Smile Politely

Our 2023 C-U wishlist

As a concept, community and city planning or engineering have always been about the people — how to make workers’ lives easier, how to make a family’s life easier, or how to encourage an individual’s desire to engage with their community. 

Though much has been done and improved on, Champaign-Urbana has dropped the ball in some areas in recent years. Here are some things we’d like to see in 2023.

More COVID-19 Preventative Care

This year, we’re looking for a more involved and detailed preventative strategy for COVID. In Champaign County, as of December 2nd, the percentage of people testing positive for COVID who are not fully vaccinated is 33,661 (54%). This value opposes the number of people who are testing positive for COVID who are fully vaccinated, which is 27,925 (43%).

Let’s break this down a bit.

First off, with these numbers, we’re thrilled to see that vaccinated people are not testing positive for COVID as much as those who are not fully vaccinated. For those still on the fence, the difference between 33,661 and 27,925 is significant enough to highly consider vaccinating. 

In 2023, we hope to see bolstered campaigns to ensure that our unvaccinated citizens learn more about the benefits of vaccination and programs to help them get other necessary resources.

That said, preventative measures are extremely important for those who are still not vaccinated and even those who are vaccinated. We hope for a better balance between the desired comfort and the pandemic’s reality. 

We can respect that it will probably be challenging to monitor social gatherings of six or fewer in a home or apartment. However, we can/should assert preventative measures for large gatherings — as is the case with the State Farm Center, which holds 15,500 people. Even with this high capacity, the stadium’s current policy for University-sponsored events for masks is “masks are recommended, but not required.” 

This is a little wild. We’re currently looking at a high number of COVID hospitalizations in Illinois. People are still dying, vaccinated or otherwise, and we should include this level of empathy in planning events for our city.

At this point, it is no secret that COVID spreads faster in populations of higher concentration. To that end, a simple measure, such as changing the mask culture, works. Mandates of any kind aren’t really going to happen. But if we could change the culture of masking in the community, that would work well. It would be necessary to protect high-capacity events that are regularly happening at the State Farm center.

Considerations for Our Community

This situation is complex, of course, but the goal of restricting and having more preventative care for COVID isn’t simply to help hospitals reduce the number of beds available for COVID but also to prepare for other diseases coming.

For example, let’s add to the discussion of flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). As The News-Gazette explained, there has been an ongoing surge of RSV among children. This has caused Carle to add pediatric overflow beds in the hospital. These were previously set aside for adults with COVID. This is such an unnecessary tug-of-war.

In 2023, we hope that, as a community, we can increase our care for one another by encouraging and rewarding preventative COVID care (i.e., masks, six-foot spacing) at crowded public events like sports games, parties, or anything that requires lots of people.

It should not be the norm that hospitals are overflowing. 

Roadway Improvements

In 2023, we also wish for our C-U roadways to be improved. As recently as a month ago, CU Citizen Access explained how bad the streets of Champaign and Urbana truly are.

Chris Sokolowski A screenshot of the downtown Champaign area with road segments colored by their pavement condition index grade. Green represents good quality and red represents poor quality. Compiled by Chris Sokolowski. Image from CU Citzen Access website.

Image from CU Citizen Access. 

CU Citizen Acess used data from the Public Works Departments of the cities of Champaign and Urbana called the Pavement Condition Index (PCI). They offered the image above: red, indicating poor quality roads, and green, for good quality roads. 

They found that out of 3043 roads:

  • 948 qualified as good
  • 546 qualified as satisfactory
  • 525 qualified as fair
  • 429 qualified as poor
  • 351 qualified as very poor
  • 131 qualified as serious
  • 113 received a rating of failed completely

What’s worse? Those 3043 roads were not improved compared to the previous year’s database; 2225 (73%) had developed into worse conditions.

This data was from 2020. You drive on these roads. You don’t have to imagine how bad 2022 is. You know it. 

We should care about how poor road conditions affect people’s capacity to get to work and our community’s aesthetics. It not only affects the employees who need to get to their jobs, but it also affects families. It affects schools and the area’s property value while discouraging economic growth

If that’s not enough for you, let’s not exclude that poor roads cause accidents. This could be a pothole, a pothole frozen over, the shoulder of the road being uneven, and the list goes on. Consideration of how people move through C-U is essential to health and well-being. 

Reimagining Urban Planning and Development

In the last year or so, there has been a lot of empty space cropping up in both Champaign and Urbana. In October, the CVS at County Fair closed, and it was announced that the entire shopping center was for sale. The already partially-empty shopping plaza offers a ripe opportunity to add some greenery or a playground. We expressed as much in September: “At 33 acres, this space could also accommodate a paved path for runners, skaters, and bikers, as well as plenty of space for programming.” It just takes a little imagination and a good financial investment.

In Downtown Champaign, there are plenty of empty spaces, two of which are quite large. These include: 

  • The former Destihl restaurant’s space (a whopping 8,800 square feet)
  • The former Kofusion space
  • Pekara’s former Downtown location
  • The still-unopened Sakanaya Downtown
  • The Art Theater building that is just rotting away, awaiting a buyer

These spaces don’t all need to be restaurants or bars — they can be reimagined into something else. Virtually any cultural event space would be most welcome. Additional retail spaces would be, too. 

Likewise, the city of Urbana has a lot of potential. Currently, there are only a few restaurants Downtown, especially after losing Crane Alley and Dancing Dog; Black Dog’s location has not been open since 2020. More avenues for enrichment are desperately needed in general at this time. You can contribute your ideas to Urbana’s “Urban Realm Master Plan + Recommendations” phase.  

Ultimately next year’s municipal elections will be critical in determining which projects are prioritized in C-U. Our last wish for 2023 is high voter turnout for these elections. It’s the mayors and city councils that work to allocate funds and greenlight development projects. Don’t you want your elected officials to dedicate themselves to bettering C-U economically, culturally, and socially? We sure do. Be sure to vote in the primaries in February and again in general in April. In the meantime, contact your leaders to get what you need for your community.

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Trude Namara, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker. 

Top photo by Deborah Liu. 

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