After some recent comments from the governor regarding Champaign-Urbana, it is easy to second guess our area. Governor Bruce Rauner later apologized, following a small-scale retaliation from C-U residents and organizations on the Twitterverse, and a statement from community stakeholders. Despite the statement’s retraction, it hurt. Luckily, there is a plethora of facts and statistics to back up the region’s importance and excellence. C-U not only keeps pace with similar cities, but outperforms them in many categories.
Chambana’s GDP is $10.6 billion, higher than many comparable cities boasting large universities. Iowa City and the Lafayette, Indiana region clock in at $8.6 billion; Columbia, Missouri, is around $8 billion; and Bloomington, Indiana is $7 billion. As a mid-sized city, we retain our talent better than similar areas of our size; we’re not a major city but we progress nonetheless. Our Research Park broke occupancy records last year and ranked on Forbes’ “12 Business Incubators That Change The World,” the only research park outside of a major metropolitan area and the smallest city to make the list. The University’s new medical school is the first of its kind and may eventually lead to the largest medical research area outside of Chicago. Located far from a major city (unlike Ann Arbor or New Brunswick) and without other advantages like being the center of state government (like Madison and Lansing), we perform extremely well.
We’re collectively ranked as the “smartest city in Illinois” by MSN. We consistently rank highly on livability rankings. We have a major indie label in the area in the form of Polyvinyl Records and have produced a disproportionate amount of musical acts. Champaign-Urbana hosts Ebertfest, honoring the legacy of one of the area’s most notable residents and cementing the region’s role as a cultural focal point. The area boasts a wide variety of museums, concert venues, theaters, art installations, galleries, and other cultural facilities usually associated with much larger cities. C-U flips the script on the notion of small towns lacking delicious foods; offering a diverse list of restaurants ranging from exciting foreign flavors to comforting Midwestern dishes ensures that C-U residents will not miss out on the variety of cuisine one can find in large cities by choosing to live here. Chambana condenses the amenities and vibrancy of a large city into a much smaller package.
Using innovative solutions like the Second Street Basin and the Boneyard Riverwalk in Downtown Urbana, C-U has tackled and mitigated pervasive issues like flooding. Equally innovative are the area’s solutions to affordable housing bridging socioeconomic divides like Bristol Place in North Champaign. Champaign’s downtown revival has become a model for other cities around the region seeking to rejuvenate their central cities and Urbana has been active in rethinking their space as well. West Urbana was listed in the American Planning Association “10 Great Neighborhoods,” receiving national attention as place with a strong sense of community. Connecting the city is a nationally recognized transit system, MTD, which ranked 7th in the nation during its infancy in 1984. The system’s affordable fares, $1 per ride or $84 for an annual pass, make it surprisingly easy for people of many income levels to access regional services, educational opportunities, and employment options. The comprehensive system is supported by Urbana’s cycling network, the best in the state, followed closely by Champaign. These resources translate into a lower carbon footprint for the twin cities (the area’s ozone emissions have decreased by 3% since 2014) and a more active populous (Champaign-Urbana has the 11th-lowest rate of car commuting of all American metropolitan area, meaning residents seek healthier transportation modes to get from point A to point B). On top of that, the University of Illinois is constantly making strides towards more sustainable agricultural practices and energy forms, meaning the region does not only leads by example, but also exports solutions.
Sometimes, smaller towns like C-U don’t get the recognition they deserve. Perhaps, it’s so that we can surprise everyone just a little more when they do recognize us. In any case, keep your head up, Chambana. We’re not perfect and there is more than enough room to improve on our community but in the grand scheme of things, we’re pretty great. Sometimes it’s good to remember that.
Virginia Theatre photo by Julie McClure. All others from Facebook.