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Chicagoland and downstate Illinois share a state. But how are we connected? Illinois may be one of the least evocative states in the nation because there is no picture the mind can draw of what "Illinois" means because these two parts seem to have so little in common.
Milwaukee feels like it is Wisconsin. Mpls/StP feels like it is Minnesota. But Chicago and Chicagoland don't feel like Illinois. Regretably if you gave Chicago area folks a test on Illinois geography and Wisconsin geography, I fear the later would get better results. Chicago area folks know Wisconsin better than they know Illinois (IMHO)
As a state, we come together in very few places, notably Springfield and Champaign/Urbana.
Look, I don't ask this question with any bias. I'm in Chicagoland but wish there was a more unified feel to our state. I also realize that the changes in demographics of the 20th century and into the present one have created an unfortunate situation with one corner of the state holds 2/3 of its population. I think that is a very unhealthy number when it comes to the representation of those portions of Illinois outside of Chicagoland (note: I use the term "downstate" for all of Illinois outside of Chicago regardless of location; with that definition Galena and Rockford are downstate. I do so because that is the connotation of "downstate" here in Chicago and the suburbs. I don't know if it is an offensive definition for those in other parts of the state and if it is, I certainly am not using the term to be offensive). Politically I know that downstate Illinois is one of the most marginalized parts of the nation because of the state's demographics. And I realize that for many people downstate there is something very wrong with the picture of Illinois as being, by far, the most reliably "blue state" between the two coasts (and I say that, for the record, as someone who is "blue", but someone who believes in equity).
So what are the things that do join us? How do downstaters see Chicago, Chicago's suburbs, and all of Chicagoland? And how do those three places see downstate Illinois? And how much a sense of "being part of" is there in both areas? And is there more differentiation on how the state is viewed downstate than I might think? For example, is it possible that people in southern Illinois, with their common roots with areas south of the Ohio River, actually see non-Chicago northern Illinois having more in common with Chicagoland than it does with southern Illinois? If you are in Dectaur, would you think that Rockford has more in common with Chicago than it does with your city? Again, I don't know, but would be interested in your responses.
Wanted to bring up a point that I think is helpful.
Whether anyone likes Dick Durbin or not I believe he helps Illinois.
He is from Downstate I believe around the St. Louis area and I think it's good to have a
higher ranking official in the nations capital representing Illinois/
Seems he has a good grasp at the different make-up and flavors across the state and its differences.
In addition I believe Illinois does a poor job promoting what the state has to offer outside of the Chicago area.
I realize Chicago is probably the money maker do to it's size but there are other areas that showcase this state.
IMO Peoria is probably about as close to what Illinois is like once you take the Metropolitan area out of the picture.
Mixture of Industry both large and small , family oriented but has a flavor of a mid size city.
It is almost as if the Chicago area really is a different state all together.
However I keep an open mind and enjoy Illinois for what it has to offer.
Other areas in the country are probably similar
NYC and Upstate NY
LA and then the areas to the East in the deserts.
One thing I don't quite understand: Chicago not "feeling" like Illinois...Chicago *is* Illinois. Chicago is the economic and cultural center of the state. It has a vast metropolis, it has sprawling suburbs, it has little exurbs surrounded by farming communities and cornfields. It feels just as much a part of Illinois as Mke does Wisconsin or the Twin Cities do Minnesota. And Chicago definitely represents the urban/rural divide that many states of the Midwest suffer too greatly from.
A couple of points I take issue with from the OPs original post:
1-The blue state/red state divide in IL is not at all unique to IL. You can look at urban/rural differences in most states and pick up the same thing. Especially when you toss aside less urban areas that may align blue for demographic reasons, ie, heavily Hispanic areas along the border in Texas, heavily African American areas in the south. An example using 2004 presidential election results by county (2004 being more appropriate to use for IL because it eliminates the home state effect of Obama):
2-I don't understand how exactly Downstate is marginalized. In the press or through tourism coverage? Maybe. Politically and economically? Not at all. From a federal and state taxation perspective, Chicagoland generates the overwhelming majority of the tax $$$ in the state, but per head, downstate receives more dollars. Downstate pays less per head but receives more per head. You can see this in terms of federal payroll tax paid as a % of income and social security, medicare, medicaid received per head or as a % of income. You can also see it in how transportation dollars are distributed in the state. If the area was marginalized, the region wouldn't be receiving the net economic benefits it does.
When you're looking at cultural the cultural divide between downstate and Chicagoland, there is one major issue at play to me: Chicago is a complete anomaly in the US when it comes to the location of dense urban areas. There are plenty of mid-sized, medium density urban areas away from the coast in the USA (Cincy, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, KC, etc.). There are also many more sprawling larger urban areas away from the coasts (Atlanta, Dallas, and so on). Chicago is really the only example of a high density, larger urban area off the coast. Larger and more dense urban areas tend to be in states with greater rural density and they are also in states with multiple urban areas that kind of balance out the political negotiation process. So in IL you've got this wide chasm between Chicago and the rest, whereas places like Philadelphia has Pittsburgh, Scranton-Wilkes Barre, industria Erie as counterparts. NY (which also has a divide similar to IL) at least also has Buffalo, Rochester, and areas like Syracuse and Albany. FL has Miami, but also Tampa and Orlando. CA has SD, LA, the Bay Area, and Sacramento. And so on. These secondary urban areas tend to be points of compromise between the really large urban and rural areas of a state. FL's politics don't look like Miami's, but they don't look like rural FL's either. They tend to be somewhere in between (Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville). Those areas are more or less the political fulcrum of the process.
IL has no political fulcrum because there isn't a secondary urban area of enough size and economic influence in the state. Rockford, Peoria, Springfield, Champaign simply aren't big enough to perform this function.
Re: lack of identity of downstate. Let's be honest here. How do you sell downstate IL as a unique proposition (business, tourism, etc.). Outside of that Land of Lincoln thing (and IN and KY have decent claims to this as well), what is there outside of Chicagoland in IL that is different or better than what one would find in WI, IN, OH, MI, KY, MO, etc? Just as important, how easy is it to get to the things at the top of the downstate list from a major urban area/major airport?
Madison-relatively short drive from Milwaukee.
Great Lakes coastline or WI and MI-relatively easy access from Chicago
Indiana U/Brown County/architecture in Columbus--within an hr of Indpls Intl Airport. Less than 90 minutes from Cincinnati and Louisville too.
More charming river towns along the Oh-within an hour of either Louisville or Cincy.
"True wilderness/deep woods"-not close to anything, but if you want it, you've got to go to northern WI, MI and MN for it.
Outside of maybe Starved Rock, how easy is it to get to other state draws: towns along Mississippi, national forests near the Ohio River, etc?
I'm not trashing the non-Chicago portion of IL here. It's not that it's a bad area. It's just that it really isn't all that different. What makes Peoria different from Ft Wayne, In or Grand Rapids, MI for example?
First of all Chicago is an Alpha city that has no competition, and the only alpha city in the Midwest. Outside of Chicagoland there are only a few pockets of cities with a population of 125,000 between Chicago and St. Louis, and they are separated by miles of farmland dotted with crops, cattle and small farm towns. Each large community has its own vibe and its own reason for being.
Illinois is also divided in two by the longest river in the state between the Mississippi River at Alton and Des Plaines River. There is nothing below I-80 that Chicago doesn't already have except perhaps houses on larger lots in cities, a wild animal park, the largest Inland Wetland Refuge in America, and Lincoln. It is also divided by three Interstate routes that cross the state NE-SW, E-W and NW to SE.
Illinois is mobile state. It has an amazing amount of roads that criss cross the state from border to border. It is possible to drive from I-80 to Springfield and never see an interstate, and it is not nearly as boring. It is not worth talking about what downstate has because it is rewarded with hatred.
"I'm not trashing ____________" Of course you are, or you would not couch a question with that statement. If you wanted to know about downstate you would be asking a different question.
There is no connection between Chicago and downstate and there never will be. The only connection between Chicago and downstate is the Springfield puppet and the token Chicago student who is stuck in that farm town in the Illinois Plains called Champaign.
The connection between Chicago and downstate is political more than anything, just due to where the state lines were drawn. Geographically and culturally SE Wisconsin, NW Indiana, and SW Michigan are far more tied to Chicago than, say, Carbondale is.
Seems the reason SW Michigan is tied to Chicago is becaue people who can afford a summer lake home go there.
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