A tale of two cities: Champaign vs. Urbana

The Art Theater in Champaign is an independent theater housed in a 100-year-old building.

Separated by an ever-powerful hyphen, Champaign and Urbana have completely different personalities. With two sides of a campus that are two different kinds of diverse, deciding where to live is an age-old dilemma.

The reputation is that Urbana is filled with the artsy, hipster crowd that love indie rock and fall-time weather, the kind of kids who at some point in their lives considered going to a liberal arts school. These are the kids who like the walks to Illini Grove, weekend house shows and local coffee shops.

On the other side, Champaign is seen as the place for social butterflies, sport enthusiasts and Keystone shotgunners.

Both cities boast an abundance of vastly different institutions.

Champaign hosts the wonders of Frat Park and the majority of sororities on campus, the Six Pack and of course, the part of Green Street that prompts foodies to salivate. Then there is the ARC, State Farm Center, Memorial Stadium, Ikenberry Commons, the majority of campus bars and, because there is no way they could make a living on the fringes of Lincoln Avenue, Second Story Pizza and the hot dog man.

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    In low-key Urbana, you have CRCE, the beautiful Engineering Quad, the Arboretum, The Canopy Club, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and, technically, the Quad. Urbana is where many professors and faculty members live, and the reality that you may be sharing the same mailman and jogging route as your economics professor is real. Busey-Evans, PAR, FAR, Allen Hall, LAR and ISR are all located in Urbana, and some students have the “misfortune” of being allocated to these places for their freshman year.

    When it comes to living spaces, the bottom line is Urbana is quieter and the rent, well, it’s typically cheaper. According to Zillow, properties in Champaign average out at about $129,500, while in Urbana, the average is $110,100.

    Andrea Vercelli, 2013 alumna, has lived in the Urbana side of campus for most of her undergraduate career, and she said she enjoys the relative peacefulness that comes with it.  

    “Champaign, compared to Urbana, is really loud, and it’s really nice to have a place to go home and get stuff done when you have a full class load to focus on,” Vercelli said. “Nights in Champaign are just a bunch of loud, drunk people running around, and Urbana is not as crazy. There are a lot of interesting people to meet who just like hanging out and chilling.”

    Despite not living in Champaign, she feels she gets to experience both Champaign and Urbana well. 

    “Whenever I want to go to Champaign, I can just hop on a bus, and it’s a five minute bus ride… I get the best of both worlds,” she said. “Urbana is just a really cool place; there’s cobblestone streets, trees arching over the streets in the fall and a lot of great local places to get good food like The Black Dog and Courier Cafe.”

    On the other hand, Austin Walker, 2013 alumnus, spent most of his time living in and around Champaign.

    “It’s really true that Champaign is just really versatile; you kind of have some of the advantages of a suburb … (where) you have access to things and you’re never more than two minutes away from a cornfield,” Walker said. “I think that Urbana is a little bit older… Champaign is younger, it’s hipper… and there’s a lot more variety in Champaign definitely.”

    Walker, who now lives in an area west of Neil Street densely populated by graduate students, admits that age does play a factor in deciding what area to live in. 

    “I did the college thing and I loved it. Campus is still fun every once in a while, but I guess you just reach a point in your life where you don’t need to dance on stripper poles at Joe’s to have fun,” he said.

    The two city’s downtown areas are also strikingly different. Urbana’s downtown seems to have an older style, as Champaign’s newer and larger downtown area attracts incoming travelers and more businesses.

    “I really like the bars in downtown Champaign; they’ve got live music and a cool atmosphere,” Vercelli said.

    This is something Walker agrees with.

    “I guess I like downtown Champaign better than downtown Urbana,” she said. “There’s a lot of variety in downtown Champaign, where Urbana I just feel like it has an older vibe.”

    The dilemma is a tale of two cities, and one of two different college experiences. Although location is definitely not the only factor, the location where each student makes all of his memories will make a big difference in how he remembers his time at Illinois. Making the decision could be incredibly difficult or extremely easy, but whatever the decision, getting to experience living in both cities will ultimately give every student a better understanding of campus life. 

    Eliseo is a freshman in FAA. He can be reached at [email protected].