Spartan, tech-oriented, late-twentyish couple seeks relocation!
July 29, 2010 8:06 PM   Subscribe

Spartan, tech-oriented, late-twentyish couple seeks relocation! Where should we move?

We're become increasingly disgusted with the area in which we both grew up and have decided to bite the bullet and move away for the first time. In our large Midwestern town, we're really sick of:

-the complete and utter lack of public transportation - we'd like to give up the car completely and live somewhere that this is normal
-the lack of quality apartment space - options here consist of renting an absolute dump or buying a house
-the lack of a vibrant web community - one of us is a career-focused designer, so telecommute is okay but definitely not as easy to arrange
-being hours away from the nearest popular music venue
-big box stores, chain restaurants and the absence of healthy food options ("wtf is a Whole Foods?")
-the nonexistence of single/childfree/alt twenty and thirty-somethings - it would be great to know a few people who didn't settle down at 19!
-blatant racism and intolerance (we've got a KKK group nearby, not to mention the ever-present tea party, and they're not ignored)

I know that a lot of cities could pass our dealbreakers. NYC seems scary-huge, while SoCal seems scary-expensive. Austin and Portland/Seattle appear to see a glut of people our age from this neck of the woods (this could just be confirmation bias on my part) so I worry it would be tough to find work. I see Madison recommended here fairly often, but I think it's too small for us. We're interested in the Twin Cities, but reluctant to move to yet another flyover state. FWIW, we lived in north London for a few weeks and absolutely fell in love with it - the markets with fresh food, the great public transport network, the music venues right down our street and the vibe of the city.

Again, we're late-twenties - no kids or houses or interest in either, indoorsy by nature and don't mind all four seasons. A good nerd community would be lovely (where do the Metafilterians congregate?). Though one of us is a techie, the other is a liberal arts major who hasn't been able to find a great gig yet - so that'll rule out places with an insanely high cost of living or unemployment rate.

What cities/boroughs would be suitable for us? If you can recommend a city, you should recommend an area of that city too! If you can't, do tell us where we absolutely shouldn't live!
posted by theraflu to Travel & Transportation (41 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Berkeley, CA. I have a wonderful one-bedroom close to BART I can tell you about.
posted by parmanparman at 8:09 PM on July 29, 2010

We just got back from a week in San Francisco. I agree with parmanparman, it's an awesome area and sounds just like what you want.
posted by raisingsand at 8:13 PM on July 29, 2010

Washington DC passes your dealbreakers, but I'm not positive it's got the "vibe" you're looking for. Certainly public transportation friendly, lots of jobs for both techies and bleeding hearts, lots of housing options, tons of farmer's markets and good food (restaurants and stores), plenty of live music... tons of great neighborhoods!

Cost of living is a little high, but manageable if at least one of you has a high-ish steady income.

Go for a visit, see if you like it!
posted by charmcityblues at 8:16 PM on July 29, 2010

Of all the ways I've heard NYC described as being "too much," huge was never one of them. And it's not nearly as expensive as everyone makes it out to be, unless your tastes are.
posted by griphus at 8:21 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Boston and the towns surrounding it. You've got the most nerds per capita ( MIT, Harvard, Tufts, etc), massive IT and biotech going on, public transit, eminently walkable city overall, lots of music venues, and lower living expenses than SoCal or NYC.
posted by canine epigram at 8:21 PM on July 29, 2010

If public transit and quality apartments are important, Austin is not for you.
posted by zjacreman at 8:23 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

If NYC itself seems too big for you, what about Brooklyn? You can commute into the city for work, you have your choice of great neighborhoods - each with a fantastic vibe - and it meets all of your criteria.
posted by mewithoutyou at 8:24 PM on July 29, 2010

NYC doesn't feel very huge when you're actually here, especially once you get settled in. Outside of Midtown, the city is more like a series of interconnected small towns.

This becomes more and more true as you head away from that center point - for instance the Upper East and Upper West sides, to me, feel big and impersonal because they're huge neighborhoods with commercial areas laid out like shopping malls, anchored around a park that can be a little daunting to get to know on a personal level. On the other hand, downtown you'll find microneighborhoods so tiny you can traverse them in a few hundred paces, where everyone shops at the same corner store and walks their dogs in the same pocket park named after the Revolutionary War hero who owned the farm this used to be.

You also sort of make your own little village, as a New Yorker. Even outside of basics that obviously need to be accomplished blocks from home (groceries, laundry, takeout), I have my places that I always go. The bar with the really amazing happy hour specials. The yoga studio I can walk to after work. The best tree in Prospect Park. That restaurant that gives out campari cocktails with brunch. It doesn't matter that there are thousands of bars, yoga places, restaurants, and trees in this city. Those are mine.

If you can afford it and you think you can find work, I vote New York. You could definitely learn to be at home here.
posted by Sara C. at 8:30 PM on July 29, 2010 [6 favorites]

posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:39 PM on July 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

I vote Chicago or Portland/Seattle area. Prices in Chicago aren't super cheap, but certainly cheaper than Vancouver pricing.
posted by arcticseal at 8:47 PM on July 29, 2010

Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, DC all fit the bill. Possibly Atlanta or Philly.
posted by dfriedman at 8:59 PM on July 29, 2010

I'm a bit in the same boat, and not yet fed up with Minneapolis. (Caveat: it's he only American city I've ever lived.) Transit is tolerable if you live in the right place. I prefer biking. I haven't done all that much with the social-technology scene, but it exists (I can vouch for the more programmer-ish side of things).

I'm trying to decide where I want to live myself. Uptown is the go-to for hip noveau-adults and has been for a while, I feel it gets too many scensters. Despite which, it is nice. Nordeast will eventually turn into uptown. I know nothing of St. Paul, but I've heard good things. Midtown is more diverse than uptown. There are tons of places to live within a 20 minute ride (or bus trip) of downtown and lots of nice green space everywhere. But you possibly already live here, and it might also be a bit too close if you're really looking to uproot.
posted by kjell at 9:00 PM on July 29, 2010

I think you'd like Denver.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:04 PM on July 29, 2010

While I agree that New York is way more livable than you'd think, I wouldn't move here if you need two salaries to live off of and your partner doesn't have a career that allows him/her to pick up work quickly and easily.

Boston's honestly not significantly cheaper (except when it comes to groceries), but if you do go there (and I do think Boston's worth consideration), look in Cambridge and not Boston proper. It's still definitely a city, but it's a little more laid back, prettier (in my opinion), more overtly liberal/weird/nerdy, and you can find some great deals on housing. Plus, if you have a car, parking is so much easier on the Cambridge side of the river.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:13 PM on July 29, 2010

Weird that you think of Socal as being "scary-expensive". I don't think you'd like it here, but it's much easier to live cheaply here than in the Bay Area or NYC. Sure, if you want to live in West LA I'd say it's about as pricey as parts of NYC, but if you don't want to live in a fashionable neighborhood there are plenty of options. That said, the jobs situation isn't great, the transit is rotten, and the web community is - well, it exists, but it's not large.

I think you need to move to the Bay Area, and not to the Peninsula, either. I'd try the city first or maybe look at Berkeley.
posted by little light-giver at 9:20 PM on July 29, 2010

(Not that you can't comfortably live car-free in Cambridge)
posted by oinopaponton at 9:21 PM on July 29, 2010

I don't think you'd like it here, but it's much easier to live cheaply here than in the Bay Area or NYC.

I lived in the LA suburbs and it was considerably more expensive than NYC simply because there was no cheaper alternative to just about anything that wasn't Walmart.

Oh, one more thing to tout NYC: if you don't own a car (and why would you?) your standard transportation expenses are $89/month.
posted by griphus at 9:25 PM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you're going to have trouble giving up the car and having that be "normal" outside of NYC and maybe San Fran or Boston. You can get around Chicago on public transit, but most people still have cars there.

I moved from Mpls to Seattle. Both fit a lot of your criteria, but most people have cars, and Mpls is a heckuva lot cheaper than Seattle. We paid twice as much for a house in Seattle as we did in about the nicest neighborhood in Mpls.
posted by GaelFC at 9:31 PM on July 29, 2010

Liberal artsy jobs are relatively easy to come by here. My degree is in such an area and I have never had problems finding work. The same is true for most of my friends.

There are a lot of creative firms, nonprofits, and cultural institutions here. I'm not sure I'd say it's "easy" to find a job doing that, but it's probably a better possibility here than in many other places. The job market in general seems kind of OK-ish unless you're in finance or trying to get work through the government (teachers, cops, civil servants). Probably better than Portland, at least.
posted by Sara C. at 9:39 PM on July 29, 2010

new york, once you live here, can be as cosy as you want it to be, as long as you live in a good neighborhood you love. i work from home and live in a micro neighborhood in downtown manhattan with lots of good food, retail and recreation options, so i can stay well within a six block radius of my apartment for days—weeks, even—and be pretty happy. i can walk into bodegas and restaurants near me without cash and still get served because they know i live nearby and will be good for it. once when i nearly passed out on the street, not only did the guys that own the italian sandwich place carry me home but the neighborhood drunk carried my dog home. jane jacobs would be proud.
posted by lia at 10:09 PM on July 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds like maybe you haven't been to a lot of the cities you think you might want to live in, aside from London?

You're right: many places will pass your tests. And so, all of us will tell you to come to our cities.

You need to develop more specific criteria. Public transportation is a good start -- giving up the car completely narrows it down a lot.

Once you've got a smaller list, start looking at craigslist for your various cities. Look at apartments, look at jobs. Hell, start applying!

And, finally, hop in a plane. If New York seems crazy, come visit us and find the truth out for yourself.
posted by thejoshu at 11:58 PM on July 29, 2010

Move to Finland. I'm not kidding.

Public transportation is just great. You do not need a car if you don't want to own one.
You can more or less easily rent reasonably good apartments. Or buy one.
Nokia is here so a lot of IT-related people around. Also foreigners. Also single etc.
Very good food.
Almost no racism and intolerance.
posted by avysk at 3:59 AM on July 30, 2010

Ah, the Richard Florida phenomenon. I left Tampa 20 years ago for all the reasons you cite. I've since lived in Boston, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Chicago, Sydney, and now London. All of these places meet most of your criteria. If NYC seems scary-huge and SoCal scary expensive, why not consider someplace like Chicago or Pittsburgh? Pittsburgh doesn't quite have the excellent public transport you are after, but otherwise meets all your criteria and is a very affordable place to have a high quality of life. Chicago has everything, but of course, there's the winters. While many of the cities that have these amenities are expensive, you can always find affordable ways to do it. If you have the budget, why not take a few weekend trips to check out some of these places?
posted by amusebuche at 4:11 AM on July 30, 2010

Austin is awesome except for your public transportation requirement.
posted by markmillard at 4:59 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

NYC seems scary-huge

My first day in NYC was a one-day fly-in-fly-out for an interview in midtown. I saw it from the plane window and the inside of a taxi. My second day in NYC I was riding the subway to work, wondering if I was on the right train. What followed were the fastest 6 years of my adult life - I've always said I wish I had moved there sooner. NYC is my home away from California.

It is the exact opposite of everything on your list that you are sick of. If you liked London, and want something similar in the US, NYC is where you belong. Trust me - it is neither scary, nor huge.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:03 AM on July 30, 2010

To dissent a little -- New York is wonderful, but may come as a shock to you -- your apartment dollars won't stretch very far at all, and it can be huge and draining for introverts. Unless you really earn quite a lot, it's hard to make a sustainable financial life there if you ever want to have any trappings of the middle class (eg, a two bedroom apartment in a nice place; kid; vacation; 401k). It also has a rampant consumer-money-fashion vibe which you can isolate yourself from to a degree, but is always (for me) annoyingly in the background in a way it's not in other cities. You can live there more cheaply, sure, but you may get tired of it. In short, NYC is a fantastic place to live for a few years, but if you really want to put roots down in a new place I would go for a city with a better balance -- Chicago, Philly, Seattle...
posted by yarly at 5:21 AM on July 30, 2010

Move to Finland. I'm not kidding.

Hell, I'd move to Finland if I could, but that's not an option for people without easy access to visas and EU citizenry, especially if we're not a good fit for Nokia.

I agree that you're undervaluing NYC. San Francisco is cute but most people drive there (try relying on the BART late at night or biking up those damn hills) and I personally disliked the smug yoga-esque attitude, but I'm a cold-hearted East Coast bitch.

I'll also throw in my hat for Chicago, my favorite city in the US besides, ostensibly, Brooklyn.

So let's do this one by one:

-the complete and utter lack of public transportation - we'd like to give up the car completely and live somewhere that this is normal

In this respect, I think Chicago has excellent real estate for its asking price, but Chicagoans can weigh in on this further. NYC's expensive living costs are significantly overhyped when you factor in the $89/month transportation fee, free stuff to do, and quality of life. I've lived here for nearly 5 years and know by now that a fairly-priced apartment in a cute, safe neighborhood is extremely feasible if you're willing to sweat out Craigslist and ask basically everyone you know if they've heard of good places opening up.

-the lack of a vibrant web community - one of us is a career-focused designer, so telecommute is okay but definitely not as easy to arrange

Yeah, NYC has every city beat in this respect. Unless you can actually consider Europe or South Korea, the New York MTA is leagues beyond any other city's public transit. Owning a car is laughably unnecessary here.

-the lack of quality apartment space - options here consist of renting an absolute dump or buying a house

West Coast has NYC beat, but not by much, as there are metric tons of designers living in NYC. Chicago is far more iffy, I think.

-being hours away from the nearest popular music venue
-big box stores, chain restaurants and the absence of healthy food options ("wtf is a Whole Foods?")

Heh. Yeah, NYC is pretty much the end-all, be-all of this desire.

-the nonexistence of single/childfree/alt twenty and thirty-somethings - it would be great to know a few people who didn't settle down at 19!

This is one of my favorite things about NYC: people don't really settle down with kids and yards and shit until the woman/primary caregiver is around 34. It's so extremely common, so status quo, to meet lots of 30something couples who have absolutely no plans of conceiving. This is partly because NYC is pretty expensive without having a kid and partly because there's so much fun to be had in your later years that parenthood looks fucking dull and depressing by comparison.

-blatant racism and intolerance (we've got a KKK group nearby, not to mention the ever-present tea party, and they're not ignored)

That is so quaint.

Honestly, you guys sound like hardcore Brooklyn residents to me, maybe Chicagoans if you like the cold. Please don't write off NYC because of what Hollywood says the city looks and feels like. I'm a nice Midwestern girl myself, but I have the exact same tastes as you (anti-car, anti-early-family, pro-healthy eating, etc), down to the part where NYC (aka Manhattan) seems obnoxiously forbidding and not-fun. As it turns out, I was just a spiritual Brooklynski at heart.
posted by zoomorphic at 5:46 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to vote for a DC semi-suburb. Tysons Corner, Arlington, Alexandria, even out to Fairfax or Falls Church (sorry, I only know the VA-side suburbs). They're not QUITE as walkable as inside DC, or in the other big cities, but the buses are decent, and the Metro rail is pretty good.
posted by specialagentwebb at 6:05 AM on July 30, 2010

draining for introverts.

Granted I'm no shut in, but I find NYC a lot easier to manage in this sense than, say, anywhere in the South or Midwest. Urban life is structured in such a way as to minimize unnecessary social contact. When I visit other smaller cities/towns I find the social requirements exhausting.

It is not, however, a great city for people who are claustrophobic.

Unless you really earn quite a lot, it's hard to make a sustainable financial life there if you ever want to have any trappings of the middle class

I suppose this depends on what your standards for a middle class life are and what "earn quite a lot" is. I know plenty of people who do quite well on two professional incomes. Two friends of mine match the OP's career descriptions almost exactly (he's a programmer, she's a design/liberal artsy type). They have a nice apartment in Park Slope, take vacations, save for retirement, all that stuff.

Of course, when you live here, you have to adjust your standards for that sort of thing. Not because things are worse, but because things are different. People rent more and buy less. Square footage is smaller. Homes are typically older, which means they're not full to the brim with conveniences like washers and dryers and central air and all that. It's difficult to own a car here. People tend to spend their disposable income on services and smaller purchases - which probably explains the money/consumption/fashion vibe that yarly mentions.

If the above sounds horrible to you, New York probably isn't your city. But if you think you could live with adjusting your expectations to what I've described, you could definitely do well here.
posted by Sara C. at 6:20 AM on July 30, 2010

Let me put in a vote for my city: Durham, North Carolina!

I live in a nice neighborhood walking distance from my office at an advertising agency in downtown Durham. I've got my car, but I generally use that primarily for going to the grocery store and other things that aren't right downtown.

Affordable housing is a big plus -- lots of loft apartments, old houses for rent and carriage houses if a whole house isn't your thing.

Lots of designers and creative types around here, with the Research Triangle Park down the road for your IT nerds and Duke and UNC offering lots of possibilities for the liberal arts graduate to work in a university environment.

The city is just starting to blossom, with new stuff opening up every week it feels like, great restaurants that are constantly being featured in fancy pants food mags, a thriving local food movement.

And lots of people who are child-free -- two friends of mine who live around the corner from me, are in their early 40s, no kids, one's a designer, the other a professional chef and they play in a rock band in their free time.

It's a pretty neat place, if I do say so myself.
posted by missjenny at 6:37 AM on July 30, 2010

I would suggest Philly. As a Philly 'burb native, I was underwhelmed by the "culture" in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The whole vibe up there can feel really pretentious - too many people trying to make it, fleeing the nest for the first time, old money, etc going on up there. Philly has various neighborhoods, each with a slightly different flavor, much lower cost of living than NYC, a workable bus / train system, and better unhealthy late night food (trust me, you'll grow to love it).

Generally speaking, Wikipedia actually has pretty good articles for neighborhoods in cities if you wanted to find out the cultural make-up or crime rates and such.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:11 AM on July 30, 2010

Oh I forgot my favorite thing about Philly - the live music scene. You have several venues for big blockbuster tours, quaint bars with various types of music (jazz, bluegrass, rock/alternative, hip-hip...) and all kinds of aural wierdness in between. R5 Productions is one of my favorite concert promoters in the area and they bring around a lot of underground-ish acts for around 12-15$ tickets and they usually have cheap drinks at shows too.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:15 AM on July 30, 2010

Sounds like you want to live near a major research university that has a decent city instead of fields. Seriously, you'd probably be happy in Ann Arbor, maybe in Columbus, possibly Indianapolis, etc. Being car free in most places that aren't NYC means having a fairly small area you spend most of your time in; this is possible in all these places in at least two or three neighborhoods. My apartment is decentish (especially by NYC standards,) I can walk past a design school, a law school, and several bars/restaurants on my way to work downtown, and we have farmer's markets twice a week (and, yeah, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, but it's a long bus ride.) If I were like you, as you describe yourself, I'd love it here - I'm not, so I'm moving across town in two weeks because I want A/C and a designated parking space and so forth. Bearing in mind a surprising number of people use our bike trails to get from where I'm moving to downtown. I'm in Columbus; won't ever move back to LA/Orange County if I can possibly help it.
posted by SMPA at 7:18 AM on July 30, 2010

Boulder (or Denver, as was suggested upthread).
posted by freezer cake at 8:54 AM on July 30, 2010

Also, while you can be "car free" in the sense of owning a car, having a Zipcar (or other car sharing service) can really help out from time to time.
posted by reddot at 9:04 AM on July 30, 2010

Des Moines, IA. Really. Its not one big farm. There's stuff to do and jobs to be had. But the winters do suck.
posted by ducktape at 11:20 AM on July 30, 2010

Seriously, you'd probably be happy in Ann Arbor

No way...public transit in Ann Arbor may be better than many other places in Michigan, but it still sucks (buses stop running at 6pm on the weekends!) I am managing without a car now, but most people have one.
posted by puffin at 11:51 AM on July 30, 2010

Also, just to add: as a committed non-driver (less so because I'm environmentally aware and more because driving makes me both suicidal and homicidal), I've noticed that lots of people who claim they "only" use cars for activities x, y, and z are vastly, crucially underestimating how much they rely on driving. Moreso, lots of drivers in somewhat public-transit-friendly cities also wrongly assume it's easy-peasy to get around without a car.

There are very, very few cities in the US that permit denizens to travel efficiently, safely, affordably and in extreme circumstances on public rail. Many people don't consider what it's like to carry home 50 lbs worth of groceries in the pouring rain, or factor in the cost of cabs when a destination has no public transit nearby, or have had to add the Zipcar cost to the price tag of the super-heavy couch you found off Craigslist.

It is extremely possible to live in NYC without a car, less so in Chicago but still feasible (but waiting outside in the winter is awful), kind of a pain in DC unless you plan on living, working and having fun within the city limits, and increasingly more difficult as you go down the list, population-wise.

I don't ever want to own a car again, but this means I have very few alternatives to living in New York City. I'm okay with that. If you're serious about giving up your car, though, don't count on cute college towns like Ann Arbor and mid-sized liberal meccas like Austin, TX, SF and Seattle to make your life any easier.

Not driving has really liberated me from so much stress in my life, but having not driven in many cities before I settled in Brooklyn makes me appreciate my current circumstances even during fare hikes and spotty weekend service. I'd much rather read a book on the crowded subway than tear out my hair in traffic.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:47 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Almost any big city would meet your criteria. It sounds like the problem is you are talking yourself out of good options and possibly suffering from decision paralysis. So let me roll this here die and it says: Seattle. Congratulations, you're moving to Seattle.
posted by chairface at 3:10 PM on July 30, 2010

SMPA: "you'd probably be happy in Ann Arbor"
amusebuche: "why not consider someplace like Chicago or Pittsburgh?"

Ann Arbor and Pittsburgh are both places I've lived where it's theoretically possible to get along without a car, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Ann Arbor isn't very big---about 5 miles across in both directions---but most bus routes run only twice an hour (sometimes 4x/hr on the major lines), and they end at 6 or 10pm during the week and at 6 on weekends if they run at all. Walking and biking are pretty safe though, even in the middle of the night (I used to walk the three miles home from working on campus at UM at midnight without seeing a single person on the street, walking or driving, once I got off campus). Housing is quite expensive---I know of a not-particularly-nice 700-sq-ft 2-br that sold for $106,000 in 1998 or so, and my parents were renting the 900-sq-ft 3-br next door for somewhere around a grand a month around the same time....

Pittsburgh is not as big or sprawling as Chicago or NYC, and the housing is insanely cheap---we rent a massive 3-br that is probably 50% bigger than my parents house, for about 50% less---but that's because it's falling apart at the seams (literally, with new seams every month). The places with new and/or walkable housing stock are largely either much more expensive or filled with college students still discovering the ability to drink themselves silly eight nights a week and vomit on whoever's porch is convenient. Public transit, while much better than AA, is likely to be cut by more than a third this winter, due in large part to the stunning incompetence of the county and state governments and the unwillingness of anyone in this region or state to show any concern for people who don't directly vote for or do business with them. The lines that do exist almost all radiate from Downtown, making it difficult to get between areas that aren't directly on the same arterial from Downtown, such as from the Target to the area where we used to live---that two-bus trip used to take an hour, and that's when the asshole bus driver didn't pass you up at your transfer and leave you for the next bus 20 minutes later.

And, of course, our mayor, like any good twentysomething, would rather go drinking at a ski resort than worry about something like twenty inches of snow falling in a day.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 7:57 AM on July 31, 2010

Chicago it is! A week later and I'm about to nail down a job in the city. It pays to make contacts on Twitter, let me tell you.
posted by theraflu at 9:13 PM on August 5, 2010

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