Help me find my utopia!
December 13, 2013 7:01 PM   Subscribe

Living in NYC is wearing me down... Or maybe I'm just slowing down... So I typed up a wish list of my dream hometown and thought I'd see whether any such place exists or even comes close to it. Ha. I realize my list is a bit silly since it's not completely thought out but boy I'd snap out of this major funk I've been in if such an area existed! ...or comes close to it?

* not listed in any particular order...

1. Good public schools =
- 90% of kids graduate & go on to college
- high priority in providing a supportive and positive environment for all
- regular, productive communication between administration and parents working together to help the children
- progressive
- well-rounded: academics, life prep, sports, varied extra curricular classes / clubs, arts, music, language, science
- extra tutoring
- ethnically diverse

2. Quality, low-cost after school programs
- staff are educated / highly experienced in child behavior

3. Lots of green space: parks, hiking/biking paths, fishing, camping, lots of trees and grass around

4. Free public well-kept outdoor tennis courts, swimming pools, basketball courts, running track, football field

5. Low- cost of living: family of four with young children can live comfortably on low 50k

6. Low crime

7. Educated middle class

8. Easy-going and stable lifestyle and attitude

9. Mild to sometimes hot temps

10. Easy access to Organic markets with wide selection of products and fresh produce

11. Great hospitals - state of the art, well-rounded care (including alternative medicine, therapy, dental, etc)

12. Clean air

13. Clean water

14. Dependable police force

15. Family / children-focused and supported community

16. Short commute time 15-30mins avg

17. Low to no income/property tax

18. Affordable homes <$1,000 for 2-3 br with some outdoor space large enough to dine al fresco, avg home price $250k.

19. Near arts, culture, culturally varied options for dining, shopping

20. Character - no cookie-cutter nabes

21. Spoken language preferred: English or Spanish
posted by peasncarrots to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, you definitely can't have #17 along with all the other stuff about good schools, dependable police, free parks, clean water, etc. Are public services or low taxes more important?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:17 PM on December 13, 2013 [34 favorites]


Low taxes would be more important
posted by peasncarrots at 7:19 PM on December 13, 2013


What Eyebrows said, indeed. I would say that you described Toronto except for numbers 5, 14, and 17.

Great public services and public spaces don't come without a price of admission.
posted by 256 at 7:21 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


(oh, and 18 only obtains if you want to live on the edge of the city like I do)
posted by 256 at 7:21 PM on December 13, 2013


Honestly? Your list just makes me think you're dead tired of the city and want to live in the suburbs, which is fine, except that you seem to want all the cool things about being in a city, too. I'm not sure how it all plays out, except that the requirements list is both sort of broad and sort of self-defeating. If you're willing to compromise a bit - Charlottesville, VA fits a lot of your criteria. It is a gorgeous city with greenmarkets, an adorable downtown, tons of bookstores, jazz festivals, free trolleys and buses for all the students who don't drive, an artsy cultural vibe, and some of the neighborhoods are still affordable. It's a bit of a college town, given its proximity to the University of Virginia, but by no means vacated in the summer. Here are some homes with 2-3 bedrooms under $250K in the area.
posted by Viola at 7:24 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Buffalo! You would not be the first to move from NYC to western New York. There are great public schools in the surrounding suburbs and good affordable private schools. There are wonderful parks, low cost of living, minimal traffic. The only thing that Buffalo doesn't have is low property taxes but that's NYS for you.
posted by kat518 at 7:28 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


A college town in a warm state, probably? Pick somewhere in the South or West if you value the low taxes thing higher than the good public infrastructure thing.
posted by Sara C. at 7:28 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sounds like a mid west college town... Madison or Iowa City. Even Oak Park or Naperville (or any similar hood in Chicago) would come a lot closer to this than NYC, but still offer all the urban amenities. NYC is ok, but I love Chicago and its much cheaper than coast cities. You can even live in a small cutesy town and have an hour commute on Metrorail (Google prairie crossing). It's where I'd move if I moved back to the States. 
posted by jrobin276 at 7:29 PM on December 13, 2013


The US Census has a brand new app just for this purpose
posted by zachxman at 8:04 PM on December 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Austin?
posted by kathrynm at 8:04 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


This sounds an awful lot like the area of Mesa, Arizona I live in. I can't say that all the schools in the district are super fantastic, but the elementary and high school school we are in the boundaries for are just super top-notch. I am living here, staying within the boundaries, just because of the schools. We'd rather be closer to family (out of state) but the school is just so awesome, that we feel we should stay here.

So, I think Mesa, AZ also ticks a lot of your other preferences as well:

Quality, low-cost after school programs
- staff are educated / highly experienced in child behavior

Through the school and through the community there are a lot of great options

3. Lots of green space: parks, hiking/biking paths, fishing, camping, lots of trees and grass around
We have lots of parks, TONS of hiking, not so much on the trees (do cacti count!?) and grass, but the desert is a very beautiful place, although different than trees and grass

4. Free public well-kept outdoor tennis courts, swimming pools, basketball courts, running track, football field
Yup. Except the pools do cost a buck or two to get into (or buy a season pass for really cheap)

5. Low- cost of living: family of four with young children can live comfortably on low 50k
- Yes, we have three children, my husband works, I am a SAHM.

6. Low crime - the area we are in is very low crime

7. Educated middle class -
very much so

8. Easy-going and stable lifestyle and attitude -
one of the things I like about being here

9. Mild to sometimes hot temps
Sorry!! How about hot to sometimes REALLY hot temps? But that's why we have pools! But really, the winters are wonderful and if you ever miss the snow, change of seasons, all that - go 1 1/2 hours north and your in the tall pines, mountains and your more typical weather (snow, rain, fall leaves)

10. Easy access to Organic markets with wide selection of products and fresh produce
We have DELICIOUS oranges and citrus here. Many of the towns have farmer's markets, we have Bountiful Baskets and a wide variety of other options to get yummy stuff!

11. Great hospitals - state of the art, well-rounded care (including alternative medicine, therapy, dental, etc) -
YES! We have this. It's a comfort to me knowing that really great hospitals are around every corner. Also - a short trip into Phoenix gives you lots of options.

12. Clean air
Yeah, not so much. But the sunsets are to die for.

13. Clean water -
like in drinking water? I don't drink the water that comes out of the faucet. It's potable, but not very tasty

14. Dependable police force
-
I am a little biased since my husband works for the police. I think they do a great job.

15. Family / children-focused and supported community -
Very family oriented!

16. Short commute time 15-30mins avg -
depends on where you work, but from where I live, I can get into Phx in 30 minutes


17. Low to no income/property tax
-
it's a beautiful thing! we hardly have any property tax.

18. Affordable homes <> -
depends on the area, but yeah, totally do-able to get a 3-4 bedroom for that price


19. Near arts, culture, culturally varied options for dining, shopping
-
Phx is a short commute away, so is Scottsdale and in every little town along the way are some very unique options for culture, dining, shopping

20. Character - no cookie-cutter nabes -
where I live - we fail terribly at this, but I have found that there are actually some very unique and full-of-character places that are tucked away here and there. You just have to know that they do exist and don't settle for the cookie cutter.

21. Spoken language preferred: English or Spanish -
We have both! I really enjoy that aspect of this area - we have quite a few Spanish speakers! There is a large Hispanic population - I feel this area is diverse and I enjoy the diversity. There are also quite a few Native American tribes.

Here's the thing, though, not all of Mesa is like this. I feel very blessed to live in this little corner of Mesa that offers all of these things. Mesa, itself, is not a small hometown. It's a pretty big city (I think it's a city). This section of Mesa offers so many of your requirements. I wouldn't look at Mesa, as a whole, but just this little piece of it!

posted by Sassyfras at 8:05 PM on December 13, 2013


As a Phoenician I will back up Sassyfras, but instead of Mesa, I would suggest North Central Phoenix or mid-Scottsdale.

In general, metro Phoenix is a nice balance. If you can put up with the hot summers, the rest of the year is beautiful. Our taxes are low, schools in suburbs are generally fairly good, and you're close to a lot of great nature... foothills and mountains to hike all around the city, and a two hour drive (or less) to the mountains and the forest. Six hour drive to LA or San Diego.

As for Mesa, parts of it are nice! Other parts are pretty rough territory.

As people have pointed up above... just be aware that your list is totally a "have your cake and eat it too" list. Exciting areas usually aren't cookie cutter, but they also usually don't have great schools or easy living. Here in Phoenix, living downtown or living in North Central is an example. Dull, cookie cutter areas usually aren't fun to live in, but they're the ones with the best schools and the easiest living. Here in Phoenix, Gilbert or Scottsdale are examples.

Ultimately you're probably going to have to pick one or the other! But based on your list, it sounds like you want a college town in a warm-weather state in the Sun Belt.
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:29 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Columbia Gorge fits many of those - and one can live in Washington with no income tax and shop in Oregon with no sales tax. We're close to the Portland metro, yet far enough away that we don't have the crime level. It's possible to commute to PDX from places in the Gorge with drives as short as 30 minutes.

We have mostly-mild-ish winters, summers that have some nicely warm days and maybe a few good and hot ones.

For many, there's no need for a gym membership - "the Gorge IS the gym".

Very family-friendly, community-togetherness, etc. And NICE. Seriously. I've lived in Idaho, and visited Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Texas... and while Idaho wasn't too bad, I was shocked at how RUDE people are to each other there, whether they knew them or not, and just how incredibly unfriendly they are to visitors. I've never, ever experienced anything similar in Oregon, Washington, or California.

Not everything on the list is perfect - but then, I don't believe it's likely a place that fits all of those requirements perfectly exists outside of fiction.
posted by stormyteal at 9:25 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a good friend who grew up in Mesa. He's Latino, and he's repeatedly mentioned that he experienced more racist white people in his home town than anywhere else he's ever lived. (and he went to college in North Texas).
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 9:48 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Iowa City ticks every box except 9 and 17, maybe not 4, and 5 would depend on your definition of comfortable. I don't see any way in hell you're going to tick every box.
posted by bricoleur at 9:55 PM on December 13, 2013


Sounds like Minneapolis, aside from the weather. And really, it's not so much colder than New York. We have some of the best schools in the country, world-class healthcare, and the most theaters per capita outside NYC in the US. We're also a hub for many immigrant groups. There is a great system of co-ops for organic groceries.
posted by Comet Bug at 10:10 PM on December 13, 2013


I too doubt such a place exists, but I'd sure like to know if there's more of a utopia than Asheville, NC.
posted by whoiam at 11:15 PM on December 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Apart from one or two of these (low property taxes primarily), you're describing Madison, WI, almost to a T. This list could practically have come from our visitors bureau.

We have a TON of green space, parks, bike paths and other public amenities; right on several midsize lakes so fishing, boating, etc are prime activities. Weather nine (OK, eight) months out of the year is mild to beautiful, too; and the winter weather turns those parks and lakes into skiing, snowshoeing, and skating destinations.

As a college town we've got all the cultural characteristics of a much larger city (large educated middle class, huge range of arts, culture, diverse communities, etc) with the cost of living / cost of housing / ease of commuting / down-to-earth nature of a much smaller place. I can't think of a better place to raise a family. (And Chicago is a fairly short drive away if you want continued exposure to big-city life at times.)

And, yes, one of the biggest farmers' markets in the country (and a local food scene that's the equal of any given all the farmland in our metaphoric backyard), as well as world-class hospitals and medical facilities.

According to the letter I got today with my property taxes, the average home is assessed at $231K.

Don't have much experience with the public schools yet but what I've heard is that they range from pretty good to exceptional. Not sure about afterschool programs.

Of course, if your blues are at all seasonally-related, going (even a little) farther north isn't going to help with that.
posted by sesquipedalia at 11:57 PM on December 13, 2013


but I'd sure like to know if there's more of a utopia than Asheville, NC

There is not. But you'd better bring your own job and be willing to put up with a toxic state government for a couple more years.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:55 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


You might want to check out Carrboro, North Carolina, which seems to tick a lot of your boxes. "Located directly west of Chapel Hill, home of the University of North Carolina's flagship campus, Carrboro has a reputation as one of the most liberal communities in the Southern United States. It was the first municipality in North Carolina to elect an openly gay mayor, Mike Nelson, in 1995 and the first municipality in the state to grant domestic-partner benefits to same-sex couples. In October 2002, Carrboro was among the first municipalities in the South to adopt resolutions opposing the Iraq War and the USA PATRIOT Act."

a few quickie links:

Outside's Best Towns 2013

Research Triangle Carrboro NC Best Places

Some economic info (PDF, which also has some numbers on diversity – more diverse than surrounding areas, and commute time)

Carrboro Farmers Market

I haven't lived there, but I've lived in North Carolina (Asheville area), and to me it was a nearly perfect climate because it got all the seasons without the worst of summer or winter, and it was a beautiful spot, and Carrboro is close enough for easy driving to the Blue Ridge Mountains, or in the other direction, to the ocean for weekend getaways. I've been a bit amused reading about it; it seems like the mirror reverse of Night Vale, complete with radio station. Perhaps it's not quite the TV-perfect progressive, quirky, idyllic little community-minded village it seems on paper, because what place is all that? but it sure seems like a pretty cool little place.

(In a total weird coincidence, I also came upon Getting to Know Carrboro: A Step-by-Step Guide by Daniel Wallace... and I just so happen to be currently reading a book (The Kings and Queens of Roam) by Daniel Wallace. How bizarrely random. *queue spooky music*)
posted by taz at 3:59 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I live on the outskirts of West Palm Beach, FL and it satisfies many of your criteria. No income tax, property tax seems reasonable enough, lots of houses in your price range. The area is very sprawling but the traffic is usually not too bad, so commuting can be easy. Lots of English and Spanish speakers here, of course.

The one thing I would say about your requirements for public schools is that the percentage of students who go on to college has very little to do with the quality of the school and much more to do with the socioeconomic status of the students. I live in a mixed-income, racially integrated area and the public school population reflects that - and the school has been wonderful with my gifted, special-needs child. Much better, in fact, than the all-affluent, almost all-white district we moved from.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:02 AM on December 14, 2013


17. Low to no income/property tax

These can contradict each other because money lost from one place needs to be made up elsewhere.

If I were looking for top public schools and a low cost of living, I would turn my attention to college towns in the Midwest. However, Los Alamos, NM is worth a look. Very low cost of living and one of the best public schools in the USA.

But if you're trying to optimize on low taxes and low cost of living, I would pick Florida and then find the neighborhood with the best acceptable public schools in your price range. If you want to get really ambitious about minimizing your tax burden and real estate expenses, then Wyoming is your place.
posted by deanc at 6:05 AM on December 14, 2013


Sounds like Portland or Eugene OR perhaps? I haven't lived there recently enough to know about everything on your list (particularly the schools part) but:

Weather is mild

Tons of green and outdoors

Moderately diverse (though oddly segregated, so maybe a fail on this)

Housing under $1M

No sales tax

Reasonable cost of living, but apparently a poor job market

All of the urban things you would want, I think, culture, arts, farmers markets and GREAT restaurants (Portland at least)
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:28 AM on December 14, 2013


Look into the northern part of the Cincinnati suburbs. Particularly the Lakota school system if that's a priority for you. There's a green belt where a lot of homes have acres' worth of land. There is all kinds of nature junk around (not high on my list). You can't get much safer than around here--I routinely accidentally leave my keys/money/computer in my unlocked car and have had no issues. This area is pretty much exactly between Dayton and Cincinnati, so the offerings of cultural type events are endless. The job market is pretty steady, but it depends on what you do.
posted by syncope at 7:06 AM on December 14, 2013


2nd-ing Carrboro. Also, try Decatur, GA.
posted by spilon at 8:04 AM on December 14, 2013


Shaker Heights, OH is a great suburb of Cleveland that satisfies most of your criteria. Quite a few East Coast transplants live in the Cleveland area.

1. Good public schools: Shaker Heights has one of the only successfully integrated, high-quality public school districts I know. Diverse, academically rigorous, supportive staff and invested parents.
2. Quality, low-cost after school programs: Check!

3. Lots of green space: There are tons of Metroparks, including the Chagrin Reservation, nearby. Also, Shaker Lakes, Lake Erie, Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

4. Free public well-kept outdoor tennis courts, swimming pools, basketball courts, running track, football field: All of these!

5. Low- cost of living: family of four with young children can live comfortably on low 50k.
Depends on your neighborhood. Check out Lomond- we lived right near the elementary school and some houses are around $125.

6. Low crime: Yes

7. Educated middle class: Very educated

8. Easy-going and stable lifestyle and attitude: Absolutely

9. Mild to sometimes hot temps: Can be snowy, but lovely summers

10. Easy access to Organic markets with wide selection of products and fresh produce: Fresh Market, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods all nearby.

11. Great hospitals - state of the art, well-rounded care (including alternative medicine, therapy, dental, etc): Can't beat the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals.

12. Clean air: Yes!

13. Clean water: Yes

14. Dependable police force: Good police force

15. Family / children-focused and supported community: Very family-friendly. Check out the Shaker Family Center, libraries, parks. Very friendly people.

16. Short commute time 15-30mins avg. You can take the Rapid (RTA) and commutes are very good.

17. Low to no income/property tax: Unfortunately, Shaker has very high taxes.

18. Affordable homes <>
19. Near arts, culture, culturally varied options for dining, shopping: Cleveland has great arts and culture- the art museum, the Cleveland Orchestra, History Museum. botanical gardens. Lots of great restaurants from Asian to Little Italy. Coventry, Shaker Square, Tremont, Ohio City, 4th Street.

20. Character - no cookie-cutter nabes: Shaker Heights is very much a diverse city with a beautiful variety of older homes.

21. Spoken language preferred: English or Spanish: Both
posted by leotrotsky at 8:23 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a fellow Clevelandite, I'll second leotrotsky. UH and CCF are ridiculously good, world class really, for healthcare. You have the West Side Market downtown. Plenty of cultural stuff in University Circle. Mike Symon has an excellent restaurant, Lola (and Lolita) that I'm dying to try. And hell, he's an Iron Chef.
posted by kathrynm at 8:29 AM on December 14, 2013


Bloomington, Indiana fits most of your requirements, except it can get pretty cold in the winter. But as others have pointed out, probably no city fits all those requirements, especially where the taxes/services equation comes in.
posted by Rykey at 11:57 AM on December 14, 2013


Ann Arbor. It wasn't really for me, but it fits a lot of the criteria you're listing. It's less affordable than the midwest as a whole, but you can still buy a decent house for a fraction of the cost you would get in the NYC metro area and schools are great. I don't have kids but everyone I knew who did loved the childcare options and schools, and there were lots of cool kid activities around.

It's colder on average than the NYC area, but actually snows less. Honestly I didn't find the weather to be all that different, but I wouldn't call it a mild climate, obviously!
posted by anad487 at 8:09 PM on December 15, 2013


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