Big scary decisions are big and scary.
July 24, 2009 5:39 PM   Subscribe

What did you do to choose the next city you moved to?

My wife graduates at the end of the year and will then be looking for an elementary teaching job. We have been looking forward to moving out of the sticks and into a city with an active gay community.

She is from Texas and I went to college there (plus we don't want to get too far from our families) so we are looking at the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Austin. This is our first big move and we would like to know what you looked for in a new city before you moved. We are visiting Austin next weekend, but we're not really sure what we should be checking out.

The things we are sure we want: A place more comfortable with gays than where we are now - I understand not everybody is cool with it, but where we are now if you are seen as a couple, you will most likely be confronted verbally and possibly physically. We just want to feel safe holding hands walking down the street.

A job for her. This would have to be lined out before we moved.

An affordable housing market. We've been to San Diego and it was great, but housing was insane and we don't want to live with roommates. Possibly rent to start with until I find a job.

This is all we have at the moment. What else should we be looking at, specifically when we visit? GLBT crowd, I'd appreciate your suggestions and your thoughts on DFW vs Austin.

Thanks for reading my many questions.
posted by CwgrlUp to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Given your criteria, you should consider Houston. It is the 4th largest city in the U.S. (depending upon how you quantify "largest"). The cost of real estate is ridiculously low compared to other major cities. There is a thriving gay community there, particularly if you live inside the Loop. Even in the suburbs, people get that it is a big city, and they are far more accepting than they are in the sticks. In general, Houston is a pretty laid-back city with a lot of diversity. Pretty much anywhere, you would be fine holding hands on the street.

Austin is pretty tolerant, but it is expensive by Texas standards. DFW is not very tolerant, particularly in the suburbs (GW Bush moved to Dallas for a reason).

I grew up in Houston (and have extended family all over Texas), and lived there as both a child and adult. If you can deal with the hella hot summers, it is a really great place to live. (Anecdata - I have also lived in Kentucky (skip), Wichita (hell no), Denver (awesome), and North Carolina (overrated).)

Houston also has the largest school district in Texas, and many of the surrounding suburbs have their own school districts (Spring, Klein, Humble, Conroe, Alief, Fort Bend, Pearland). The unemployment rate for the Houston area is about 6.9% in May 2009, which is pretty good (although admittedly in line with rates in DFW and Austin).

Everything in Houston is air conditioned anyway. I am totally heat-intolerant, and I survived at least 20 summers there.
posted by jeoc at 6:43 PM on July 24, 2009

Houston native (lifelong up to 2003) and Austin resident with in-laws in Dallas here. I am straight but try not to be narrow. Based on your criteria, I would also suggest you look at Houston, particularly the Inner Loop area. You can commute out to a job if you need to; I did that for years. If you're religious, I know there are a number of gay-friendly churches, too.

Austin is more expensive than Houston but it does seem cheaper after a period spent on the east coast. It's laid back and I know a number of openly bi folks who seem happy here.

I would probably put up with DFW in my shoes because of the family there, but I don't think of it as being very gay-friendly; it's more churchy (and not necessarily in an accepting way) and generally uptight than Houston or Austin.
posted by immlass at 7:18 PM on July 24, 2009

CwgrlUp: What else should we be looking at, specifically when we visit?

I am not G,L, particularly B or T but even I am very surprised you're asking about Dallas vs Austin. Given those two choices, Austin has always struck me as vastly more progressive than Dallas, which I think of as an unpleasant mass-market backwater where lost luggage goes to die. Things may have changed substantially in the last ten years but I would be surprised. I don't know anything about Houston but joec does a nice sales job there and it seems like it's an option worth looking at for you guys.

Your criteria for choosing a city will be unique to your priorities as a couple. Ours looked like:

* Has cheap housing (compared to London)
* Has a university (we both grew up in university towns and like them)
* Has live music and some flavour of arts scene (because we like those people)
* Has an airport (so we can go other places easily)
* Has a walkable downtown with groceries, coffee and books (so we don't have to have a car)
* Has independent retailers and doesn't require us to shop in a fucking mall

We don't have kids, we don't play sports and we can work anywhere, so our criteria left out a huge range of issues most other humans need to consider. But making a list of our top ten criteria very quickly helped us narrow down our choices and make a big move, so perhaps making that sort of "lifestyle list" would help you, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:19 PM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm part of a gay male couple. We live in Pearland, one of the Houston suburbs mentioned above. There is a lesbian couple next door to us. We feel perfectly fine here, never encounter problems with our orientation. The couple next door smooches on their front porch; my partner and I are not that demonstrative. Walking hand in hand at the Town Center might or might not raise an eyebrow, but I can't picture anyone being so rude as to bug you about it.

I should add that our neighborhood is racially, ethnically, and internationally diverse. The precinct voted over 60% for Obama, if that's helps.

Many of the suburban school districts here are expanding. Ours (Alvin ISD) seems to be adding another elementary school every year or so. HISD, the main one in the city, is closing or consolidating some schools. Y'all should probably investigate the situation locally in the areas where you look. And by locally, I mean down to the school-district level. Whether it's Dallas, Austin, Houston, even San Antonio, you want to minimize the length of your commute if you can. Traffic in all these cities is hell.

I lived in Austin as a college student 25 years ago. My impression is that it's become more expensive, and somewhat more schizophrenic. On the one hand, the self-consciously cultivated "Keep Austin Weird" quirkiness is stronger than ever; on the other hand, it sometimes seems like an affectation (cue middle-aged curmudgeon, "It's not like it used to be..."). Austin is more business oriented now than then, full of high-tech firms that were barely getting born when I moved away.

Dallas has, rightly or wrongly, a reputation for pretentiousness. It's "the big city," never mind that Houston has more people. Houston, to me, has a sense of being more genuine, in a "down home welcome and well met" sense. On the other hand, I never go to the Galleria; perhaps Houston and Dallas more alike than in my experience. In part, you get out of a place what you bring to it.

Think about what you like to do when you're not working... Do you stay home, go out, or what? Are you into hiking and nature, into the arts, culture, live music, so on so forth? Do you want to get to the hills/mountains easily? Or do you like to go to the beach? How about climate? Sure, we're all hot in summer, but do you care whether or not you freeze in winter, or whether the leaves of the trees change color? If any of these sorts of things matter, factor it in.

It's important to locate yourself in a place where you can do the activities you want to do and feel that you fit in, feel at home. It's your life, after all, day by day.

For me personally, if we didn't live here we'd be in either Austin, for the hills, or in San Antonio, also for the hills and because it's where I grew up. I'm torn between my love of the Gulf and my love of the Hill Country. Beyond that, I could probably make myself at home in any town that welcomes me.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:56 PM on July 24, 2009

DarlingBri: ...Dallas, which I think of as an unpleasant mass-market backwater where lost luggage goes to die.

Yeah, but it's our unpleasant mass-market backwater where lost luggage goes to die. :)

That said, I'm forced to agree with the above comments. If you are dead-set on coming to D/FW, you should stick to the Dallas side of Dallas/Fort Worth. With all due respect to my west-of-the-airport brethren, Dallas is more progressive than Fort Worth, though nowhere near Dallas. For all that is reasonable, you do not want to wind up in Collin County, though Denton (city of) near the two universities (Texas Woman's and North Texas) may work for you as well. The remainder of Denton County closely mirrors Collin, but we're (hi!) a little farther along by virtue of the university influence.

One key problem with moving to D/FW is that if you want to work in a school district that pays well (especially at the elementary level) and won't give you tetanus, you will at least be working in one of the aforementioned areas that you probably want to avoid.

However, all the foregoing aside, you will very likely not be harassed here, but you might be whispered about in quiet corners once the offendeds go back home to their gated communities since most people here are rather laid back, but those that aren't are vocal. On the other hand, there might not be anybody to actually see you, because walking anywhere around here is not really worth it. If you want to live somewhere that has shops and such within walking distance or doesn't need a car, the Metromess is not your style.

So, to help you with a specific location instead of just being all negative: Choose Austin. To avoid having your luggage lost: Choose Southwest.
posted by fireoyster at 7:56 PM on July 24, 2009

Austin is a bit pricey, but nothing like San Diego. I love it, love it, love it, and although I moved away (for a job, of course!), I miss it regularly. DarlingBri nailed it right on the head. And I will add to the not having to have a car part; I lived there for three years without a car, lived relatively centrally and biked everywhere, lived across the street from two fantastic grocery stores. Dallas strikes me as too big, difficult to maneuver, trafficky, and generally not that liberal.
posted by cachondeo45 at 7:57 PM on July 24, 2009

cachondeo45: DarlingBri nailed it right on the head.

For the sake of clarity, I should point out that while in retrospect my list does coincidentally quite nicely describe Austin (a city I do love), we didn't move to Austin and do not live there. But apparently if you want the lifestyle equivalent of Austin in an English-speaking European city, Cork, Ireland is the place you're looking for.

Sadly, we have no bats. On the plus side, also no rabies.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:42 PM on July 24, 2009

As a native (and current) Houstonian, not to mention a former resident of Austin with family in San Diego, I feel I should chime in and say that I've never lived in a place with such a vibrant GLBT culture as Houston. To offer one small example (among many), we have the largest and most well-attended pride parade in the Southwest--a beautiful, inclusive event featuring the city's mayor and mayoral candidates, our police force, nonprofit organizations, as well as many other colorful characters.

In addition to being a good option for all the reasons enumerated above, Houston's a fabulous place to be gay.
posted by safran at 11:22 PM on July 24, 2009

than Fort Worth, though nowhere near Dallas Austin

Crap, can't believe I only noticed that after 8 hours had passed...
posted by fireoyster at 3:56 AM on July 25, 2009

Best answer: It sounds like you have prioritized some things already - which is a great start!

Then start thinking about the things you need and want, and do a little research. "Affordable housing" is too vague to be useful for anyone. There is - technically - affordable housing in almost all major cities. But what standards do you apply to your housing? Are you living on a fifty acre farm now with a ping pong room and a sauna? Are you going to be freaked out by a tiny city apartment? Is sustainable building/planning an issue you care about? What about commuting costs from the potentially habitable housing?

Where is your family? As you're probably aware, Texas is a big place. And at some point, you are just as close to your family via car as you are by plane from across the country. Is proximity important for weekend trips or evening meals shared together? That's a big difference.

Climate doesn't seem to be an issue you discuss (though it is one that many people consider when relocating). The three places that have been mentioned have similar, but not identical climates. Houston is humid. Austin and Dallas? Not as much. Everything is hot as balls...

What kind of teaching is your wife interested in? She should probably read up on the school districts and notable private schools in locations you are considering. (If you memail me, I will gladly pass your email along to elementary school teachers I know in the Houston region. They may be able to provide a little first-hand insight.) Also, you haven't mentioned what YOU do and you may want to do some thinking about what location will be best for you professionally - if you have a job that is not entirely portable.

And finally, you mention the LGBT community, but there are a LOT of LGBT communities. I understand that right now your primary focus is on safety and fitting in, but gayborhoods across the country all have different flavors. Austin is, of course, "gay owned and operated." But I always get the sense that it is pretty diffuse throughout the town, rather than concentrated in an area like Montrose (Houston). Think about the types of activities you might want to take part in and go from there. Do you just want gay people around, or do you want a gay chorus to sing in and a softball team to play with on the weekends? Is nightlife or art important?
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:05 AM on July 25, 2009

Response by poster: Really good, thought-provoking answer greekphilosophy. To cherry-pick a couple, yeah we know it's balls hot and we'll be visiting in the summer so we'll be making sure it's bearable for us. Re: LGBT community, we're not looking for a gay commune, just a place with other gay people to hang out with. We have no gay friends here and no opportunity to meet any which is totally discouraging. I guess our ideal would be somewhere where the majority of places you go, not just in the gayborhood, your presence wouldn't cause glares and people leaving.
posted by CwgrlUp at 11:25 AM on July 25, 2009

You really are describing Houston. Seconding all the Houston-centric info above and adding my own experience.

Austin is great, everyone knows it's great, blah blah. I lived there for 15 years as a young queer, it was a lot of fun, and then it got really, really expensive. Plus there were limited job opportunities in my field. Houston, especially inside-the-loop Houston, is just as gay and much more internationally diverse, a grown-up version of Austin. My neighborhood, Westbury, super cheap and just outside the loop, is so gay that we have a queer wine tasting group, a queer gardening group, and a gay playgroup.

D/FW - I got nothin'. At least nothin' nice.
posted by pomegranate at 6:42 PM on July 25, 2009

What type of school does your girlfriend plan to teach in, public or private? It's an unfortunate time to be looking for a job as an elementary school teacher right now. Public schools around the country are laying off teachers and increasing class sizes, especially in elementary schools and especially in urban areas. A quick Google search brought up this article about Dallas teachers. (That means there are 350 experienced teachers looking for work in private schools and nearby districts.) Do some research before making the move. I went to school in Los Angeles and moved to New York City to get an elementary teaching position last year because California's urban schools were eliminating positions like mad. Only five of the the 150+ students from my teaching certification program have found positions, and all of them except me took positions in rural agricultural areas after extensive job searches. She may have to work somewhere less desirable until the economy picks up or she has some work experience to make herself more competitive in the job market.
posted by HotPatatta at 7:47 AM on July 26, 2009

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