Nice place to live but you wouldn't want to visit
Actually it's barely a nice place to live.
Not terribly expensive - at one point the least expensive place to live in the country among modest sized cities.
Accessible - you can ride your bike from one end of the city to the other in about half an hour.
Something of an intellectual climate - it's a college town plus a large medical center (Health Alliance - a regional HMO plus its hospitals etc).
A great place for an education - seriously. U of I is a world-class research center (and occasionally teaches pretty well).
You're quite a ways from civilization. As one of the transplants-in-denial (there are a lot of them) said "It's okay here, but for anything important we go home to Chicago". You can find them on the road to "someplace interesting" on Fridays or at the airport waiting for the private jet.
The general community is astoundingly clique-ish and stratified. If you hated middle school you'll find this place a misery. It combines the worst parts of "Real Housewives" and paradigmatic near-Ozark small town judgement and bigotry. I've had any number of colleagues and people I've known who've moved here comment on how ridiculously hard it is to make friends here.
Race relations: You can read up on that in other comments - I've lived in a lot of places, but this one really has a "wrong side of the tracks". The north part of the city is almost entirely African-American and often poor and crime-ridden, and is separated by a set of occasionally-used tracks that split the town.
Contrast that with the Champaign Country Club that is ringed with McMansions (and which doesn't pay city taxes since it's been carefully excluded from the city along with several of those houses), private schools, any number of the other "golf communities" and various homogenous beige enclaves of housing outside the city limits.
Lack of recreation: If you like to go out to eat you're in heaven. That's it. Well, you can drink a lot but that's it. No outdoor recreation worth mentioning (except golf) and little that could be considered outdoor sports beyond shooting at things. The cultural events on campus are genuinely third-tier except for some few exceptional concerts once in a while. Or you can sit in front of a television.
Weather: Minnesota winters and Mississippi summers. No kidding. Look at Sperling's own climate index: 40. Well below the national average and pay attention to the "hot and humid days" part of that.
Urbana has posed itself as a hip-ish community with a lot of services and funky stuff ... and no tax base to support it, plus a dismal capacity to attract new business. Most of the residents are on fixed incomes of one sort or another. The largest employer, Carle, has successfully fought off it's challenges to being a non-profit, so it pays no taxes on its enormous facilities. The result: Rising residential property taxes to pay for it all.
Champaign has gone completely the other way. Tax abeyance for everyone who starts a business. The result? Lots of businesses, a huge, appalling mall-sprawl, and rising residential property taxes to pay for it all. Have a look at the new stores being built, then ask yourself why so many existing facilities are standing vacant. Yes, there is a huge surplus of commercial property here, but they continue to build. Why? See the tax abeyance above.
Rising costs of living: The university has hit on the brilliant idea of converting its land-grant acreage into a research park of sorts. The venture capital rollover, coupled with the massive influx of foreign students - desperately needed by an inept administration to stay ahead of the U's costs of operation in the face of faltering government support - has created the beginnings of an economic churn - new money after new money and this won't help the quality of life...though there are some hilarious moments with teenage scions driving their Lamborghinis to WalMart.
The long-term prospects of this are not going to be pretty for everyone but the realtors, who infest Sperlings and keep trying to boost their sales.
Fyodor | Urbana, IL