Portland, Chicago, or Austin?
August 20, 2010 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Should I move to Portland, OR; Chicago, or Austin? Or somewhere I haven't thought of?

I'm in a position to move somewhere that's a better fit for me than my current location in the urban Southwest. Here's what I'm looking for:

-Job market with decent employment rate. Openings in jobs that involve writing, editing, and/or social change.

-Literary and artistic culture. Innovative art scene.

-Progressive politics.

-Music scene in which a rock/blues guitarist/drummer can make a living and network with other pro musos.

-Affordable housing.


-Walking-friendly infrastructure, vegetarian-friendly restaurants.

Here are my concerns about each city:

-Portland: I have heard that heroin is readily available here. I successfully rid myself of a heroin habit about 5 years ago, and while the thought of relapse seems unlikely now, I don't want to tempt fate. Also, I do tend to get depressed when it's too gray and rainy. Are these concerns enough to mitigate the good qualities Portland has?

-Chicago: Same with Portland re: the weather, but even colder. On the plus side, I have family there.

-Austin: My main worry is that the music scene is too saturated there for me to find paying gigs. I'm not bound to one genre, though; I play country, blues, rock, experimental jazz, etc.

So, Hive Mind, I'd be grateful if you could share your experiences and suggestions to help me escape the literal and metaphorical desert.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (43 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Through past threads on AskMe that include pros and cons of Portland, OR - you really need to move there with a job already secured.
posted by spec80 at 10:01 AM on August 20, 2010

Boston has pretty much everything you're looking for (though affordable housing may require living in specific pockets). It's not a huge town, but it's a great place to live.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:03 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Portland is one of the hardest job markets for young people in the United States right now (e.g., e.g., e.g.).
posted by caek at 10:05 AM on August 20, 2010

Move to the city with the best opportunity of finding a job. Look first to personal connections, then to the market as a whole. Weather may depress you a bit, bit I doubt it will have nearly the effect of not paying your electricity might
posted by craven_morhead at 10:05 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to the saturation of the music scene (though I do know a fair amount of people getting paying gigs here) but Austin isn't what I'd call walking friendly. If you live in certain areas (e.g. near campus, South Congress) you could probably do OK, but other than that you'll need a car or want to live near a bus line.
posted by sanko at 10:09 AM on August 20, 2010

I hate to be the echo chamber here, but yeah, Portland's job market is, well, basically, it doesn't really have one. I moved here before the recession and wrapped burritos for six months before I found a 'real' job (and it's still not like, a great job...)
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:09 AM on August 20, 2010


Great job prospects. Lively music scene. Urban/walkable in many neighborhoods. You'd be hard pressed to beat Denver for nature options.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:10 AM on August 20, 2010

Here's what I'm looking for:

-Job market with decent employment rate.

Portland's out, then. The job market here is abysmal. Truly, deeply, abysmal. Anecdotally, my wife is currently interviewing people for a coordinator-level position in the non-profit sector. She received literally hundreds of resumes within a few days of posting the position , many of which were from people with far more experience than the position called for-- some of whom had far more experience than my wife's boss even has.
posted by dersins at 10:12 AM on August 20, 2010

FlamingBore, I tend to think of Denver being less progressive than the other places on the OP's list--is that not the case? It does seem lovely, but right-leaning always put me off.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:15 AM on August 20, 2010

First, starnge - my boyfriend was talking about Austin will be (is?) too saturated in the music industry and that it "used" to be great.

Chicago - I still haven't been. My sister's in-laws live there - she loves it but vowed never to go back in the winter.

Anyway, I second Boston.

I'm not sure what kind of income you usually have, but Boston and the surrounding areas can be affordable - especially if you have a signifigant other or don't mind roommates.
But I also know plent of people who have lived in the city solo on less than $40,000.
Davis Square in Somerville sounds perfect for you.
But, I actually moved from there because of the winter, though. It made me so depressed.

I would recommend Las Vegas, but I'm not sure if you're up for that.

Actually, maybe Nashville. They have "pockets" of progressive politics. It's sort of a mixed bag. We considered moving to Nashville instead of here in Knoxville because of the media jobs. My boyfriend is an audio engineer/musician and we saw some openings for that sort of stuff. We decided against it because he has a lot of friends over here in East Tennessee.

Here in Knoxville - it's a small city - but a lot of local art, local music, very affordable, tons of nature (greenways, parks, hiking, rivers), 40 minutes from the smokies, farmers markets, vegan restaurants, etc.
As for jobs, a lot of the jobs right now are government. There are some larger television networks that are here - and they always seem to be looking for people.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:18 AM on August 20, 2010

Texas has done better in the economic downturn than most other places. That being said, Austin is full of eager young UT graduates (and graduates of all the other nearby universities, frankly) who are willing to work for crap wages just so they don't have to move.

I love Austin -- lived there for years -- and I currently live in Chicago and I would say that Austin is probably a better fit for you weather-wise. Chicago is horrible in the winter -- it's not just the cold and snow but also the very short days and very long nights.

Austin is more affordable than Chicago as well -- lower sales tax, no income tax, cheaper rent (though it's not as much cheaper as you might think it would be, especially in the particularly walkable parts of Austin). You will probably need a car, though you can certainly manage in certain parts of the city without one as long as you have a bike.

There is more accessible "nature" in Austin as well -- Chicago has lots of green space, but it's urban park greenspace; parts of the Austin greenbelt are so undeveloped you can forget there's a city over the tops of the trees. I guess it really depends on what you consider "nature," though.

Given all that, and the reportedly abysmal job market in Portland, I'd say Austin. BUT do not underestimate the benefit of having family nearby -- it really does make a huge difference to have some sort of built in support system when you arrive.
posted by devinemissk at 10:22 AM on August 20, 2010

You don't say where you are now- have a mod put in where you are, it will help.

Chapel hill/carrboro NC is pretty awesome. So is boulder/fort collins.
posted by TheBones at 10:26 AM on August 20, 2010

I've lived in both Chicago and Austin — never Portland, but from what I hear from friends who have moved there and moved back, moved there and struggled, etc., the job market is horrible. Everyone wants to live in Portland. Everyone who wants to write, edit, or enact social change wants to live in Portland. Thus, you should not live in Portland.

So really, it's between Chicago and Austin. Neither market has a "decent unemployment rate," but it's better than Portland. The number of unemployed writers I know in Chicago is staggering, though. They're all trying for the same low-paying editorial jobs and none of them are succeeding.

For literary/artistic culture, I'd go to Austin. I don't know too much about Chicago's art scene, but it has always seemed less cultured than the likes of NYC, Portland, etc. Austin's got a huge wealth of young, innovative artistic talent. BUT, don't take my word on this. I'm not really into the art/lit scene.

Both have pretty progressive politics, but if Republicans make you angry, remember Austin is still in Texas — as progressive as it might be, you have right-wing forces pushing in on you from all sides.

Austin obviously wins in terms of a music scene.

Housing in Austin and Chicago is pretty comparable, but in terms of finding cheap housing with easy access to cool shit, I'd go Chicago. You can live in Lincoln Square, Ravenswood, all sorts of up-and-coming neighborhoods for less than you will probably pay in Hyde Park or South Congress or the North Loop (this will probably vary based on neighborhood and luck — I paid the same in both cities), and the public transportation is much better in Chicago. I know Austin was implementing some form of train system when I left, but it looked tailored to people that worked downtown and lived in the suburbs, not getting around, going out type activities.

Austin wins hands down in terms of nature-related activities: hiking, boating, tubing, parks, etc. are abundant, and its near actual real national parks (Big Bend! okay, not "near" near, but in the same state, and Texans will drive anywhere). I've never been impressed with the Chicagoland area in terms of nature.

Chicago is more walking-friendly, and has a lot of vegetarian restaurants, but I remember being amazed at the huge amount of vegetarian restaurants in Austin.

Ultimately, I think I'd say Chicago, but I've been wavering back and forth. Austin is such a cool town, but everyone seems to think that, and I'm not sure how many writing opportunities there are. Price-wise I bet they'd come to about the same, factoring in food, transportation, housing, etcetera. And Chicago's public transportation beats Austin's sad little bus system any day of the week.

But I do love Austin, and you really won't go wrong either way. Unless if you can't find a job, which is, sadly, completely possible in this economy, regardless of talent.

(Also, a third for Boston — never lived there but my friends who do love it.)
posted by good day merlock at 10:29 AM on August 20, 2010

DC has jobs, and a budding music/art scene. (Not a fantastic one, but a growing one, which might be nice if you're trying to make a name for yourself). DC's politics are becoming more progressive, and we're starting to do some cool things with urban planning and walkable communities. Nature is a bit more of a stretch -- although we've got the National Arboretum and Rock Creek Park, they're not at all integrated with the city.

That all said -- don't knock it until you try it, and remember that the job market criteria pretty much outweighs the rest of your list.
posted by schmod at 10:38 AM on August 20, 2010

Do Not move to Portland.

Why? The job market is terrible, worse than you can imagine. The weather has been awful this year, you don't like grey and it was nothing but until mid-July. There are tons of people moving here thinking "Oh that's not going to be me... I'm going to find a great job that pays well right away but still give me time for my art, and it's just a little rain." In reality you're going to be fighting for a low paying shitty job that you'll work your ass off at to just barely pay the bills with while living in a shithole with a bunch of other over-educated people who also thought it wasn't going to be them. 15 years ago I could show you 10 spots in town where you'd be able to find people shooting smack, 10 years ago maybe in some seedy parts of town and then only at night, 5 years ago nowhere, in the last year or two I've noticed a new flood of homeless folks shooting up in broad daylight. There's a reason.

Everything you want, it's elsewhere. Stay away from here.
posted by togdon at 10:42 AM on August 20, 2010

Are you considering other locations? The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina fits your bill pretty well. Not as urban as your three choices, but something else to consider. Otherwise, yes, Chicago is really cold (I've lived there), and Austin sounds nice (I have lots of friends who live there).
posted by statolith at 10:43 AM on August 20, 2010

I can't speak to heroin availability, but these two things should definitely rule out Portland:

-Job market with decent employment rate. Openings in jobs that involve writing, editing, and/or social change.

I do tend to get depressed when it's too gray and rainy.

Portland is not a good town for job-seekers or folks with any kind of seasonal disorder. Think overcast from September through June.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:45 AM on August 20, 2010

Some notes on Chicago:

-Job market with decent employment rate. Openings in jobs that involve writing, editing, and/or social change. I don't know how the market is doing, but it's bigger than your other options . Searching idealist.org and npo.net might give you some idea.

-Literary and artistic culture. Innovative art scene. Check.

-Progressive politics. The overall culture is notoriously inefficient and corrupt, but there are a lot of progressives active in politics here.

-Music scene in which a rock/blues guitarist/drummer can make a living and network with other pro musos. Making a living? I know people that eke it out with weddings, corporate gigs, and teaching. Local musicians with international followings still have day jobs. We have experimental jazz up to our gills, alt.country, blues (natch), rock...pretty much anything.

-Affordable housing. Home prices are high, but rent's not too crazy, depending where you live

-Nature. Not much to offer, unless you're willing to spend a few hours in traffic on the weekend.

-Walking-friendly infrastructure, vegetarian-friendly restaurants. Check, check. Depending where you live, Chicago is bikeable and there's decent public transit.

Winters are long but there's a good mix of sunny days. It can get super cold, but the people who seem to have the biggest problem with it are the ones determined to stick it our at not wear a hat or scarf (this includes a lot of locals). Summers are hot and humid.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:00 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

...stick it out and not wear a hat...
posted by hydrophonic at 11:06 AM on August 20, 2010

Admiral Haddock - Denver and Boulder are fairly progressive. Colorado as a whole? Not so much. Much like Chicago and the rest of Illinois (I'm a Chicago native) you have a liberal core and the rest of the area kind of gets more conservative the further away from the urban center you go.

Suffice it to say that I'm about as lefty/liberal as you get and I adore Denver even when some conservative politics surface. And let's face it - the only way the face of our politics will change significantly is if we get MORE liberals here.

posted by FlamingBore at 11:10 AM on August 20, 2010

I don't know too much about Chicago's art scene, but it has always seemed less cultured than the likes of NYC, Portland, etc. Austin's got a huge wealth of young, innovative artistic talent. BUT, don't take my word on this. I'm not really into the art/lit scene.

Don't take good day merlock's word for it - Chicago's got a damn good art scene, maybe not as good as NYC's but probably not worse than Austin's (caveat: I've never been to Austin). Plenty of galleries, some fantastic museums (besides the world-class Art Institute and MCA, there's a lot of cool niche places, like Intuit, the Smart Museum, NMMA, etc.), a large number of fantastic independent cartoonists, and so on. It's also a great theater city, especially for comedy.

It's COLD - but I grew up in some of the mildest weather on the planet (Berkeley, CA) and I've survived four winters here without a problem. Layers and hats go a long way.
posted by theodolite at 11:21 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'll second Denver. I want all these things from a city, too, and found Denver fit all my criteria. The surrounding area is beautiful, the city is extremely walkable, has a great public transportation system downtown and this site says it is super-sunny: "only 30-40 totally overcast days per year, and some of them are even fairly bright." It seems to have a diverse economy (and it appears wikipedia agrees). It's a regional hub for the federal government and has a lot of corporations are located there, which spells jobs to me. It also has a fantastic airport (at least in my experience), in case you plan to travel to see family/friends.
posted by lagreen at 11:24 AM on August 20, 2010

Are you counting on music to support you totally? Or can you combine a day job and the music?

I tend to think that if you want to find people who think like you, you will, no matter where you end up.

Garden and Gun just had a feature on the music scene in Athens, Ga. Before everyone recoils in horror, I think that (a) this is a terrific regional magazine, and that (b), if you've not spent any recent time in the US south, your notions might be out of date.

Raleigh-Durham, San Antonio, Birmingham AL ( lots of science types there, big local music community, but high crime rate)--might be worth a look if you don't want cold/gray.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:38 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Of your choices? Chicago. The winters suck here .......I mean they really do suck--(That said, I've also lived in the Pacific Northwest and I'd take Chicago's often-sunny-but-brutally-cold December-through-March over ten solid, funeral months of 45 degree gray drizzle), but I think Chicago meets your needs quite well. The large art and music scene is vibrant and diverse (tons of venues, styles, festivals), and the job market (though not great) seems relatively do-able. Chicago, with its excellent public transportation coverage, surprisingly good bicycling and walking options and amenities, free beaches, free museum days and other no/low cost cultural activities, bounty of decent sized and relatively low cost apartment options (check out Rogers Park and Uptown neighborhoods), and tons of relatively affordable food options (vegetarian, Indian, Asian, ethnic produce markets galore that sell vegetarian staples cheaper than the supermarkets) make Chicago a very decent place to live without much cash. I don't know about the current prevalence of heroin here, but a Cook county public defender who deals with drug arrests tells me that heroin-related matters are not that common.
posted by applemeat at 11:41 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think as an outsider, especially from the southwest, you have to be careful taking advice on Chicago weather from midwesterners. Midwesterners think there is basically no such thing as suicide inducing cold, they have thicker blood and find the worst conceivable weather totally bareable. The second out of five winters I spent in Chicago (94-95) there was a couple week stretch where the air temperature didn't get above like -20F. Windchills went down to -80F and the wind was ripping. We (college students) would draw straws to see who would venture out to buy cartons of cigarettes. On one of these missions to the corner store, the liquid in my eyeballs began to gel up. Like what? Yes, my eyeballs started to turn into little ice blocks. That kind of cold is hard to conceive if you've never felt it before, and it was utterly, utterly miserable.

Of course, my roommate from upstate Minnesota spent that entire winter walking around in nothing more than a denim jacket and didn't know what "everyone was crying abooot." So, consider the source on these issues before making this type of commitment.
posted by The Straightener at 11:42 AM on August 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

I don't know about the current prevalence of heroin here, but a Cook county public defender who deals with drug arrests tells me that heroin-related matters are not that common.

I haven't lived there in a bit but basically if you're not deep in the south or west side you're not going to casually encounter it. Like any big city, there's heroin markets but they are situated well away from downtown and other hubs of cultural activity. Unless you're going to the U of C, in which case they are within walking distance of the south edge of campus, but most people don't choose to live in Hyde Park if they don't have to.
posted by The Straightener at 11:50 AM on August 20, 2010

The truth is, Chicago winters suck. I live in Chicago.

That said, I've done a lot of traveling in the winters to NYC and back, and the winters there are the same. Take a look at weather sites and temperature reports.

People have a weird belief that Chicago winters are so much more extreme than other places in the northern US. But they also think a lot of other incorrect things. NYC gets brutal winters and tons of snow as does Boston, Detroit, NYC, Minneapolis, etc.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 12:13 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've lived in Austin and Chicago. Love them both, but Chicago more.

The second out of five winters I spent in Chicago (94-95) there was a couple week stretch where the air temperature didn't get above like -20F. Windchills went down to -80F and the wind was ripping. We (college students) would draw straws to see who would venture out to buy cartons of cigarettes. On one of these missions to the corner store, the liquid in my eyeballs began to gel up.

I've lived in Chicago for 8 years and 18 years in Buffalo, NY and I've never experienced anything like this. I just want to make it clear that this is not normal. I mean, I could bring up the summer I spent in Austin where the high was 112 (and we're not talking heat index) for days and days and you could not be outside for more than a few minutes because you could seriously get heat stroke. But that isn't the norm either.

What it really comes down to is if you are willing to tolerate cold winters for beautiful spring/summer/fall, or you're willing to tolerate miserable summers for temperate weather the rest of the year. Chicago weather overall consists of summers just hot and long enough that you're wishing for fall by the time it gets here, and winter just cold, snowy and long enough that you're wishing for spring. For me that's perfect. And Chicago does have a lot of sunny winter days, when you can rent cross country skis and ski around the lakefront parks/golf course or go ice skating or do something else fun so it doesn't get too depressing.
posted by misskaz at 12:14 PM on August 20, 2010

Have you considered Sacramento? I live close by and whenever I visit it seems like there is a lot going on. Great restaurants, great night life, great brewpubs. It's also fairly sunny, and with no humidity the 95+ days aren't bad at all (it's hotter where I live and I don't even have A/C in my duplex [by choice] because it gets down in the low 60s at night). Tons of nature in the vicinity... Yosemite is less than 3 hours away, ditto for the Redwoods, the coast is 2 hours, 2 hours to San Francisco, 3-4 hours to Shasta, etc etc etc. I feel like it's some kind of secret how great Sacramento is. There are a lot of really cute neighborhoods there, too, where you can walk to all kinds of stuff. I can't speak for the light rail, but they have one. Not sure about the indie music scene, either. But it's worth considering.

San Francisco is great too, but the cost of living is insane and you have the crap weather to deal with (e.g. high of 65, low of 55, foggy and cloudy in the middle of the fucking summer).

I'll add another "don't do it" for Portland. I lived there 3 years ago. Great city to visit in the summer, miserable to live there in the winter (and I was only there for half of it!)... I don't even get seasonal disorder depression or whatever, it just got to be annoying when it was grey and drizzly day after day after day after day after day. Most boring weather ever. I'd take a snowed-in winter in Burlington, VT any day over Portland.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 12:22 PM on August 20, 2010

Austin is great, but does not have a walking-friendly infrastructure. Plan on buying or sharing a car with someone.
posted by markmillard at 12:30 PM on August 20, 2010

I think as an outsider, especially from the southwest, you have to be careful taking advice on Chicago weather from midwesterners.

FWIW, I grew up in San Diego, went to college in the Chicago suburbs, and moved here after graduation. Winters are sometimes brutal, but sometimes not brutal at all. There's only been one winter during my time here (nine years now) that was unbearable, but I also didn't have a good coat yet.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:35 PM on August 20, 2010

I am not a native Midwesterner, so I don't have the special "thicker" blood The Straightener mentions. But the special Midwestern blood is no prerequisite for surviving in Chicago.

In my 12 amazing, delicious Chi-town years (1998-present), I haven't experienced anything even close to the above-mentioned windchills of -80F. Much of the time, it's in the 20s and 30s. Yes, you will want to bundle up, and yes, it gets dark early in December, January, and February. And, on average, you can expect 5-7 good blizzards (yay! amazing stuff, as long as you don't have some horrid commute), along with a number of other smaller snowfalls that really don't disrupt anything at all. But it's by no means always overcast. In fact, every winter there are quite a few blindingly sunny, blue-skied, 20-degree days when you can almost touch The Meaning of Life while strolling on the beach.

Otherwise: literary/art/music scene? Check. Affordable housing? Check. Walkability? Check. Vegetarian-friendly? Check. Progressive politics? Check. Nature? I don't do nature (beyond the lake and all the associated fun), so someone else should tell you about that.
posted by onepot at 12:46 PM on August 20, 2010

I would suggest considering Chapel Hill or Asheville NC, or maybe Boulder CO. Austin is great too.
posted by spilon at 1:56 PM on August 20, 2010

TheStraightener isn't kidding about eyeballs freezing. I lived in Chicago for about 20 years, biking everywhere, even in snow and ice. I very quickly learned that without ski goggles, it only takes a block or two of riding before your eyes freeze open!

I live in Portland now. I have a good, well-paying job, but now is not the time to come here without a job lined up or without a massive cash safety cushion. I have friends throughout the U.S. who meet people headed for Portland with the plan to "work in a coffee shop and play in a band." While the relatively low cost of living and availability of sub-$300/mo shared housing rooms makes this easier, there are only so many coffee shops and only so many venues that will give you any money to play.

That being said, the majority of the people I know here have jobs and don't have a hard time finding work if/when they get laid off. But these are people who have many years or decades of experience in their field, and/or a solid social network to help them find work.

I miss Chicago winters, honestly. I miss clearly defined seasons, and an autumn that lasts more than a week. But if you're from the SW, you may not appreciate the cold/snow/slush as much as I do. Every time I go back to visit in the winter, I bring what I believe to be sufficient warm clothing, and it is never enough. I reckon you'll have a lot better luck at finding a job in Chicago, however.
posted by MonsieurBon at 2:06 PM on August 20, 2010

Moving to the bitterly cold midwest from rainy Seattle one January was one of the best things I ever did for my sanity, and I grew up in the south. It is quite possible to prefer bitterly cold but frequently sunny midwest to rainy rainy pnw.
I personally would do Chicago over Austin, because I love cities and Chicago is much more of one. And no one in their right might would move to Portland without a job waiting or independent finances. No way.

Aside: NYC is noticeably warmer than Chicago. 5-10 degrees really does make a major difference, and a very quick google shows average January temps in NYC high 39 low 26, vs chicago's high 32 low 18.
posted by ch1x0r at 3:08 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would suggest considering Chapel Hill or Asheville NC

Asheville is lovely, and meets a lot of these criteria, but the job market is a big problem there if you're not in health care, from what I'm hearing from friends there.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:11 PM on August 20, 2010

As an alternative to Chicago, you really might want to take a good look at Minneapolis. Pretty progressive socially/politically, the job market is--not great, but not terrible, housing prices have come down a good deal, the arts/music scene is very good, and there's been a real rebirth of urban neighborhoods in the past decade or two, so that it's definitely possible to live in some area with minimal reliance on a car (although the weather can certainly be pedestrian-unfriendly).

Madison would be another option, with many of Minneapolis's virtues in a smaller city, and close enough to Chicago that family visits would be easy.

I'd check 'em out, unless serious cold (and serious humidity in summer) would be a deal-breaker.
posted by Kat Allison at 4:15 PM on August 20, 2010

Where ARE these -80 degree Chicago winters people are talking about?! I've lived here since 1985, and seriously, it can get cold, but that's what coats and hats are for, kids.

No one's mentioned the WORST of Chicago's weather: the four-to-six weeks every summer when it's a hundred degrees, 100% humidity, and the whole town smells like the inside of a dumpster behind a fratboy bar... I'd trade another six months of winter (I mean really, you can always put another freaking sweater on if you're thin-blooded...) to make this hideous heat not happen...

Other than that? Great place to live...

posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 6:35 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I grew up in the midwest (Milwaukee, a bit north of Chicago), and I can attest to the eyeball-freezing cold. It does happen sometimes, and anyone from there who doesn't know about it must have blocked it from their memory.

Since I lived there for about 22 years and in Iowa for 6 and I now live in San Marcos, TX (a bit south of Austin), I am telling you to move to Austin. I love the downtown area and you can walk around down there (but not get anywhere else on foot, really). The music scene is indescribably awesome. It's hot, but if you stay out of the sun from about noon to five, you'll be fine. Texas has done better than most places during the economic downturn.

I just spent too long in the midwest and am now biased against a bit. I do love it and Chicago is awesome, but I don't really feel like going back ever again. (Except to see a Packers game.)
posted by King Bee at 6:54 PM on August 20, 2010

I moved to Austin from Chicago because even my relatively stable brain chemistry couldn't handle the lack of sunlight six months out of the year.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:27 PM on August 20, 2010

Notes on Chicago and Portland winters:

Portland is actually north of Chicago geographically - so in terms of light in the winter, Portland will have less of it. Plus, it tends to literally be overcast for 5 months out of the year. Hovering around 40 degrees, sprinkling drizzle, and a day that's less than 8 hours of light - that's a Portland winter in a nutshell. Plus, and I don't know if this is an issue or not (it is for me), but this weather is also just awesome for growing mold and mildew.

I'd actually prefer a Chicago winter. Yes, it's insanely cold - but that is why there are wool hats, mittens, long underwear, mukluks, and scarves. Which, if wise, you'd wear. 20 below is not the time to decide to make a fashion statement. Plus, dress in layers - that is key. I lived in Wisconsin for a significant chunk of time, and the winters are something that you just get acclimated to after a while.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:38 PM on August 20, 2010

I can't speak about drizzly Portland or bitter cold Chicago as the weather in both places would be the death of me and I have not spent much time in either place.

I have lived in Austin for a decade (I'm originally from NJ) and I would not want to live anywhere else. It also seems to have many of the characteristics you are looking to find.

Job market with decent employment rate. Openings in jobs that involve writing, editing, and/or social change.

Here is an article about Austin naming it #1 city for the next decade. I think the job market here has been pretty strong overall given the economy as a whole.

I know a bunch of folks in the writing/editing fields too.

-Literary and artistic culture. Innovative art scene.

I can't say I am deeply entrenched in the artistic culture, but it seems really pervasive to me. The University of Texas also adds a ton of literary offerings (along with many other artistic/intellectual offerings).

-Progressive politics.

Yep. I find Austin much more liberal than NJ ever was and many people are actively involved.

-Music scene in which a rock/blues guitarist/drummer can make a living and network with other pro musos.

Huge music scene and many people to network with. That said, two of my friends are singer-songwriters with some pretty solid name recognition and while they both make a living, they also say that it is a tough business generally.

-Affordable housing.

Mr. Murrey owned a nice 2400 sf, 3-2 house in a safe neighborhood on the east side and he recently sold it sub-180k. I think that is pretty reasonable. It is not as cheap as Houston but I know it is reasonable compared to expensive cities. I also have some friends that don't make much and do fine in the rental market.


Mr. Murrey, Baby Murrey and I just returned from a 300 acre greenbelt with our dogs that has a creek running through it. Although it is nearly 100 degrees, we stayed cool by swimming and playing in the water. This greenbelt is a mere 7 miles outside of downtown and unlike the other ones right on the edge of downtown, no one else knows about it and we have it all to ourselves. I am sure there are other hidden gems, but even if you stick to the well-known close in greenbelts and lakes, you can't beat Austin for super-close nature offerings.

As for the heat, yes it is really hot and can be humid....and it's not nearly as comfortable as the dry heat you are used to in the desert SW. Yes, it gets old to have it in the 90's in September. Yes, it is tough to get out and about in August unless you are near water. But, I never have to shovel a damned thing and can get out regularly in the winter since really cold weather only lasts a couple days at a time.

-Walking-friendly infrastructure, vegetarian-friendly restaurants.

Walking-friendly really depends on where you live. We live about 1.2 miles from downtown and also have a bunch of restaurants, a grocery store, a coffee shop, etc much closer than that. We chose the neighborhood because it had some walking-friendliness. On the whole, however, it is not like NYC or Chicago where you can easily live without a car.

As a big fan of BBQ, I am no vegetarian expert, but Mr. Murrey was a vegetarian for awhile and he never had any issues with Austin restaurants...except for the BBQ places, of course.
posted by murrey at 12:49 PM on August 22, 2010

Not to belabor the point but "Heroin killed more people in Oregon last year than methamphetamine and cocaine combined -- and more people than drunken drivers".

Hopefully you've moved somewhere else.
posted by togdon at 9:58 AM on September 14, 2010

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