As we thought about what we wanted to see in Champaign-Urbana for 2024, we kept coming back to similar things we wished for in 2022 and 2023. We realized that these issues are important enough to keep talking about in 2024.
Reimagining urban planning and development
Earlier this year, we wrote about how all the empty spaces in C-U make us sad. In Downtown Champaign, the Destihl space is still sitting vacant, and the Art Theater was just reduced in price. Over in Midtown Champaign, the former Dallas and Co. and Habitat for Humanity ReStore spaces are still empty. The County Fair lot still has so much untapped potential off of Mattis and Springfield. Surely there are people who would love the opportunity to open their own business. But what opportunities are available to give people a chance to see their dreams come to reality? What grants and loans are available, and what access is available or denied to them? The Small Business Development Center frequently provides resources for those interested in learning more about running their own business, but what other obstacles are preventing people from bringing businesses and a truly thriving scene to C-U?
We realize there are many challenges and barriers to being able to start and operate a successful small business. Perhaps our wish is that we can connect community members to spaces that would best suit them in their pursuit of establishing one.
Bringing entertainment to the younger audience
We’re fortunate to have pretty amazing places to see performances in C-U on a larger scale, most notably Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, The Virginia Theatre, and State Farm Center. Those venues cover a lot of ground in terms of programming offerings and size, and we’re grateful they exist and provide experiences for the community. It’s true, staples that appeal to an older demographic tend to have a heavy presence, as that’s a large part of C-U. However, over the last few years, we’ve really enjoyed seeing those venues work to appeal to a slightly younger audience, and we hope to see more.
Seeing shows like comedian Hasan Minaj, musician The Kid Laroi, and YouTuber Kurtis Conner pop up has been great. We hope the larger venues in town continue to develop that sort of programming. Let’s not forget that younger generations will spend their money on entertainment.
State of surveillance, policing, and gun violence
While gun violence actually decreased between 2021 and 2022 (following national trends), that hasn’t stopped Champaign and Rantoul from wanting to increase the number of license plate readers, and more recently, the new Urbana Police Chief stating his appreciation and desire to have more on the east side of Wright Street. While the accuracy of these readers is debatable, we wonder why these cities wouldn’t put those thousands of dollars towards prevention programs that are proven to reduce gun violence like the ones suggested in the Champaign gun violence prevention blueprint. (Note: Surveillance was also part of the blueprint, but prevention has not gotten as much attention and could be a better long term plan with more funding.)
More dog parks
We have so many great parks in C-U and we’ve written before about how great it would be to share some of that space with our furry friends. Currently, the only options for dogs to run freely are at the very ends of Champaign and Urbana; in Champaign the dog park is close to, and neighborhoods where most of the houses have sizable yards. By putting places for dogs to play in smaller neighborhood parks — like Eisner, or Robeson in Champaign, or Carle or Lohmann in Urbana— people who walk their dogs in those areas could let them run around a bit, without having to pile into a car and drive. By converting a part of a few, more centrally located parks to fenced in spaces that could serve as dog parks or dog runs would be such a benefit to our communities.
With a major election year looming, there will be a huge focus on the big races. It’s more important than ever to pay attention to who is on the ballot at the local and state level. Our big wish here is for a group of thoughtful, competent candidates who are committed to Champaign County, and who are willing to put the needs of their constituents over their own. Make sure you’re registered to vote, educate yourselves on the candidates, and most importantly, vote. Though a presidential election will undoubtedly bring out larger numbers of voters, your participation is needed during midterm and off-year elections, too.
The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Louise Knight-Gibson, Julie McClure, Serenity Stanton Orengo, and Patrick Singer.