You might feel like you’ve stepped into an Antebellum Era time warp when you first see Springfield. A history buff’s paradise, Springfield is home to several sites and museums dedicated to its most well-known resident, Abraham Lincoln. Popular Honest Abe hotspots include his tomb, law office, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Old State Capitol Building, and the president’s long-time residence, which has been restored to its pre-Civil War appearance (sorry, apartment hunters, this one's not for rent). There’s undoubtedly a small town, apple-pie-and-picket-fence look and feel to Springfield, making it an ideal living locale for married couples, families, and retirees, many of whom have lived in the city their entire lives.
“Working for the Man every night and day …”
Uncle Sam is king of the hill in Springfield, which has served as the Illinois state capitol since 1839. The capitol building is the city’s primary breadwinner and employer, and just about everyone in the city – nearly 90 percent of residents – works white-collar jobs. In fact, finding a non-governmental gig can be quite the challenge, as new manufacturing/industrial jobs are basically nonexistent in Springfield these days.
The College Joe Effect
Springfield isn’t exactly known as the quintessential American melting pot (barely two percent of residents are foreign-born), but the presence of the University of Illinois-Springfield gives the city a somewhat more youthful and divergent vibe. So if you feared you were moving to a city of nothing but bureaucrats, politicos, and dudes dressed up like Abe Lincoln reciting the “House Divided” speech in nearby New Salem State Park, you were only partially right.
The college crowd is also the driving force behind the city’s nightlife, and music aficionados will be pleased to know there are usually a plethora of live bands playing everything from jazz and blues to hip hop and indie in downtown watering holes.
“Big wheels, keep on turning …”
Your best bet for working, shopping, banking, and playing conveniently is via your own set of wheels, as the Springfield Mass Transit District is more suited for historic site-hopping tourists than daily commuters. Luckily, traffic jams pale in comparison to those in the big city, and parking spots are plentiful, even in the commuter-heavy downtown neighborhoods.
A Leaser’s Life
The cost of living in Springfield is more than 15 percentage points lower than the national average, and rental prices are among Illinois’ most affordable (less than $700). So renters can breathe easily knowing they will have plenty of leftover greenbacks each month to splurge on things like Springfield Sliders college baseball tickets or a sweet, Lincoln-style top hat. A few other things you might like to know before taking the Springfield plunge:
No love for our furry, four-legged friends … Springfield is home to more property managers who don’t allow pets (especially large ones) than you might expect for a city its size. So if your roommate is a 200-pound Great Dane, you might come across a stumbling block or two in your apartment hunt.
It’s not old. It’s distinguished … Historic homesteads (pre-1939) outnumber modern houses (1995 to present) by roughly 2.5 percent in Springfield, and in many neighborhoods, you won’t find a single freestanding house or apartment building built prior to the 1970s. There are a handful of redeveloped lofts and condos in and around downtown, but a general rule of thumb is that flash-and-dazzle is kept to a minimum at Springfield residential properties.
A buyer’s … er, renter’s … market … About 10 percent of residential properties in Springfield are vacant, and apartments are pretty much always available, so you can afford to be choosy. Most leases are for a full year, but 6-month and month-to-month leases are available as well at some complexes, especially those closer to the university on the southeast side of Springfield. Apartment managers will typically want to see proof of income and proof of (positive) renting history, so you’re a student who doesn’t have these luxuries, you’ll need a co-signer (aka “parent”) to help you score your dream pad.
Choosing your Stomping Grounds
Now the real fun part: deciding which part of town you want to call your own. To get a true feel for which ‘hoods have the vibe you desire, you should visit Springfield in person (both at day and during the night) before signing the dotted line. Like other capitol cities in the U.S., Springfield faces its fair share of crime (how ironic is it that laws tend to get broken most in the same places they were made?), so be sure to scout out your prospective pad and its surroundings in advance.
Generally, the southwest side of Springfield has blossomed most in recent years, and this is the area where you’ll find the shiniest, most modernized (and expensive!) housing/rental units. The Woodside neighborhood in southeastern Springfield is an affluent area as well, although leasers aren’t likely to find many of Woodside’s grandiose estates up for rent.
The downtown area, meanwhile, offers a variety of dwellings, from high rise apartments and luxury condos to vintage townhouses, bungalows, and older-than-old-school single-family detached homes. Easily the most walker-friendly and compact area of Springfield, downtown is an ideal choice for renters who either work in the inner city or just feel more comfortable in an urbanized environment. Rental prices vary, but if you have a thousand bucks a month set aside for room and board, you’re in good shape.
To the immediate north of downtown is Enos Park, whose tree-lined streets and abundance of historic homes make the neighborhood perhaps Springfield’s most scenic. The area has been redeveloped in recent years and now offers a variety of condominiums and apartments for rent, including some that are available in the mid-$600 range.
Other popular neighborhoods include the Historic West Side, Laketown, and the Lincoln Park area, each of which offers affordable, centrally-located lodgings that house a mixture of families, singles, and students.
If the shoe fits, wear it. And if the horseshoe looks tasty, eat it …
Chicago may have its deep-dish pizza pie and St. Louis its toasted ravioli, but Springfield boasts a culinary treat of its own: the horseshoe sandwich. Traditionally a concoction of two burgers sitting atop a pair of thick-sliced pieces of toast and covered with a mountain of fries and melted cheeses, the horseshoe sandwich is allegedly what made the Giant of Illinois so damn big in the first place (no, not really). In any case, it’s a delectable (albeit not quite fitness-friendly) dish that you’re about to see on every menu in every restaurant you patronize.
And on that tasty note, you’re all set to begin your search. So welcome to the Land of Lincoln, and happy hunting!
-By Kera Zacuto
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