Smile Politely

Reflecting on 2023

The view upon entering the new cocktail lounge Anthem in Downtown Champaign.
Alyssa Buckley

Each year, our Editorial Board takes a moment to reflect on what’s been happening in our community over the past year. We’ve looked back at our 2023 Wishlist, considered some of the topics we’ve tackled these last 12 months, and have some thoughts to share about 2023 in Champaign-Urbana and beyond.

The COVID landscape

As each year passes, COVID becomes less and less a part of our daily conversations. We’ve shifted in endemicity, and while its after-effects still linger, it is not having the massive impact on our community, and the world, that it once did. Champaign-Urbana Public Health is still tracking cases, though with most cases revealed through home testing, it’s very difficult to gauge the accuracy. With the triple-whammy of RSV, COVID, and flu season upon us, Carle is reporting an upswing in all of those in the emergency department. 

The University of Illinois Shield Project, whose saliva testing for COVID was instrumental in helping the community and state navigate the pandemic, shut down in May once federal resources and COVID mandates ended. In September, the latest COVID booster was approved by the FDA, and is now available in a variety of locations, as are flu, RSV, and pneumonia vaccines. We’ve been in an every-person-for-themselves sort of situation for a long time now. Take care of yourself, get vaccinated, stay home if you’re sick and if you can’t, please wear a mask. 

Gun violence in C-U

This year was the first opportunity to really put the Champaign Gun Violence Prevention Blueprint into action, with funds being allocated to a wide variety of local organizations that are doing the sort of work that data has shown makes a positive impact. In October, The News-Gazette reported on the amounts that each group spent, revealing that Champaign Unit 4 Schools spent none of the $526,620 they were allotted for gun violence prevention initiatives outlined in the Blueprint, while a majority of the others utilized their money. It was a frustrating revelation to say the least, especially after a shooting near Booker T. Washington Elementary School. To address the issue, Unit 4 is instead spending money on hardening schools

The city recently released the second year of funding initiatives for the Blueprint. The sorts of programs that are being funded involve investment in youth, families, and adults in communities most impacted by gun violence, and it’s a long game approach, but data from the City of Champaign shows a reduction in shooting incidents, which is great to see. 

While Urbana doesn’t necessarily have a specific gun violence prevention blueprint like its neighboring city, in this look at decreasing gun violence statistics by CU-Citizen Access, Mayor Diane Marlin notes that the city has “allocated $10 million from our American Rescue Plan Act [ARPA] funds toward fixing root causes in the community, such as housing security, food security, job training, health wellness and youth programming.”

Infrastructure things

Probably the most promising and welcomed infrastructure development of this year is seeing improvements to the Garden Hills neighborhood come to fruition. Last year we were excited about the expedited timeline of these projects, thanks to ARPA funding. Now things are actually happening. Street lights have been added to the neighborhood, and construction on Hedge Park is underway. 

We are continuing to lament empty spaces in our downtowns and other business districts in C-U. There is so much possibility out there for making this community even more vibrant. In Champaign, the Art Theater, even with a newly reduced price, remains one of the saddest vacancies. Downtown Urbana has had some good infill, with Encanto, Main Scoop, and Gallery Art Bar opening. We are still…very…patiently…waiting for the Hotel Royer to open

Cultural development

Since the closing of C Street, we published many articles about the need for an LGBTQ+ space: Six years ago, three years ago, and as recently as this past summer. It became a reality just a few weeks ago when Anthem opened in the former Soma space in Downtown Champaign. It seems like a very promising endeavor, and will hopefully provide the inclusive space that is so needed. We’re seeing other positive trends on the music venue front, with small stages in C-U: the sheer volume of acts at Rose Bowl Tavern, new endeavors like Gallery Art Bar and The Space, and investment in the stage at the Independent Media Center are all encouraging signs. 

Local Elections

This past year was a municipal election year, with the Unit 4 School Board shaking things up a bit, and just a little movement on the Champaign City Council. As with most more localized non-presidential elections, turnout was pretty abysmal. We stated in our related editorial, “these are mostly just regular people who are your neighbors, wanting to serve their community. We can’t let the lack of pizazz deter us from paying attention and casting our votes.” We need to keep this in mind as the 2024 election cycle looms, with major attention grabbing (and exhausting) races at the top of the ticket. There will also be a bunch of regular folks running for county positions, and those folks can make a big difference in our day to day lives. 

As an Editorial Board, we will have written 34 articles in 2023, touching on topics ranging from mascots and outdoor cats, to climate change and school board decisions. Sometimes you applaud us, and sometimes you strongly disagree. Either way, as community members with this platform, these conversations are important for us to have, and we genuinely thank you for your continued readership and engagement. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Louise Knight-Gibson, Julie McClure, Serenity Stanton Orengo, and Patrick Singer.

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