, we can thank the universe and JB Pritzker that we are in a state that realizes the importance of voter access. Our own Champaign County Clerk and Recorder Aaron Ammons has been a proponent of vote-by-mail, and is continuing to make it a priority in our elections.The new permanent vote-by-mail option allows you to sign up once, and then receive a mail-in ballot for each election cycle. If you decide to vote in person, that’s okay! I’ve done that before. If you don’t want to get a ballot in the mail, then don’t sign up. You do you! Choice is a great thing! (JM)

Screenshot of a video of an emu crossing I-74 in Champaign on a sunny day.
Amanda Brennan on Twitter

BEST local emu: This emu 

The emu doesn’t have a name (yet!), but it has captured our hearts and imaginations for a better part of 2023. We are inspired by its tenacity and can relate to its need to pursue a better life, free from the hindrances of society. I cannot say it better than Editorial Board member and SP writer Mara Thacker

“I think we all crave freedom to be majestically awkward and move freely within the world, to live without the constant threat of oppressive politics and fascism hanging over our heads, jamming a conservative Christian ideology down our throats. This stupid bird evading authority is a symbol of hope for a better future. We are all the emu. Long live the emu!” (JM)

Jessica Hammie, Louise Knight-Gibson, and Julie McClure contributed to this article.

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