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Published: 1 year 13 weeks ago

Last week, the city of Champaign completed excavation and plugging of a pipe that neighborhood activists believe once carried toxic chemicals from a nearby manufactured-gas plant to Boneyard Creek.

But state environmental officials and the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign still don't see eye to eye on whether the pipe is connected to the site at Fifth and Hill streets that once produced gas to light and heat homes by burning coal and oil. Power utilty Ameren Illinois now owns the site and is nearing the end of its two-year-long, voluntarily environmental cleanup of the property.

The city agreed to excavate and plug the pipe after the neighborhood group, organized by the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, threatened a lawsuit alleging violations of the Clean Water Act. (Read more about that here.)

Members of the group were present June 30 during the second phase of the excavation and found material in the pipe they believe to be toxic coal tar...

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Published: 1 year 14 weeks ago

CU-CitizenAccess.org went to Detroit last weekend as part of a trip to the Allied Media Conference.

While there, we touredThe Heidelberg Project - basically an outdoor art museum of found objects spanning a two-block area that was once riddled with vacant, dilapidated properties and crime.

This project transformed the neighborhood into an international tourist attraction. (see photos at the end of this post)

It reminded me of Champaign resident Steve Gilbert, who gave me an interview for the story we ran this week on nuisance housing in the twin cities.

Gilbert said it doesn’t take much effort for his neighbors to clean up areas that have been overlooked - such as the vacant lot down the street.

Gilbert lives in a quiet, “close-knit” community on the north side where Champaign and Urbana meet.

His house is on a kind of main drag through the area, where if he sits outside for more than five minutes, every person that passes...

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Published: 1 year 15 weeks ago

Here at CU-CitizenAccess, we love data.

If you've browsed the site, read our stories or viewed our maps and interactive graphics, that probably doesn't come as a surprise. But, as we've learned in our reporting, sometimes tracking down that data we need can be difficult.

Earlier this week, Gov. Pat Quinn announced a new website that will hopefully make that task easier in the future. Data.Illinois.gov is intended to provide citizens with access to information from a variety of state agencies.

The site, a project of the Illinois Innovation Council, already has some data sets from the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Department of Revenue and the state Environmental Protection Agency.

The idea is to provide the public - including businesses, academics and web developers - with "a comprehensive source of information on how state government operates," according to the governor's office...

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Published: 1 year 16 weeks ago

Food and hunger have gained national attention recently as new studies have highlighted the impact of “food deserts” and “food insecurity” on our local communities.

“Food deserts” are defined as areas where access to nutritional and affordable food is scarce and “food insecurity” is defined as the lack of money and resources to get enough food to eat. (See our stories here)

Food experts applaud the use of private and public food assistance programs to fill the growing need; however, some are concerned that the abundance and low cost of processed foods will increase health problems.

“Research shows that people typically travel to the closest food option,” said Brandon Meline, director of child and maternal health management at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

Grocery stores usually build in higher socio-economic areas, Meline said. And while most people in the Champaign-Urbana...

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Published: 1 year 17 weeks ago

Right now, I’m working on a story for CU-CitizenAccess about the unique challenges facing people living near or below the poverty level in rural Champaign County. Since I began researching this story a few weeks ago, one fact has stuck out as being particularly odd: By some definitions, Champaign County is not rural.

In the early fact-finding stages of my reporting, I tracked down some reports that seemed very useful. One was an Illinois Poverty Summit report from 2004 with the subtitle, “An Analysis of Rural Poverty.” Although it was a few years old, it seemed like a good starting point.

The report begins, “Rural Illinois is experiencing greater and greater declines in its well-being, growing barriers to economic viability and increasing disadvantage for economic and human development. 74 of Illinois’ 102 counties are rural, non-metropolitan counties. Almost half of these rural counties have poverty rates higher than the state rate....

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Published: 1 year 18 weeks ago

The Farmers Market on Historic North 1st Street will be open from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays, beginning June 9.

Market Manager Wendy Langacker explains the market's history and how Link card users can get double values by shopping there. (Republished with permission - original post can be seen here) 

 

By Wendy Langacker / The Farmers Market on Historic North 1st Street is a new market, but from its inception, was borne of an association of concerned business owners who also understood civic responsibility.

The business owners decided that something must be done to increase business, but how should they approach it? The area experienced ample traffic, but little of the traffic stopped to frequent their businesses.

Part of the problem was the area had seen crime and deterioration for many years. A result of that situation was that the economic situation of the businesses, as well as the surrounding neighborhood was continuing...

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Published: 1 year 21 weeks ago

Urbana’s Market at the Square made its season debut this past weekend and rankled some patrons with a new policy prohibiting pets. While the Saturday morning famers market at Vine and Illinois streets is no longer open to the four-legged, organizers are continuing a program that began last year to make the market more accessible to low-income shoppers.

As CU-CitizenAccess reported last year, the city’s weekly market now accepts Link cards, which low-income individuals and families in Illinois use to access their federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (formerly known as food stamps). By purchasing tokens, called “Market Scratch,” with their Link cards, shoppers can use their benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetable and other eligible foods.   As of last summer, nearly 21,000 Champaign County residents were receiving the federal food benefits, up more than 25 percent from 2006.   Director Lisa Bralts said the Market...
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Published: 1 year 23 weeks ago

Last week, the Urbana-Champaign Continuum of Care released the results of its biennial point-in-time survey of the local homeless population.

The count was conducted in late January as part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's effort to gain a better understanding of the prevalence and characteristics of homelessness nationwide. The data is used to determine funding levels for local HUD housing programs.

To learn more about how the survey was conducted, listen to this audio story CU-CitizenAccess produced with Illinois Public Media.

Below is a series of interactive graphics offering a deeper look at the numbers.

 

While this graph shows a rise in the homeless population since 2005, Darlene Kloeppel, who oversees the survey for the Continuum of Care, has said this may be partly due to greater participation from local shelters.

 





According to HUD...

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Published: 1 year 24 weeks ago

Over the past 10 years, income in Champaign County has changed dramatically.

More residents are living in extreme poverty, while making less money (and more money) and paying more for housing costs. (See related income map and housing map)

In mid-December, the U.S. Census Bureau released five-year estimates on nearly everything from poverty levels, income, housing values and employment.

Five-year estimates are more accurate than annual ones because more households are surveyed.

Unlike the U.S. Census, the American Community Survey is just that –a  detailed survey of select households in an area across several categories including income, population, race, education and housing.

Though updated data is available for every county each year through the American Community Survey, this is the first time that data will be available for every place, census tract and block group.

Census tracts are small, statistical...

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Published: 1 year 24 weeks ago

By Pam G. Dempsey/ The University of Illinois has been the largest recipient of federal stimulus money according to an analysis of data provided by Propublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom.

Data for this blog was compiled by ProPublica, whose complete stimulus coverage can be found here

The University received more than $135 million in federal stimulus money through December 2010. The money was received from 195 different grants – the largest of which was for the Big Broadband project at $22 million. (Click to see what the money is spent on.)

That makes up 57 percent of the total awarded to the more than 120 recipients in Champaign County since 2009 as of the fourth quarter of 2010 -  collective $234 million. (See interactive pie chart below).  

Low-to-moderate income residents ranked second in federal stimulus dollars as collectively, they received a total of $14.3 million for guaranteed single-family  home loans....

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