Here at Smile Politely, we love our parks. Our publisher, Seth Fein, wrote an article about every single park in Champaign-Urbana for last year’s Year of the Park series. Since March 2020, it became clear the rest of the community does too, as evidenced by the overflowing trash bins, and the number of tennis courts converted into pickleball courts, and the despair felt when there are no available chairs at the pool and you have to sit on a towel on the grass. It feels like park use in C-U is at an all time high, as the parks have offered and continue to offer a place to gather relatively safely in a time of pandemic uncertainty.
Last week, the Champaign Park District posted to Facebook, asking followers:
If we could add one amenity or feature to a park in Champaign, it should be ____
At last check, there were about 250 responses. The post — and the responses — got us thinking about what amenities we’d like to see at existing parks in Champaign, so we came up with a list. Disclaimers: This list only addresses Champaign Park District parks, is not all encompassing, and tries to be reasonable and (mostly) practical in terms of which amenities could realistically be added to existing parks (not facilities like the Leonhard Rec Center). That is, while it would be very awesome to have a ¼ mile track (like, a proper track, not just concrete) and an indoor ice rink, the footprints of existing parks can’t really accommodate them at this moment.
After reading through the comments, it’s clear that many people don’t know about existing amenities CPD offers at various parks and facilities. This underscores one of the themes in the comments, which was that many people revealed a bit of selfishness toward amenities in the parks they feel are “theirs.” We kindly push back to remind everyone that all the parks are for all the people, and parks in predominantly Black, Brown, and/or lower income neighborhoods deserve nice things, too. We believe CPD wants to have something a little different at each park, to encourage people to use all the parks. This is to say, perhaps we don’t need a particular type of fancy swing on each playground, or a splash pad and fitness trail / outdoor exercise equipment at each park.
Here are five amenities we’d like to see added to some of Champaign’s parks.
Dog Parks / Dog Runs
The existing Champaign Bark District is lacking: no shade, no seating, really far for most residents of Champaign. Yes, we have written about this before, including a whole ass editorial about it in 2020. We’re not alone in this thinking: there were a good amount of those 250 comments that expressed the same idea. We know that this is not practical for all parks, but there are certainly spaces to make dog runs in many of our existing parks. In keeping with CPD policy, they can be accessible by membership and key fobs. Some good candidates: Douglass, Eisner, Robeson, Powell, Spalding, Moore, and Heritage. These dog runs can be in mostly residential areas where people can walk their dogs, let them run around a little, meet and mingle with their neighbors and get on with their lives without having to haul themselves and their dogs to a stinky, dusty, seatless park in very southwest Champaign.
Dog runs will discourage people from letting their dogs run off leash in the parks.
One recurring theme in the comments was about accessibility, broadly. What does accessible mean? It could be wheelchair-accessible playground equipment (this is available at Eisner Park, by the way), more handicapped parking spots and/or more parking spaces so people aren’t crossing busy roads, and ensuring the sidewalks are level and clear of snow, ice, and debris. Adding accessibility to parks is a more involved endeavor, as it means soliciting feedback from park users and an accurate assessment of existing facilities, and seeing what is realistically possible for retrofitting some areas. Accessibility is a broad area, and it should be — it’s not just about access for wheelchairs and walkers, but also people with hearing impairment and reduced vision, seating at various heights, clearly marked parking spaces and crosswalks, and shaded areas.
Bathrooms / Water Fountains / Trash Cans
Building restroom facilities is more involved practically and financially, but having restrooms at most parks is a must. Porta Potties are not good enough, and not accessible for many park-goers. “But building restrooms at neighborhood parks like Clark Park is a waste of money,” you might say. This is to our point about all parks for all people — just because a park is located in a residential area does not mean that all park users are residents of that area. The diversity of facilities and attractions at different parks means that people want to visit parks in other neighborhoods.
Currently, there are water fountains at most, if not all, of the parks, but adding a few more would be beneficial to everyone, even our leashed animals (dogs, cats, ferrets). Turning on the water earlier in the season and turning it off before regular freezing would make the parks more inviting and usable.
The build up of garbage at all of the park facilities has been out of control, especially since the start of the pandemic. People are leaving their trash everywhere because they are jerks. People are leaving their trash everywhere because the bins are full. There aren’t enough trash receptacles. The trash isn’t being emptied enough. While CPD can’t do much about slobs leaving their garbage everywhere, they can incentivize people to dispose of their garbage by offering more trash and recycling bins, and emptying them more regularly.
Staff to Clean Bathrooms and Empty Trash Cans
More bathrooms and garbage cans requires more people to clean and maintain them. It’s certainly an investment to hire more staff to do this sort of work, but it’s one that will benefit everyone using the parks and facilities. Clean parks also make CPD look as good as the little flower plots they maintain all over town.
We felt this list wouldn’t be complete without a little levity and selfishness, and a little bit of hypocrisy. Even though we said this was an article about parks, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention regular, scheduled, adult swim time at Sholem pool. We’d like to float the lazy river in near silence, without the screams and splashes of children. We’d like to wade into the zero-depth pool, no play or spray in sight. Sometimes the grownups want to use the slide without judgment from children or side-eye from parents whose kids have been waiting in line forever. Is adult swim with cocktails asking too much? We don’t know, but we are putting it into the universe in hopes it will someday manifest. Does this need to be weekly? No. Monthly? Yes, that would be great. Rain dates? Please.
The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.