Predictably, the Chicago Tribune article critical of Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Presidential Libray and Museum drew howls from local talk radio hosts and listeners. Listening to WMAY yesterday, I heard a number of callers suggest that Chicago residents hate downstate Illinois and just want to have the state capital moved to the Windy City.
This kind of talk really grates on me. This stupid intra-state provincialism is really unbecoming and downright childish. I have wanted to blog about this for a while but was waiting for a relevant opportunity.
First, let me present my credentials.
I have lived in many parts of the state from Carbondale to Springfield to a county in Northwestern Illinois that had no traffic lights to Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I’ve lived in farmhouses, middle class subdivisions, a house at the intersection of two dirt roads, a hotel, a dorm, a trailer, an old school house and many apartments. I know this state. I’ve never lived anywhere else.
Without exception, each part of the state eyes the others with some mix of mistrust and distain. And it’s usually without any merit.
Now, before I say anymore, keep in mind opinions and outlooks vary even within regions of the state and I don’t mean to over generalize. However, there are some prevailing attitudes that I think are held pretty widely within each region.
The biggest and most common divide seems to be between “Chicago and “Downstate”. In this case, Chicago is generally defined as Cook and the collar counties while downstate is everything else. This places the all regions of the state outside of the Chicago metro area in a large confederacy.
Downstaters wrongly believe Chicago is stealing all of their resources and it gets all the attention at their expense. There really is a bit of an inferiority complex in this even if downstaters aren’t willing to admit it. At least that’s how it comes off. Many downstaters fear Chicago, seeing it as overwhelming. They see it as crime-ridden, politically corrupt, loud, noisy and dirty. And, if you are from Springfield, you are convinced Chicagoans are conspiring to steal the capital.
Chicagoans (those in the Chicago metro area) do tend to look down on their downstate brethren as somewhat unsophisticated and less cosmopolitan. They can be dismissive at time (I’ve experienced this) when they dealing with what they see as a downstate hayseed.
To downstaters, I would say that Chicago is a great asset to the state at almost every level, culturally, economically, politically. Even if you have no desire to live in or near a city that size (and that’s OK), you can still revel in what the city has to offer. Go there. Have fun. Enjoy the people and places. Then come home and feel good that you have such a place so close to your more comfortable hometown.
Springfieldians, almost no one in Chicago thinks for even a minute about stealing the capital. Nor are they jealous you have the capital. Sure, if asked many Chicagoans would say they would favor moving it to their city but who wouldn’t. Ask anyone in Vandalia if they would like it back. Or check with Galesburg and see if they might not like it. I suspect there would be a lot of off-hand support for having the prestige and economic perks in any community in the state.
Chicagoans, downstaters are not hicks, hayseeds, and unsophisticated rubes. Well, some of us are but not most. It’s not all farms and little towns either. There are a number of medium sized cities that are quite urban with all of the associated benefits and problems. And there’s nothing wrong with farms or small towns if you like that sort of thing. Try it sometime.
I will say that I find the downstate resentment of Chicago more prevalent than I do any Chicago better-then-you-ism. I still say that has more to do with a conscious or unconscious feeling of inferiority among many downstaters. Or at least a (sometimes justified) perception that they are being looked down upon.
In any case, everyone in all parts of the state should just get over their prejudices and paranoia about other parts of the state. It’s really unwarranted and serves no good. Illinois’ diversity is a great thing.
As for the the Tribune's slam of the museum, it's just one man's opinion. Lat week, I blogged about a professor from SIU (you know, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS University) who didn't like the museum. Some people are just not going to like it. That does not mean these guys hate Springfield, or downstaters or are jealous of Springfield being the capital.