“We’re going to live inside this ring”

Today’s subject comes from a News-Gazette article in today’s paper (“Since you asked: July 18, 2014“). In my limited experience, municipalities don’t appear to think about the end game too much – it’s all about growth. For example, several years ago I asked my village representatives what the goal population was, and the only answer was as big as possible. That is a horrible answer! The several local Comprehensive Plans and Strategic Plans I have looked at for Savoy, Champaign and Urbana are lacking in any kind of holistic picture of what population size we are aiming for.


There is another kind of growth that occurs without bounds. It is called cancer. And I think that pretty much describes our collective approach to planning these days – grab as much as possible, and damn the consequences.


In Thursday’s paper, the NG printed a copy of a column by Esther Cepeda, a resident in the Chicago area who has written quite a lot about Chicago and issues concerning education, politics, Latinos, ethics and poverty. The Thursday article is a very painful reminder of how a large city like Chicago has become extremely skewed, twisted and unmanageable. Bruce Knight (City of Champaign Planning & Development Director) tells me that Champaign is not Chicago, and while I totally agree, I also acknowledge that Chicago did not become what it is overnight, but rather over a century. It is the mentality of the people in charge that make the most difference. We have our own sordid stories of murder, rape and other heinous crimes; and if we were to map them all out (which I believe the City of Champaign does, but I cannot find it at the moment), those crimes tend to concentrate around specific geographic locations. I fear we are too “reactive” instead of being proactive. Please note that I am not laying the blame for our situation at the feet of any one person – rather, it is many long years of corrosion of the human condition. Just like cancer.


On several occasions on this blog, I have written about other issues like “social justice” (a term that is hard to nail down), poverty, racial and cultural inequities. I continue to assert that all these issues are interwoven with education, specifically free, public education that strives to equip all our learners with the tools necessary to succeed at life. It is my belief that a strong public support of this kind of education is not only a moral obligation (Dr. Edna Olive), but also one of the best forms of prevention for our societal health. Just like brushing teeth, eating healthy, exercising, and regular checkups. Or for another analogy, changing the oil in your vehicle and bringing it in for scheduled maintenance. And for those of you that like to think in business terms, the Return On Investment (ROI) is huge – for the little bit you put in day by day, you reap many more times in rewards and benefits.


Most likely, some day in the future we will have schools (plural, yes) north of I-74. Maybe we will have schools west of I-57. Maybe Tolono will put a school between Unity and Savoy. To me, all these are lesser of an issue than having a plan in place that will prevent the atrocities we see today. Yes, we are not the Chicago of 2014; let us not walk in the steps of Chicago of yesteryear. Pointing fingers at drug users, gang bangers and promiscuous women never solved the problem (“War on Drugs”? “War on Poverty”? “War on Terrorism”?). We need to address the root issues of these malignant behaviors in the first place, and I firmly believe that can successfully happen in the schools.


We do not know if we will have a massive November school referendum or not; we will probably see a question on the ballot about bumping property taxes significantly to build a new high school and to renovate one or more other schools. This community is widely divided on the issue of supporting such a referendum, because we are not on the same page at all. We have no overall plan for what is best for all of us. Instead we have personal agendas, rife with opinions, perspectives, history and experience. And too often our personal agendas are not compatible with others.


Board members say we have been talking for years (even decades). Yet with all this talk, we have no plan that maps out what our future will look like. Some say they are done talking and ready to walk. Draw me a ring.