The rivalry between Chicago and downstate Illinois gets played up a lot, but what do we have to be competitive about? We're all Illinoisans. Are we really that different? And if we can't agree on where downstate Illinois actually begins, can we call it a real distinction?
According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, the term "downstate" doesn't have a specific definition in regards to Illinois:
For some Illinoisans, downstate begins at the southwest city limits of Chicago. Others would claim that any area north of I-80 is "outstate," and that downstate does not really begin until one reaches Bloomington.
Should it even matter what geographic area we identify with if we are all Illinoisans? We all endured the polar vortex together, we've all borne the shame of having to send so many governors to jail and we all want to see the best for our state. But living in the urban jungle of Chicago and living in the suburban, rural and small-town environment of the rest of the state produces distinctly different lifestyles. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago:
Downstaters both fear and envy Chicago. Downstaters are convinced that Chicago gets "their" highway money and "their" school funds. Chicago equals big city, big city equals crime, noise, traffic, welfare, and poverty. Forgotten--except to the occasional tourist--are the architectural wonders of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Lake Michigan, the exchanges that buy and sell downstate's agricultural produce, the Art Institute, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera, the parades, festivals, and the sheer wealth and exuberance of America's "most livable" big city.
To be sure, many Chicagoans probably feel the same way about downstate: envious of their space, lower taxes and cost of living and possibly safer neighborhoods and fearful of the boredom that comes with massive expanses of corn fields and soybeans.
Chicagoans and Downstaters are sometimes even culturally distinct. This map from Roll Call shows U.S. House of Representatives 2014 election preferences. Chicago and the surrounding areas are steadily Democrat-leaning, while most of the rest of the state leans Republican to varying degrees (though voter preferences are a little more up in the air around St. Louis and the Quad Cities).
This map from Trulia shows that houses are more expensive in and near Chicago than most of the rest of the state:
As Chicagoans will moan about and Downstaters will brag about, gas is significantly more expensive in Chicago, according to this map by illinoingasprices.com. (Gas seems to be particularly cheap in the central part of the state. The real question, though, is does that count as downstate?)
There's a reason Illinois has been called a microcosm of the whole country: all of the variations mean Illinoisans are a blend of all the best of the state and the U.S.: The cultural exchange, excitement and of the big city and the picturesque nature, small-town charm and agriculture of downstate, plus a healthy amount of political intrigue and hometown competition. From the Encyclopedia of Chicago:
Of course, to combine all the strength of Chicago with the quiet beauty of Southern Illinois (which is geographically and spiritually closer to Mississippi than it is to Chicago) is to realize that Illinoisans have the best of all worlds, and that Teddy Roosevelt was right when he said almost a hundred years ago that Illinois is the most American of all the states.
Even if we can all agree that the differences between downstate and Chicago can be good for the state, the rivalry can still be fun. Where do you think downstate starts? How do you identify yourself?
Check out more maps at Reboot Illinois to see how Chicagoans and Downstaters speak differently (soda or pop?) and take the survey about where you think downstate really begins:
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