University Park is one of those places that stands between modernity and rustic, down-to-earth charm. Situated in rolling farms that have withstood generations upon generations of families, the place is a great escape from the fast-paced life of downtown Chicago.
Formerly known as Wood Hill and Park Forest South, the village is situated in Will County, Illinois. It also has a small portion situated in Cook County. Consequently, it is divided in two congressional districts: Will County west of Governors Highway and Cook County. The place is multicultured, although 90 percent of the place is ethnically dominated by African Americans. The rest of the population is divided, with Caucasians and Hispanics coming in second and third.
University Park has a tight-knit atmosphere to it –more like a family structure. And just like families, there are strict norms that need to be followed in order to maintain peace and harmony among its residents. Some of these rules might seem a bit conservative and traditional, like being reprimanded for wearing your pants low. You can also get some “scolding” if you neglect your lawn. It’s not, however, stuffy. It balances its traditional values with modern ideas, a fact which its mayor, Vivian Covington, sums up very well:
“It’s quiet and away from the hubbub of the city…but we work hard to keep it safe, add jobs, keep up the neighborhoods and raise the kids. People call this town ‘U.P’ for short and that spells ‘up.’ That’s where we’re going.”
University Park has one of the lowest crime rates, which can largely be attributed to its police force. Law enforcers go out of their way here, and they place great importance in communication. Police Chief Mel Davis’ “Coffees with the Chief” program is one example. Its goal is to open the lines between the police and the community, and provides a safe haven for individuals (and groups) to air out their grievances.
Many are optimistic that the new exchange at U.S. Interstate 57 and Stuenkel Roadwill would increase University Park’s economic development, attracting many restaurants and national retailers to set up shop. Covington has also revealed her plans of improving the Town Center, the main hub of the town, while the student housing project at Governors State University is on its way to completion.
Things to Do
University Park offers a lot of recreational amenities, with great art venues and features, such as Tony Tasset’s work, “Paul 2006”, which is a giant statue that Tasset made. Golfers can practice their swings at the University Golf Club or the Deer Creek Golf Club, while sports enthusiasts can go to the Riegel Farm complex and other parks to play baseball or soccer during weekends. Anglers will also enjoy fishing catfish and bass at Pine Lake, and everyone can enjoy the Family Fun Day, weekly concerts and farmers markets in the summer that University Park hosts.
Living in this place is truly a refreshing feeling , a breath of fresh air that is welcoming and comforting at the same time. Yet despite its drive for progress, University Park is still very much “country” at heart.
“Some people think this is the end of the world and way too rural,” said Milton Payton, a village trustee. “Others love it.”