I'm choosing a place to move to. I'm single and mostly unconstrained, except by my finances, my personal preferences, and the boundaries of the United States. My heart votes San Francisco, but my bank account strenuously disagrees. Also, even though I'm from Iowa and am therefore accustomed to a wide range of temperatures, I happen to be depressed at the moment and so I must
have sun and warmth. For the moment I'm stuck in a suburban apartment complex surrounded by highways, in a New England state that is becoming increasingly wintry. This is my nightmare. My finances are somewhat flexible, and I don't know exactly what I can afford, but for the purpose of this question, let's say I'm absolutely unwilling to pay more rent than $700 per month--and on top of that, I require a living space to myself, with no roommates. On the scale between nightmare and downtown San Francisco, how close to the latter can I get?
posted by Koray to Travel & Transportation (52 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
...I mentioned San Francisco there, but I'm not specifically aiming for that part of the country. SF just seems to be the coolest big city in the US (according to my limited knowledge) that isn't also too cold or cloudy for my current needs. Also I gather that my use of "warmth" in connection with it may jar some readers, but I'm not aiming for year-round shirtless beachgoing here--I mainly just want to get away from what I think of as winter. Iowa is too cold; New England is too cold. St. Louis is iffy. Sun could help make up for cold, but not by very much. Likewise, frequent clouding would be bad--so even if I win the lottery or something, I probably still have to rule out Seattle, unfortunately.
I don't care as much about summer weather; extreme heat bothers me but I think not in the depression-enhancing way of cold. For instance, I don't think weather considerations would drive me to rule out Texas, though other considerations probably would.
Family, friends, and work are not much of a factor here. My personal connections are few and unhealthy right now, and I need to start anew much more than I need to move someplace to be close to somebody. And the job I have right now is entirely done over the Internet. I've got no children, no debt, and not a lot to lose. I think that for various reasons I shouldn't seriously consider leaving the country; but other than that I'm free to go where I like.
And what I'd like is to recreate, in a sense, an experience I had while living in a dormitory in college, on a small, dense campus in an otherwise pretty sleepy little city: being surrounded by people and activities, all of which I can get close to without having to spend much energy, and some of which I can't even avoid. I have difficulty engaging in society, and I need it to be as easy as possible or else I'll barely do it at all. I need to be close to a dense concentration of many kinds of people doing interesting-looking things and I need to be able to expose myself to their activity without having to make much of a "trip" out of it. In a college dorm you can just walk down the hall and pass through a dozen people's personal lives--and even get involved, by stopping at somebody's door and starting a conversation, if you want to--but if you don't get involved then it doesn't cost you anything. You didn't spend ten minutes walking across campus to wander down this particular hall. You spent three seconds standing up and crossing your room. The difference between three seconds and ten minutes may mean the difference between having three friends in that hall and having none.
What I want now is that, but on a much larger scale. I can get to a fairly large city right now, if I spend twenty minutes on the highway first. But I hate driving in traffic and I hate hunting for parking spaces or worrying about whether my car is safe where I've left it--so change that to twenty minutes on mass transit and my chance of making friends, or even doing anything at all social, shoots upward. Change it to TEN minutes on mass transit and my chance shoots upward again. Change it to five minutes on foot and my chance is multiplied yet again. Etc. I know people are social in rural areas too, of course. But I know myself and I know that if I moved to a nice, cheap rural place then I'd just end up appreciating nature alone, and continuing to be dangerously disconnected. I think I belong in a big city anyway. I like color and drama and activity. I don't mind spending twenty minutes, or even forty minutes, driving to some beautiful forested park or whatever, because I'm confident about what I'll do when I get there. But I need the people to be close by, because I'm not confident about dealing with them. So failure must be as cheap as possible.
Sprawl makes travel costly for me (in mental energy) and makes personal connection more costly too (by putting everybody in their car armor most of the time); that may be the thing that rules out Texas for me, though weather did not. And Los Angeles too, even if I win that lottery. I want a dense, lively, "city"-feeling area and I want to be quite close to it (or in it if possible), and I need there not to be frequent unexpected delays in the trips I make in and out of it, whether they come from parking troubles or crappy bus schedules or whatever else. So maybe I should just go back to Iowa and live in Iowa City, and buy a couple of light boxes, and be done with it. That'd improve my situation a lot and still easily meet my rent requirements. But this could be a real adventure if I stretch further than that. Could I afford a studio apartment in one of those cities everybody knows the name of? Maybe someplace not so wealthy, yet still very colorful, like New Orleans? Maybe someplace not so exciting, but still big and dense compared to anyplace I've lived, like... I don't know, some random state capital that I wouldn't even think of on my own? If a wizard were to move NYC to southern California, then I would certainly want to live there, but $700 would probably put me ninety miles away from it instead. Maybe it'd be better to live right next to a dimmer light, than to be so far as that from the brightest one. Either way, I want as much light (so to speak) as I can get for this much money. So how much is that, and where can it be found?