Smile Politely

Year of the Park, A to Z: Garden Hills Park, Champaign


Garden Hills Park 


1701 Bloomington Rd., Champaign, IL 61820

A picture of a walking path in Garden Hills park

Photo by Maddie Rice. 


This 4.5 acre park sits on the land attached to Garden Hills Elementary School. It has a quarter mile walking path, and an open, inviting playground, along with sports fields and courts. There is something really nice about having a soccer field all set up, and ready to become a pitch at any time. 

Photo by Maddie Rice. 

Look at that damned cypress tree above, too? At least, my friend who is an aborist at the University of Montana says it is from the cypress family. This is sort of an arborist’s monument, I think. I mean, I am not an arborist, but I could imagine being one. Just me and the trees, out there, together. Could be anywhere really? In a forest, or a local park, but me and that tree, we’d know each other, because I’d know what it was. 

Photo by Maddie Rice. 

Anyhow, it’s a helluva tree. 


At one time, Garden Hills was to be the the biggest residential development in Champaign. Cecil A. Ozier and his sons developed the land, offering affordable houses to middle class post-war families. According to this News-Gazette article from Mike Monson in 2008, for just nine thousand chips and $450 down, you could own a little slice of land with a small, but brand new home on it. Sure, the neighborhood was just getting started, but you could truly live out the American Dream, provided that you met some particular standards. 

Those standards are still being defined for the neighborhood, it seems. Recently, the City of Champaign moved the timetable up finallyfinally — on a long overdue drainage project, installing street lamps and sidewalks to the now marginalized neighborhood. That’s good. I mean, every other administration at City Hall for the past 75 years have basically ignored it, or rather, pushed it back, playing complicit to a problem rooted in funding and attention. 

But even this doesn’t really prioritize the need in the way I think it should. I get it: their hands are tied, there’s not enough money for this or that, it’s a long process, all of it. I am hopeful that this administration showcases the courage to get it done now — literally like, now — as a show of faith to a community that is currently begging to be heard. This is the sort of infrastructure work that demands attention immediately. 

Look, this is a series that we are running on the value of our parks and forest preserves. And the value of our city parks is defined by the neighborhoods that surround them. That’s written. We see it inside of any basic analysis of them, comprehensively. But I am not here to dig deep into that, not inside of this small column, anyhow. 

Bottom line, the future could be bright for this neighborhood, and if there were ever a centerpiece it could rally around, it’s this wonderful park, and this wonderful school, that has more potential to affect change than any other in the city. We just have to make it a priority. 

It’s a well kept park. The neighborhood cares about it, just as they care about the streets they live on, and the people who live there. If there is a truly passionate and deeply activist neighborhood in Champaign, it is Garden Hills. 

Once we invest into it, we will get to see what an improved community looks like. Personally, I am deeply gratified by that idea; the moment we stop thinking things can improve, they simply will not. 

Top Image by Maddie Rice. 

Related Articles