Can't Take it Anymore! Where should we move?
July 5, 2009 4:12 PM   Subscribe

My fiancee and I currently live in Arlington, VA, a metro-stop outside of DC proper. We've been here four year,s and we can't stand it anymore. We'd like to relocate to a city that's hip, diverse, progressive, and most important, FRIENDLY! We need help.

DC has a lot of great things going for it - abundant parks with running/biking trails, free museums, a decent public transportation system, and wonderful, wonderful food. Unfortunately, we've been stuck living in one of the most white-washed, overly yuppie areas of the city (for commuting and financial reasons) for our time here, and we can't really take it anymore. Our major problem with the area is that we just don't fit in - I'm a web developer, and my fiancee is a children's counselor, and DC is a city full of politicians, lawyers, and people who love to discuss politics and law. Beyond that, Arlington itself is a downright unfriendly place, with the 20 something set frequently showing a distrubing level of ignorance and xenophobia (a neighbor on our elevator mentioned, without irony, the "Muslim sandwiches" called "kabombs". I wish I were making that up).

We've decided that we're willing to take dramatic action to elicit change, and are planning on moving. Anywhere. Whether it's just moving over the bridge into DC proper, or moving across the country to Portland, we're open to suggestions. MeFi has always been helpful in the past, so we thought we'd ask here. This is what we're looking for:

1) Walkability. Right now we can walk to any number of restaurants, a bookstore, a Whole Foods, a gym, and pretty much whatever else. I would prefer never to drive again and walk / take public transportation everywhere. This is very high for us.

2) Good food. We're foodies, and love the restaurant scene here in DC - much of it is very unpretentious but exciting, delicious food.

3) Environmentalism. This goes with 1 and 2. My fiance is even considering a career switch to ecoliteracy / the sustainable food movement, since this issue is so important to her. Along the same line, progressiveness and diversity are important. I don't just mean racial diversity, but just a diversity of opinions, incomes, backgrounds, etc.

4) Friendliness. This might be impossible to ask for in the 21st century, but it's become so bad in Arlington that I feel like a jerk just smiling at someone in the street or saying hello to someone who lives in my building.

Just to give an idea, cities currently on our list include Brooklyn, Cambridge, Portland, and Austin, but as I said before, we're open to anything.
posted by SanctiCrucis05 to Human Relations (51 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to suggest portland and austin! Austin isn't very walkable though. You can't beat Portland for friendliness. Also, perhaps you'd like Asheville, NC?

In the meantime, you might consider moving from VA to a MD suburb. Maybe downtown rockville? I hated VA for all the reasons you mentioned, but I recently moved to MD and like it much better. Long term, however, I would like to move back to Austin, or possibly move to Portland, so I can understand wanting to move.
posted by necessitas at 4:19 PM on July 5, 2009

"The City of Asheville is the largest city in Western North Carolina and the county seat of Buncombe County. The city is located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is known for its natural beauty. Asheville serves as the regional hub for business, health and human services, the arts, shopping, dining and other community amenities for citizens and visitors."

While #1 on your list may be little difficult because Asheville nests in the mountains, 2,3,4 are definitely in full force. There is tons to do in Asheville and the surrounding area.
posted by netbros at 4:20 PM on July 5, 2009


Admittedly we're a bit on the white bread side in many areas, but I live in Baker and it's pretty much everything you're looking for.

From your list you want to nix Cambridge. Though arguably the friendliest of areas around Boston, I lived right next door in Somerville and found all of Boston most inhospitable.

Of your list I'd pick Portland. But do check out Denver. The Denver/Boulder corridor rocks in ways I didn't even expect. There's a reason why it's coming up on all sorts of top ten livability lists.
posted by FlamingBore at 4:21 PM on July 5, 2009

Ann Arbor... although, you'll need a car.
posted by HuronBob at 4:24 PM on July 5, 2009

While #1 on your list may be little difficult because Asheville nests in the mountains,

Downtown Asheville is completely walkable, with great restaurants, book stores, yoga studios, etc. You'll need a car in general, but you'll be able to have a walkable lifestyle on weekends and such, living in the downtown area.

I considered moving to Asheville about 5 years ago, I found it to be incredibly expensive. YMMV
posted by necessitas at 4:25 PM on July 5, 2009

Takoma Park.
posted by jgirl at 4:36 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Consider Philadelphia.
- It's incredibly cheap (you can get a nice 1-bedroom within walking distance of everything for around $1000 a month)
- the food culture is fantastic (lots of BYOBs, great beer bars, etc--check out the local food blog Foobooz to get a better idea of what I'm talking about).
- People are very friendly and there's more socioeconomic diversity than anywhere else I've lived (including DC and Cambridge). Middle-class people can actually afford to live in Philly, and so you end up with awesome neighborhood bars where all sorts of people hang out. This article gives a good sense of the type of vibe I'm talking about.

If you decide to stay in DC, I'd recommend the U Street/Shaw area.

Good luck!
posted by ethorson at 4:57 PM on July 5, 2009

It's so funny, I live in Arlington. I was about to rise in defense of my county, until I remembered that just today two guys I didn't know did say "hi" to me on the street, and I totally blew them off.

At least Arlington meets three of your four criteria. After cyberstalking you a tad, it looks as if you're a fairly recent college grad. So, how about Dupont Circle, or Adams Morgan? They tend to have a younger crowd that have not yet acquired the calluses of age.
posted by profwhat at 4:57 PM on July 5, 2009

I'm guessing you live in Clarendon. Have you explored further west on the Orange line? I consider Ballston (outside the core) to meet most of your criteria. As to environmentalism, there's Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, NVRPA, and the county itself.
posted by djb at 5:00 PM on July 5, 2009

Seconding Philadelphia, which meets all of your criteria.
posted by The Michael The at 5:05 PM on July 5, 2009

Madison, Wisconsin. The closer to downtown, the better for your "walking" requirement.
posted by Rykey at 5:09 PM on July 5, 2009

Some call Takoma Park, Maryland "Hippie town." The historic district is especially beautiful and walkable. One can walk to the Takoma Park/ Silver Spring Food Co-op, a farmer's market, an independent movie rental store, and some stores & restaurants "down town." I've visited relatives there and found the people there very ecologically conscious and nice after I've been introduced to them. Takoma is the stop you would want on the red line, and you cross into Takoma Park within a block of the metro stop.
posted by oceano at 5:09 PM on July 5, 2009

Boston's great! I don't know why people think it's inhospitable.

Don't move to Pittsburgh; I couldn't wait to move out of there. It was a nasty place.
posted by reddot at 5:11 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

San Francisco meets most of your criteria.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:12 PM on July 5, 2009

I'm not really going to particularly endorse the move from Arlington to Austin. I will try to present some (hopefully) informed and relatively objective information.

Having moved from NoVA to Austin, the switch definitely brings to mind many of the things you're looking for. As for your points in particular:

1. Depending on what part of Arlington you're living in, you may find Austin to be either more or less walkable than what you're used to. If you live in one of the more urbanized areas, say, Clarendon (which I'm guessing from your description), unless you live in or near downtown Austin it will probably be less walkable. If you live in one of more suburby areas of Arlington, much of Austin (proper) will likely be similar or better in terms of walkability. One thing's for sure: it's cheaper to live in a walkable area in Austin than it is in the DC area. Austin has a quite decent bus system and a huge number of trails surrounding the lake that goes through the center of town.

2. Austin's restaurant scene runs the gamut, from expensive highbrow food to cheap tacos from trailers. It's a college town, so there are plenty of cheap and delicious things to be had. It's also the capitol of the beef-lovin' state of Texas, and there are loads of steakhouses and fancy places for the politicians and lawyers.

That said, I've found that many places do either Tex-Mex or somehow "hippified" Tex-Mex (with all the sprouts and avocados that entails). While there are definitely some specimens of pretty much every food you can think of, the Middle Eastern / South Asian (Indian) food scene is significantly lacking compared to DC. I sure miss that a lot. There are only a few places for African food, too, though there seems to be a little more of that in general. I feel like most of the food that comes here is somehow adapted for the overall Tex-Mex palate. Even Uchi, which a lot of reviews say is one of the best restaurants in the state and bills itself as contemporary Japanese, has been described as Japanese/Tex-Mex fusion to a certain degree.

I love the food here. I've had some amazing meals here. But there are definitely things I miss (culinarily) from DC.

3. Environmentalism and progressivism are, as far as I know, part of the Austin experience. As an example, Whole Foods was started here; the flagship store is at 6th and Lamar, downtown. I have seen more hybrids and Smarts here than I ever saw in NoVA. I also see a lot of SUVs. The yuppie contingent is always rising here, and a lot of native Austinites are extremely wary of it. This, I think, is very similar to Northern Virginia in many respects.

While there is a certain amount of racial diversity to be found in Austin, a lot of areas have pretty much segregated themselves. Many poor Hispanic immigrants, African-Americans, and artists (and an increasingly large community of hipsters) live on the East side. The rest of the city is, though not unfailingly, mostly white. There's a sizable Asian population in the North part of town.

Culturally, I honestly wish Austin were more diverse. It seems to me that a lot of Austin is sort of divided into cliques (politicos, students, etc.) that don't really interact on that regular of a basis and form their own little bands of uniform thoughts and ideas. It doesn't help that Austin seems to take outside cultural influences and smush them and make them Austin-y, rather than absorbing their own wonderfully distinct attributes and adding to the overall atmosphere like I feel happens in DC.

4. People in Austin are too friendly. I have never been to a place with friendlier people in my life. As a person who has spent his life growing up on the East Coast, it sometimes freaks me out. You could probably say hello to anyone and have them smile and respond with a greeting of their own.

So yeah, in short: I like Austin. In many ways, it's not too different from where you are now. In other ways, it's very different. You might like it, but you might not. If you like aspects of DC but want to cut down on the "unfriendliness" and yuppiness, you might be much better served by moving elsewhere in the DC area (again, I'm assuming you live in the eminently yuppified Clarendon), possibly into town or to Maryland. Just trying to arm you with information to make that decision. Good luck!

(On preview: damn, this was long.)
posted by malthas at 5:13 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nth-in Philly. Fine, NYC is more non-car-owner friendly, but I'll note that I'm one of two city residents I know who owns a car at all; my entire 20something/early-30s social circle gets around on food, bike, and public transit. We've got a solid and well-deserved reputation as a foodie city; a lot of people I know who've moved away, even if they're happy with their new cities, miss the restaurants we've got. It's also extremely affordable, certainly by big-city standards; nobody I know lives very far from the active-at-all-hours downtown, including those in school or without well-paying jobs. Obviously anecdotes aren't data, but my own social circle is pretty diverse in most senses - politically, religiously, definitely economically (I know one guy who's on food stamps, and another who carefully shepherds the wealth that used to be her trust fund.)

Also, our meetups are a blast.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:17 PM on July 5, 2009

Nthing that you should try Takoma Park, or maybe Capitol Hill around Eastern Market, before you make a big move out of the DC area (note that I live in Arlington, but not quite the yuppy land of Courthouse/Clarendon.)
posted by gudrun at 5:18 PM on July 5, 2009

I live in Boulder and I like it, but it is expensive and yuppie-ish. Hippy/yuppie.

I'll be moving to Arlington soon, which is I guess appropriate because I think "kabomb" is pretty funny.
posted by yesno at 5:41 PM on July 5, 2009

Oh shit. I spent 13 years of my life in Northern Virginia and am currently visiting my parents. :D

Try DC proper, especially areas around Adams Morgan - that's generally more progressive, as far as I've seen, than the rest of DC. The city proper is generally a lot less whitebread. Maryland is also as far as I know a little more progressive.

Northern Virginia is liberal, but it's still Virginia. There is a huge secession movement in areas of Northern Virginia to make it its own state, because it makes 2/3 of the state's revenue but is only a handful of counties in the state. It's sort of in that uncomfortable wedge between really liberal and its unfortunate southern-conservatard roots.
posted by kldickson at 5:59 PM on July 5, 2009

Have you been to Del Ray in Alexandria?
My husband and I live two blocks from the blue and yellow line and really love the fact that we live the small town life. We can walk to a bunch of mom and pop stores and great restaurants and we know many of our neighbors. There are lots of small parades and fairs on Mt Vernon our main street. It does not feel like DC at all. To buy here is very expensive but renting is less than Arlington. The hood is more family oriented with lots of babies and dogs but with that comes people looking for a sense of community. Have some frozen custard at Dairy Godmother and check us out!
PS- I watched clarendon become what it is today and in my house we call it the yuppie compound.
posted by mcbietila at 6:03 PM on July 5, 2009

Boston's great! I don't know why people think it's inhospitable.

Because most of us would rather slit our eyeballs than make small talk with people we don't know. If someone wants more than directions from me, I (and most every NE native I know) I assume they're up to no good.

People from the Boston area don't generally scowl at the neighbors in their building, but it sounds like the OP is hoping for an area where you have a five-minute conversation with a fellow commuter about how late the train is.

I think the suggestion for Philadelphia is perfect. It has tons of cultural offerings, is very livable without a car, and whenever I go down there strangers never stop talking to me about stupid shit.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:04 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I live in downtown Gainesville, Florida and it pretty much completely fits the bill. I use my car about once a week, and only because I don't have a washing machine.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:24 PM on July 5, 2009

Well, crap. We have the same complaints about Reston (DC burbs) but figured things would get much, much better if we moved closer in... like to Arlington. Thanks for crushing my dreams, SanctiCrucis05.

A good friend of mine escaped DC about 5 yrs ago. Her criteria were similar to yours. She did a ton of research before settling on a city. Asheville was one of the contenders, but she settled on Greensboro, NC, and ended up really happy there.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:30 PM on July 5, 2009

I'd say moving across the river would make a world of's easy to get locked into your own neighborhood (and find yourself projecting your impression of that place on the whole region). I live in Columbia Heights and I think I make it over to Dupont Circle maybe once or twice a month...if I were living in the Clarendon Mall, I think I'd be pretty miserable too.

Part of it's your immediate milieu and part of it's what you want to see too. When I first moved here, I moaned about how no one ever talked about anything but politics and real estate, but I really just needed to let my social circle grow...spending time with teachers and doctors and bartenders is good for de-DCing the mind.

(Also, I'm not going to say the locals are universally friendly, but the everpresent tourists will gladly talk your ear off.)
posted by kittyprecious at 6:38 PM on July 5, 2009

I find it a bit odd that no one has recommended Chicago yet. Chicago has an excellent bus system and the country's third-largest rapid transit subway (second to the NYC subway and yes, the Metro, but at least the L runs all night). It's often called a greener, cleaner, cheaper, friendlier version of NYC. Despite its long-standing reputation as a haven for fat Midwesterners, there's a huge co-op movement, lots of farmer's markets, and Mayor Daley sure loves him some bike lanes. Chicago is known as one of the key restaurant capitals of the world, and many Broadway sellouts get their start at the Steppenwolf theater. And did I mention how gosh darn nice everyone is?

As a personal factoid, I used to live (and nearly lost my sanity) in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, where the Clarendon Cheesecake Factory was considered fine dining. I understand your frustration with the neighborhood--DC/Arlington is dull as dirt, replete with some of the smartest but boringest people on the planet. If you don't work on Capitol Hill and live for C-SPAN, it's best to not shack up with the city that has a head but no heart.

A couple of months before I came to my senses and moved to NYC, my then-boyfriend and I flew to Chicago for a week. We were totally floored at all the fun stuff there was to do that were even in the guidebooks--random spelling bees at the bar, friendly conversations with strangers in line at the art museum, green markets on every corner, a Polish food festival, little local enclaves where everyone speaks Russian, etc.

When I get depressed about how expensive, materialistic, and polluted NYC is, I soothe/enrage myself by browsing beautiful, cheap Chicago apartments on Craigslist. And then I whisper, "One day, z. One day."
posted by zoomorphic at 6:38 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Chicago isn't really what I would think of as a "green" city. And sure, people might be friendly to you, unless you're one of the people who live in a food desert or don't have adequate access to healthcare, etc., because you're poor and/or black.

Friendliness is subjective, as we've seen in the variety of responses, but I don't think Chicago is on a par with what the OP is looking for.
posted by runningwithscissors at 6:46 PM on July 5, 2009

4) Friendliness. This might be impossible to ask for in the 21st century, but it's become so bad in Arlington that I feel like a jerk just smiling at someone in the street or saying hello to someone who lives in my building.

Based on this and some comments above, I just wanted to chime in to suggest that I would not choose a city, or measure its friendliness, based on the willingness of strangers in the street to engage you in warm and friendly conversation. I assume this is what people mean when they suggest that New Yorkers — by a very wide margin the friendliest people I've ever lived among — are unfriendly. But I would suggest that you'll get a real sense of warmth and belonging from getting to know friends of friends, friends through work, friends through clubs, societies and hobbies, friends from the local bar, friends from church if that's your thing, etc etc. Sometimes, a person who doesn't meet your eye in the street is just busy, reserved, awkward, or something else. I'm British, so take this all with a grain of salt. But the effusive desperateness-to-please of strangers in some cities in the South and Midwest strikes me as a purely surface phenomenon.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:52 PM on July 5, 2009

Gudrun, the little-known diverse small-town/village aspect of Capitol Hill that I knew 30 years ago has morphed into a white suburb. A quite affluent white suburb. I'm not even really recommending it to people anymore, and I'm really sad about that.
posted by jgirl at 7:00 PM on July 5, 2009

I'd like to nth just moving across the river, unless you really are up for a more dramatic change. I live in Silver Spring and it is more diverse than all of the other places in MD listed, including the part of Takoma Park that is closest to the metro. I love the old town center of Takoma Park, but it is pretty white bread (although it is old hippy styled white bread!). In addition to being more diverse, Silver Spring is very convenient for life without a car. There are several grocery stores near the center (Safeway, Giant and a Whole Foods); two movie theaters, one of which is the excellent AFI Silver; lots of decent restaurants, particularly ethnic restaurants, although it's hardly comparable to the DC scene; access to good bike paths (the Capital Crescent trail starts in Silver Spring, just about a mile from the metro station); and when the red line isn't acting up, it's a quick 15-20 minute ride into DC proper. As for friendliness, most people say hi in the streets and there is a wonderful independent coffee place (Kefa?) where one of the owners always says hi to me when I see her on the sidewalk even though I've only been in there about 5 or 6 times in the 5 years that I've lived here. It probably doesn't stack up with places like Portland, Austin, or even Takoma Park on the green scale, but I think that it has a lot of what you're looking for.

To each their own, but I've also lived in Austin and Philadelphia and wasn't happy in either place. Austin is not walkable and if you don't really love hot, humid summers that last from mid-May well into October, it can be a little bit of hell right here on earth. But the inhabitants are friendly. I'd agree that does have some great food, but also that it is pretty segregated and overall not that diverse. Philadelphia evokes strong feelings; people seem to either love it or hate it, with most of those who love it being from the area (or at least that was what I found to be true). It wasn't a good fit for me. It does have a pretty great restaurant scene, but I would hardly call it "green," nor did I find it to be a particularly friendly place. If anything, I'd say just the opposite and I'm originally from the Boston area, not exactly known for it's friendliness.

Please feel free to memail me if you want more info about Silver Spring (or Philadelphia for that matter, I came here directly after 7 years there. Austin was quite awhile ago, although I think what I said about it still holds true).
posted by kaybdc at 7:07 PM on July 5, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for the many responses! I'm really grateful that so many of you have taken time to write with your own experiences and advice. We'll definitely be looking into several of these locations, and look forward to reading more.

Just to clarify on point 4, friendliness: we're not looking to have full conversations with every stranger we meet! Rather, we're just looking for a place where one doesn't feel ostracized for A) not being part of the bureaucrat / contractor / hill staffer / lobbyist set, or b) not attending a Virginia college. That said, there are parts of DC where this isn't this case, like Dupont (and apparently, Takoma Park and Silver Spring!), in which there are quite a few people who live lives unrelated to gov't work.

Also, having grown up in Massachusetts, it certainly is regarded as unfriendly by outsiders, but I wouldn't say that's the case. It's just that locals only have random conversations about two subjects: bad recent weather, and the state of the Red Sox. (Although I guess that's sort of the case here in DC, too, but with the topics of conversation being bad weather, and committee infighting on the latest House appropriations bill...)
posted by SanctiCrucis05 at 8:01 PM on July 5, 2009

but I don't think Chicago is on a par with what the OP is looking for.

Well, it sounds like you're pretty miserable in Chicago. Sorry about that. Wish it were better for you.

I've lived her for about 20 years now. I was born near NYC and grew up all over the place. Chicago is one of the hippest, small town in a big city, foodie satisfying, friendly, fun and relatively affordable (for its urban size) places I had ever lived. So I stayed and stayed. Now, I don't live in an affluent neighborhood like Lincoln Park or Lakeview. I live in Albany Park where the diversity is kind of mind-blowing, where my neighbors pass homemade chicken posole over the backyard fence, where the jazz musicians and the Old Town School guitar teacher on the block crank it up at the block party every year, where you can catch the Brown Line and enjoy the ride, where our friends are interested in urban agriculture and roof-top farming, etcetera. Are the winters cold and the summers warm? Yes, mostly. That's what you get in cities with FOUR SEASONS. I like the fact that quite a few bits of furniture in my house came out of the alleys of Chicago, that slipping into Rosa's for blues in Logan Square any night of the week is as easy as just deciding to do it, that our Mayor is nuts and the politics here are a sideshow but somehow things get done, that John the delivery guy at Semiramis offered to teach me how to make baba ganouj, that I am surrounded by universities and amazing architecture and gritty neighborhood bars and loads of parks and history. Don't knock Chicago entirely. Could they do more for the poor and to create equity? Every city could.

That said, I think you SHOULD consider Iowa City or Yellow Springs, Ohio or Lawrence, Kansas or Bloomington, Indiana. They are small, artsy towns which are on the more liberal end of the midwestern town spectrum. They aren't going to have the public transportation needed to get very far, but their downtown areas are walkable if you live close in. If you are willing to go a little larger, consider Minneapolis/St Paul (they have metro transit).
posted by jeanmari at 8:08 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cheers to Game Warden on this one. I just want to add this about Portland - even though restaurants and other small business are closing people are still showing up all of the time.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 8:10 PM on July 5, 2009

Sorry, my post was confusing. The first half was in response to runningwithscissors. The last paragraph was for the OP. Toddlers scared of noise + fireworks at night = I didn't get a lot of sleep over the past 48 hours.
posted by jeanmari at 8:11 PM on July 5, 2009

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Minneapolis. Very progressive, more diverse than you'd expect, and cheap as hell.

1. Public Transit. It lacks the excellent pubic transit of DC, but the bus system is comprehensive and there are several great neighborhoods you can live in without needing a car. The Wedge/Linden Hills area comes to mind. I lived in Minneapolis for several years without a car and it was pretty easy - I could walk to the supermarket, hardware store, a dozen restaurants and a handful of coffee shops.

2. Good food. Minneapolis has shockingly good food - Anthony Bourdain said it has the best Vietnamese food in the country; there are also big Mexican and East African communities and the corresponding restaurants. Plus, a ton of unpretentious neighborhood-type places with a local/organic focus. It also seems like every neighborhood has its own coop and they're all really good.

3. Eco-awareness. Tons of greenspace, active biking culture (there are even people who bike through the Minnesota winters!), the best farmers' markets I've seen anywhere. Environmental issues are huge in Minnesota - the voters recently approved a tax increase for environmental restoration!

4. Friendliness. Well, this is pretty much what MN is known for. Super-friendly, open-minded people.
posted by lunasol at 8:26 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and: I lived in DC for 2 years. I do think you guys would be a lot happier in Takoma or somewhere along the Dupont-Adams Morgan-Mt Pleasant corridor. There are still a ton of people in politics there, but this area tends to have more nonprofit types, plus other creative professionals not involved in politics (because most of the nonprofits and creative firms are in the Dupont/Farragut area). My friends who lived in Arlington all moved out within a year or two and are much happier in NW DC. I also found it easy to meet people when I lived there, but I work in politics, which helped.

Basically, stay away from the Orange/Blue Line - the Federal Triangle, the Hill and the Pentagon are all on those lines, which make for a hell of a lot of starched collars.
posted by lunasol at 8:34 PM on July 5, 2009

Portland OR ranks high for great food, walkability, and environmentalism. It's also beautiful and fairly affordable. You do have to pay state income tax, but not sales tax. They also have great mass transit, fabulous books stores, and a decent nightlife. It's not super diverse, but better than most cities. People there have also seemed friendly whenever I have gone there (I'm in Seattle and used to travel there for business frequently. I also like to go there for weekend trips occasionally). It can be a bit dismal weather-wise, but if you don't mind rain, snow in the winter, and fairly hot summers it's all good.

Don't move to Seattle. The culture here is very isolationist. We entertained the idea of moving to Portland ourselves, but have decided to move to Asheville NC instead (the future Mr. Cupcakes being from NC was the deciding factor there).
posted by evilcupcakes at 8:44 PM on July 5, 2009

I'll also second Yellow Springs in terms of hippiness and environmentalism. I grew up in nearby Dayton, and YS is a lovely liberal Asheville-esque enclave in the north. Its vibrancy is somewhat diminished now that Antioch shut down, but apparently it's going to re-open as an independent university next year. But yes, public transit is nil, and the location is quite isolated if you don't love cornfields.

Also check out larger college towns beyond Austin (Austin is seriously unwalkable). Most college towns have more reasonable public transit options for students without cars and liberal professors who are committed to not driving. I went to school in gorgeous Charlottesville, VA, and while the diversity is pretty limited to the student body, the downtown area has a lot of great stores and the bus system was reliable and efficient. I can also see why Cambridge would appeal to you both.

Just to echo with jeanmari, Chicago is vastly underrated by lots of people who haven't visite/are too coast-centric/think the Midwest is comprised of HFCS and cattle. It's a lovely alternative for people who like NYC's size and diversity but hate the urban filth, bitchy strangers, expensive lifestyle and starfucking.

I would prefer never to drive again and walk / take public transportation everywhere.

As an inveterate non-driver, I'd express hesitation at lots of the other non-college town small cities listed (including Yellow Springs) because few drivers realize how annoying it is to not have a car when you're laden with groceries or sleepy-drunk at 3am or would just like to get home in under 2 hours and 3 bus transfers, goddammit. If public transportation and a pedestrian-friendly lifestyle is literally your top priority, you will be frustrated at how inconvenient most low-density population cities make it for non-drivers. "Walkability" is not a fair equivalent to "decent public transit" and "not needing a car." There's a difference between having a bookstore and a yoga studio nearby and being able to commute to work in less than an hour, or being able to spontaneously meet friends at a bar 4 miles away.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:59 PM on July 5, 2009

Brooklyn is pretty cool, some of it is definitely yuppieville but there is an amazing amount of creativity and diversity available too.

Food--no question, it's awesome.

You will never need a car. In fact you will hate yourself if you do have a car. I can't compare to any other cities besides Denver, where you definitely need a car.

People are friendly, more in a live-and-let-live kind of way than a "nice to meet you here's a pie" kind of way. I have always been able to rely on the kindness of strangers ;)

Most of the BK is very safe, you didn't mention that but I think it's a definite plus compared to many other cities like Philly (sorry guys).

The economy isn't looking so great, though. Times are getting a bit tough.
posted by kathrineg at 9:21 PM on July 5, 2009

Arlington is indeed white and getting whiter. Also: yuppies. I'm with game warden to the events rhino when it comes to friendliness.

For what it's worth, the following by-county 2008 presidential election results may help to indicate whether you are more, or less, likely to encounter the occasional cultural-insensitive in the cities you listed as alternatives. (Not that presidential election results are really indicative; maybe some elevator-bigots voted their pocketbooks.) Arlington's right in the middle. Looks like Cambridge and Austin get dinged, though.
                Obama  McCain
Brooklyn          79%    20%
Portland          75%    23%
   (Multnomah Co.)
The ARL           72%    27%
Cambridge         68%    30%
   (Middlesex Co.)
Austin            64%    35%
   (Travis Co.)
Also, people who don't think like you are everywhere. You will encounter them no matter where your elevator is.
posted by speedo at 9:24 PM on July 5, 2009

Also...people in Brooklyn won't ostracize you, but it might be hard to get into a diverse crowd--I find that in NYC there is a lot of diversity but it can be hard to socialize with a diverse group of people, if that makes sense. In some ways it's pretty segregated. Just a data point.
posted by kathrineg at 9:26 PM on July 5, 2009

Definitely move across the river, to where dc-metro natives live. we don't bite. in fact, dc folks are the friendliest i know on earth.

Eastern Market is friendly and cool, as is NE capital hill (now called the Atlas District), or NOMA/Ledroit Park, and Mt. Pleasant. You'd be surprised how little this town has to do with politics or lawyering once you scratch the surface.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:39 PM on July 5, 2009

If you like great food, progressive politics, bookstores, and a healthy dose of both socioeconomic and ethnic diversity, you want to be near spectacular natural surroundings, and you want the people around you to be laid back and friendly, and -- this part is important -- you have enough money to seriously consider Cambridge or Brooklyn, it seems kind of obvious to me that you should live in Berkeley.

As others have mentioned, you would probably like Madison, WI, where I live. Friendly, lots of lefties, fairly diverse (I didn't know or expect this before I moved here from the East Coast.) Food scene excellent in some ways (excellent farmer's markets and groceries) good in others (many good restaurants, but not so many you'd never run out as in a bigger city. And Chinese food is a problem.) I don't, to be honest, know a lot of people who don't own a car. But I do know a lot of people, myself included, who own cars and don't use them that much.

There are, of course, a lot of yuppies here. But there are just as many in Brooklyn, Cambridge, Portland, Austin, and Berkeley. And there are going to be a lot of yuppies wherever you go, because the things you want to be close to -- a variety of ethnic restaurants, Whole Foods, bookstores, parks, gyms, museums -- are the things yuppies like. I know, because I am one, and it sounds like I like the same kinds of places you do.
posted by escabeche at 10:19 PM on July 5, 2009

I lived in Clarendon (Market Commons!) for seven years, and moved to San Francisco two years ago. I think you'd love San Francisco or Portland, based on your criteria. Both cities score extremely high on all four counts.

Portland is more accessible, friendly and green, so far as I can tel. But as a web designer, I make a lot more money in San Francisco. As a web developer, you will, too, and have the benefit of living in the heart of the web community besides.

And aside from the web, you really can't beat San Francisco for a good time. Not only are people friendly, they love to party--there's something going on in public places virtually every weekend that involve costumes, hula-hoops, dogs, art, dudes on bikes with pedal-powered speakers blaring "Thriller", and/or random barbershop quartets. You won't be bored, you'll have access to some of the best coffee in the city, and you'll have to do a bit of searching to find the xenophobic/ignorant types.

Since moving here, I honestly feel like I've been on something of a two-year vacation. It's just so easy to live in San Francisco and have a great time all the time. The weather, the people, the parks; it's all awesome.
posted by timoni at 11:59 PM on July 5, 2009

Reversing Reddot's post above.

Pittsburgh, particularly the East End:

1) Its pretty walkable and has decent and improving public transit. If you do need to drive we have what appears to be a good zipcar network. I have many friends who don't own cars and walk everywhere.

2) Having traveled to many other cities in the past few years, I have to say we have a great food scene in Pittsburgh relative to a lot of the country. Having lived in DC/NOVA for a few years myself, I think Pittsburgh could meet a lot of your food requirements. I don't know if this indicates anything but we have two separate full-on magazines about our local food scene. Also, to tie into your next request, most of our major restaurants are highlighting local food as much as possible nowadays.

3) Environmentalism. There's a reason the G20 summit is being held here (other than Obama's obsession with the pancakes at one of our restaurants). Pittsburgh is successfully making the transition from an industrial to green economy. We hold one of the top square footages of certified green buildings in the world. In the past year we have hosted several major national/international conferences related to conservation and/or environmentalism. This year we are hosting the conference for food co-operatives largely in part to our excellent food co-op and its integration into the local economy. There are several nonprofits working with urban farming as well. I work in this the eco field and I would be happy to share more details if you wish

4) I think we're pretty friendly, at least I am...

We're also pretty inexpensive. You can still get a decent house in a good neighborhood for a lot less than elsewhere (our real estate bubble didn't really burst as in most other sections of the country).
posted by buttercup at 5:38 AM on July 6, 2009

Seconding buttercup. I moved to Pittsburgh last year after seven years in DC, and am happy with the choice. I think a lot of people who come here as students hate it...but to live, especially in the East End, is wonderful. My house cost less than half of what it would have cost in DC, I can walk to some great restaurants and grocery stores. There are tons of green startups, because it's affordable to try a startup. And, there's no question the people are among the friendliest and most genuine I've met anywhere. Pittsburgh is a gem.
posted by another zebra at 6:07 AM on July 6, 2009

With the exception of the neighborhood push for Obama, I don't believe I have ever discussed national politics with my neighbors in Brookland. They don't ask me where I work until well into getting to know me. One neighbor mowed my lawn when I was out of town and another shoveled the snow out front. On the corner is a storefront church next door to a storefront mosque. Up the street are countless Monasteries and the Basillica. My neighbors range in race, ethnicity, origin, religion, economics, and attitude. Most homes in the area were built in the early 20th century and range in size, the perfect mixed-use new urbanist wet dream of an inner street car suburb.

We don't have a huge amount of ammenities, though we have a Yes! Organsmic Market on 12th and the Glut in Mt. Rainier. We're on the high-class red line (and the green/yellow with Ft. Totten very near by). We use our one, tiny car mostly to reach relatives in the outer suburbs and nothing else. My toddler's favorite thing is to ride the choo-choo to the farmers' markets on the weekend. As the houses range in size, they also range in affordability. Brookland has some of the last affordable houses inside the District.

We're also the home of the Casey Tree Foundation.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:06 AM on July 6, 2009

Philadelphia - specifically West Philadelphia/Clark Park. It's friendly, crunchy, walkable, liberal, and inexpensive. Plus there is a lot of community gardening/CSA stuff going on in that area. There is also a co-op and tons of great ethnic restaurants within walking distance. Come up for a day and walk around - I think you'll like it.
posted by jrichards at 8:12 AM on July 6, 2009

I grew up in southern Virginia, lived in Arlington two years, then moved to the west coast, first SF Bay Area and now in Portland. I love Portland (even winters) and I think Portland does very well on your list of 4 criteria. Plus there are a lot of mefites out here. I'm happy to buy you guys a beer if you come to scope it out.
posted by olecranon at 9:17 AM on July 6, 2009

Baltimore. I get around strictly by walking and public transportation (with a few rides from friends here and there). We have weekly single stream recycling of just about everything starting in 2 weeks. Lots of old housing stock, from crumbling to rehabbed.

Very friendly city. Folks chat on the bus. You run in to people all the time. A woman called me out of the sun while I was waiting for the bus yesterday, pointing out that I could see the bus turn from the shade across the street, and make it to the stop easily. This kind of thing happens all the time.

Good food - yeah, we got it. Cheaper than DC, too. From Chicken Rico for your Peruvian charcoal chicken to high end stuff, we have it. See the Dining@Large food blog in the Sun for examples.

We aren't pretentious. $14 gets you to DC and back on a weekday. Comcast is the cable provider, but you can't have everything.
posted by QIbHom at 10:12 AM on July 6, 2009

reddot's right. skip shittsburgh.
posted by rbs at 6:31 AM on March 13, 2010

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