Although not quite the vast melting pot that Chi-Town or Milwaukee is, you’ll find a fair amount of diversity in Rockford. Traditionally a Caucasian-dominated population, Rockford has seen an increase in the numbers of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians in recent years, while foreign-born residents now make up 9 percent of the population.
Forest City has also become a refuge for Windy City exiles. An estimated 25,000 Chicagoans made the leap from the bedlam of the big city to the simplicity of the suburbs in the past decade, helping boost metropolitan Rockford’s population to nearly 340,000.
What is Rockford’s idea of entertainment?
Rockford is a tale of two cities when it comes to entertainment. During the summer months, families and singles alike will find no shortage of outdoor activities in which to indulge. More than 20,000 acres of parks, including Rock Cut State Park, are spread throughout the area, and the city also boasts four major waterways and innumerable gardens, golf courses, bike trails, and arboretums.
But then the iceman cometh in the early winter months, turning the city’s fabulous park system into a frozen, abandoned tundra. The good news is there are a lot of indoor activities to keep the kids entertained year-round (including a massive indoor aquatic park), but young adults and singles might get a case of cabin fever from November until about March. After all, how many times can you hang with Jane the T-Rex at the Burpee Museum of Natural History before getting a dinosaur-sized case of ennui?
The good news is that the night owl scene is actually decent (for suburbia’s sleepy standards, anyway), and bar hoppers will find a variety of hotspots, dance clubs, sports bars, corner dives, and a live music venue or two where they can sip away their winter blues.
I don’t have my own car. Can I rely on public transportation instead?
What are you, a funny person? Unless you want to spend your life in Rockford waiting forever for buses that aren’t likely to drop you off anywhere near your final destination anyway, you’ll need your own vehicle. Because Rockford is so sprawling, with most residential lodgings located much more than a stone’s throw from the city’s businesses, we don’t recommend residents rely solely on the Rockford Mass Transit District to get around. On the bright side, traffic rarely accumulates and free street/garage parking is the standard in the downtown area.
I’ve heard Rockford is an economically depressed city. Is that true?
Unfortunately, the economic crises of late have taken a toll on Rockford, which relies heavily on manufacturing jobs to support its infrastructure. The city’s unemployment rate has soared to nearly 18 percent, while nearly 14 percent of residents have dipped below the poverty line.
We hate to keep being a bunch of Debbie Downers, but crime has risen as well in recent years, and Forest City now has a higher crime rate than all but 2 percent of Illinois communities. In response, the city recently erected a massive prison in the center of downtown. Along with the MetroCenter (a multi-purpose arena dubbed the “Big Orange Box”), the prison is one of downtown’s most prominent structures. Unfortunately, only one of the buildings is usually at full capacity, and it’s not the Box.
To be fair, it’s important to realize that a few dodgy neighborhoods only (mostly on the west side of town) skew the crime rate for the entire city, and many parts of Rockford are about as safe as you’ll find anywhere. So use common sense and spend plenty of time in a neighborhood, gauging its vibes and its peeps, before signing a lease.
What are the perks of renting in Rockford?
Rockford is one of those rare cities where it actually makes more monetary sense to rent than buy. While homeowners have to deal with hefty property taxes (more than 3 percent of a home’s value), leasers enjoy some of the Land of Lincoln’s most reasonably priced pads. Tenants pay, on average, just $600 a month for rent, move-in specials are a given, and apartment hunters can find spacious units (900 square feet-plus) for less than $700, even in some of the most coveted neighborhoods.
Renters also have the luxury of being able to choose from a wide pool of rental properties, from basic, boxy 1 BR units without a lot of flash and dazzle to chic, nouveaux lofts and condos packed with panache. Future Rockford residents should also keep their eyes peeled for houses for rent that often pop up in neighborhoods like Edgewater and Rural Oaks.
If you’re new to the whole renting game, meanwhile, make sure you have a quality co-signer in tow (especially if you are trying to rent a house from a non-traditional landlord). And, as always, bring the proper documents along, including your I.D., two most recent paycheck stubs, and renter’s history (sorry to say it, but your honest face and good looks alone won’t get you too far with most landlords and apartment managers in Rockford).
Which neighborhoods of Forest City are best for me?
First, we’ll save you the hassle and tell you to don’t bother looking for a place to call home in the Latham Park area in the city’s northernmost region. It’s nothing but farms up there, so unless you plan to move into Ma and Pa Kettle’s chicken shack, begin your hunt elsewhere.
Newcomers often find the northeastern and southeastern ‘hoods the most peaceful, comfortable, and family-friendly. Many apartments in this area are also more modern than others throughout town, and a mixture of apartments, lofts, and single family detached homes are typically available. Rental prices vary, as boarders can find everything from 1 and 2 BR condos and lofts in the $600-$900 range to expansive townhouses, ranches, and duplexes for over a grand.
As for downtown … gentrification has to begin somewhere, right, so why not with you? If you’re the bold, trailblazing type, you might want to check out some of the amazing (like, less-than-$500-a-month-amazing) specials available for the lofts and sky rises on Main or Market streets. The downtown area also offers some of the city’s most affordable senior living options.
You’ll find some of the cheapest rentals on the far west side of town, meanwhile, but many of them are in a perpetual state of urban decay. So again, be sure to scout out an area in advance to see whether or not you’re comfortable with it.
And now you’re all set to begin the hunt for the domicile of your dreams in Forest City. Best of luck, and welcome to Rockford!
-By Kera Zacuto
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