Springfield in Hindsight
To begin with, I'll mention that I'm writing this largely in response to some harsh commentary I recently read about the city. I'll attempt to offer the best overview of Springfield shaped by a few years of absence and reflection.
Key Takeaway: Springfield is a great city to raise a family, earn a reasonably priced education, partake in outdoor activities, and enjoy a moderately small but nonetheless diverse downtown scene with all that entails.
Major Advantages: Very low cost of living, reasonable real estate prices, friendly people, access to outdoor activities, revitalized downtown, and access to decent, reasonably priced higher education
Major Drawbacks: Lack of diversity, limited career advancement outside of a few select fields, suburban sprawl, and poor public transportation system
Just to dispel the rumors, or perhaps to caveat what several other individuals have mentioned in regards to meth and crime: if you are a middle class individual planning to live in one of Springfield or the surrounding area's many middle class neighborhoods you are unlikely to experience any of meth related incidents. If you live in a $650 apartment in a bad portion of town, that likelihood increases. My experiences elsewhere have not lead me to believe that Springfield has a drug problem worse than that of most comparable cities. The city is relatively conservative as a whole, with more liberal areas surrounding the universities. Protestant Christianity plays a big role in the community which has both positive and negative aspects. People are generally friendly, relaxed, and the downtown scene is quite enjoyable whether you're interested in local art, music, food, or beer. A couple new microbreweries in the area add to the city's unique sense of place.
The Ozarks themselves are beautiful, with rolling wooded hills and numerous rivers, springs, and lakes: each tailored to whatever activity it is that you're interested in pursuing. Whitetail deer and turkey are plentiful for those that like to hunt. Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and a variety of catfish are all in healthy supply for the fishermen (and women). The region has some fantastic caves and day hikes for those that like to get out and explore. The weather is highly variable with often hot, humid summers and relatively cold winters-at least enough to receive snow a few times a year.
The city certainly isn't for everyone. It doesn't offer the same variety of activities available in larger cities like Saint Louis, Kansas City, Denver,etc. nor does it have the charm and accessibility of a smaller community. However, as far as a middle sized American city goes, it has quite a bit to offer. The Bass Pro Shop, baseball stadium, downtown area, and university campuses are all very nice. The city does suffer from a lack of public transportation and a large suburban sprawl which makes Springfield seem simultaneously smaller (fewer large, multistory buildings) and larger (time it takes to get from one side of town to the other) than it actually is.
The city does stand out in its homogeneity, which stems from some unfortunate events in the past. The only areas even close to being considered culturally diverse are the campuses of Missouri State and Drury Universities. Petty crime and homelessness seem to be growing problems in the city although I won't claim to know the causes behind these particular issues (perhaps the aforementioned drug problem). Fortunately, the Springfield police have always been professional in my personal experience.
I ultimately left to pursue a career. Many I graduated with have done the same. As with most mid-sized cities, potential for career growth is somewhat limited depending on your field. There are certainly opportunities in the education and medical fields though these jobs generally have lower pay commensurate with the lower cost of living. There certainly is some truth to the issue of the disproportionately high number of low-paying service sector jobs- particularly call centers- relative to career track positions.
Would I return? Yes.
Knowing the city's drawbacks, it's still a good fit for me and likely a good fit for some of you as well. If you're a moderate to conservative family-oriented individual, you'll probably thrive. I would encourage anyone to give the city a chance, but I will say most of my more liberal friends and acquaintances ultimately ended up leaving in search of somewhere more suited to their tastes.
Hopefully, you find this review useful. Feel free to comment if you'd like to discuss any particular point further.