Smile Politely

Year of the Park, A to Z: Harris Park, Champaign

As Year of the Park continues, we will be documenting every park in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, Champaign County Forest Preserves, along with other odds and ends between July 2020 and more like August or September 2021. You can see what has been covered thus far by clicking here. If you have suggestions or ideas or feedback, feel free to contact us at [email protected].

NAME

Harris Park  

LOCATION

700 S. Elm St., Champaign 

a lavender tree at Harris Park surrounded by deciduous trees

Photo by Maddie Rice. 

HISTORY AND FEATURES

Like much of America, when cities were first being developed through the lens of European civic design, and without automobiles in mind, the people who worked inside of municipal government were creating neighborhoods with care. You can see it in our history, and feel it in the old streets of both Champaign and Urbana. Neighborhoods were designed to be inviting, at least by comparison to the post-war suburban boom. 

A simple example of this exists at Harris Park, which is a thin strip of land that sits in the center of the boulevard on Elm St. between John and Charles. It was donated to the parks department all the way back in 1907 by Henry and Janet Harris, and another person named Elmer Stevenson, who was likely the sort of person you wanted to drink a snifter of brandy and talk about the Civil War times with. His name was Elmer, after all, so I am gonna make that bet. It’s a great name. 

There’s not much to it, really. There are some nice benches, and wonderful landscaping. There’s a garden named for Vincent Bellafiore, who was a head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at U of I for a long spell.

Old growth trees line the street, and in the summer, I promise, there are more bunny rabbits around here than another Elmer we all know could handle. My wife and I used to live off Elm and Ells when we were first falling in love, and we playfully called it “Bunny Boulevard” and said it in a voice that would mimic that of an old cartoon character of some kind. We were also very high on cannabis most of the time. 

park benches inside of Harris Park

Photo by Maddie Rice. 

ASSESSMENT

I very much love this little park. Granted, I have fond memories of hanging out here with my first girlfriend and our best friends on late nights in summer of 1999, and we spent time here both laughing and, and eventually crying, so there is a sentimental component for me that I just can’t shake. 

But this is also the only real “boulevard” type park in Champaign as far as I can tell, and it is a shame that we do not have more of them. Simple design, but brings neighbors together, and that should be the goal of every plot of land ever even considered for a new tract of land slated for development. That and a corner bar / restaurant as a gathering spot.

But hey, I didn’t go to school for this sort of thing. It appears the people in charge know exactly what they are doing! After all, I am just a petty, obnoxious amateur park critic. Believe me, it isn’t easy being so passionate about a better Champaign-Urbana. 

Anyhow, stop by Harris Park sometime, and you will see what I mean. It’s adorable. 

Top image by Maddie Rice. 

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