Where to move: Augusta or Columbia?
May 12, 2011 8:12 AM   Subscribe

The Augusta, GA area or Columbia, SC area – which location is better for a young married couple to set up shop for a few years?

Mr. Bee has been interviewing with a company that has openings in both the outskirts of the Augusta, GA area and the outskirts of the Columbia, SC area (both being located about half an hour from their respective cities: to the east in the case of Augusta and to the north in the case of Columbia). He received a call that they want to make him an offer, but he needs to pick the location he’d like the offer to be for. We currently reside in the Decatur, GA area (Which is pretty much Atlanta, for you non-locals) and while we very much like being able to walk to restaurants and coffee shops that are nearby, we don’t find ourselves partaking in the full scope of big-city Atlanta life outside of our general ‘hood.

We’d like a place where I can finish up a degree in either Environmental Science or Geology (just a few credits short of an A.S. right now) – but I don’t mind holding off a year to start school if we change states; in-state tuition is worth it. I work as a graphic designer at a non-profit currently and would like to keep working in my field if at all possible. I also would like some semblance of Jewish life, although I know that Atlanta is pretty much the center of the Jewish South and that pickings will be slim wherever we end up. I would, in an ideal world, prefer a socially liberal Conservative shul, or a more observant Reform shul , with other 20 and 30 some-things not too far away.

Which location is better to start a young family? We don’t have kids now, but I’d like to be in a location where we’d feel comfortable taking that step. I’m not overly concerned about school districts, as this move will probably only be for a handful of years; the idea is to have him move up to a more senior position and be re-located elsewhere. We’d be selling our current house and renting wherever we end up.

Neither of us have much knowledge of either Columbia or Augusta and what they have to offer beyond what Wikipedia tells us. We would appreciate any insights into both areas. If it matters, here are towns we’ve eyeballed in both areas that might be places to set up shop:

Augusta area: Harlem, Grovetown

Columbia area: Irmo, Chapin, Newberry
posted by danielle the bee to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
Best answer: Harlem is out in the sticks. And depending on which side of the highway you live you'd be sending kids to Greenbrier and would have to deal with that traffic. One road to get to 3 schools which gets ridiculous there and at another point where one road with a ton of neighborhoods runs into Washington Road.

When I drove to school I would get there about an hour early and when I didn't have practice after school I'd hang out with people at the school for at least 30-45 minutes to give the traffic a chance to die down. It was that bad. My people there tell me it hasn't gotten much better since I left.

I tell you this not to have information about the school, but so you'll know that you might be in a situation where you're getting to work really early or sitting in traffic forever on school days if your commute takes you this way.

Also, unless it's gotten better, down town Augusta pretty much shuts down around 7. Sort of like how a banker's town like Charlotte shuts down except there isn't really anything that stays open.
posted by theichibun at 8:44 AM on May 12, 2011

Best answer: Your educational opportunities will be much greater in Columbia than in Augusta, especially if you want to go to grad school after your BS. The U. of South Carolina has some excellent programs.
posted by mareli at 8:49 AM on May 12, 2011

Best answer: Your educational opportunities will be much greater in Columbia than in Augusta...

This. USC is right there.

Can you live downtown and have Mr. Bee reverse commute?

Downtown Columbia reminds me quite a bit of Decatur, GA. Nice little coffee shops, boutiques, and even (last I checked) a little speak easy-style wine bar. They also have an amazing Korean/Mexican restaurant, which has some delicious burritos that come in second only to Taqueria del Sol. ;)

I lived off of Saluda Avenue, where the apartments/houses are really cute and very walkable.

I can't help you with the "semblance of Jewish life."

(However, FYI - I once heard a rumor that the areas surrounding Columbia have the highest concentration of KKK members still around. I cannot cite, just a rumor. But downtown is really nice, quiet, full of character, and relatively liberal—for a small city in the South.)
posted by functionequalsform at 9:24 AM on May 12, 2011

I have no opinion on the areas in question, but one thing you might do is visit (or use Google Earth) to get a feel for the area and scope out if you like them.

Google Earth helped us decide to move to Virginia sight unseen last year, and we've loved it so far.
posted by bookdragoness at 9:39 AM on May 12, 2011

Best answer: I never thought I'd end up recommending Columbia as a place to live, but if it's a choice between that and Augusta, go to Columbia.

I can't speak to Harlem and Grovetown specifically, only having driven through them rather than spent any significant time there, but Augusta proper is gross. Every possible charm gets plowed under for some new soon-to-fail business scheme. Long stretches are nothing but empty commercial lots dotted with nail salons and check-cashing places. Everything smells like big industry and low water. There are areas to walk and go places and do things...but you have to drive to get to them, they're pretty far apart.

I can't speak to the raising kids thing...but having been a kid there, and having kids now, I gotta say, I'd veto it.

Meanwhile, every time I drive to Columbia--which, Mrs. Mittens is quick to remind me, is not without its problems and creepy people--I'm surprised by just how nice it is. There's the zoo, the downtown seems well-maintained, the shops seem more interesting and less desperate than the similar ones in Augusta. The fact that they've got an actual university (rather than just slapping the name 'university' onto a community college, as Augusta does) is a big plus, I think.

(Great, now I feel guilty. I'm going to have to go do some hometown penance.)
posted by mittens at 9:48 AM on May 12, 2011

Best answer: I'm not that familiar with Augusta, but I grew up about 45 minutes away from Columbia and spent a lot of time going there for museums, to see friends, events, etc. (Currently I live in Charleston, SC, which is about 2 or so hours away from Columbia).

The first thing that comes to mind is that Columbia is quite a bit larger than Augusta, so they would be very different feeling cities, I think. Columbia is pretty big by South Carolinian standards, although it's very spread out. Considering the three locations you threw out to live in Columbia (Irmo, Chapin, Newberry), I'd say Irmo is the one that seems most like a part of Columbia, if that makes sense. Newberry and Chapin are not usually spoken of as part of Columbia, while a lot of Irmo folks would say they pretty much live in Columbia.

On education, I have a hard time seeing how Columbia wouldn't be a better bet than August. USC-Columbia is the state flagship university, so is pretty large and possesses a range of programs. I have several friends who went there as undergraduates or are currently undertaking graduate programs there, and they like it quite a lot. The student population can be kind of tilted to the fraternity/sports fans/heavy weekend drinking crowd, but not exclusively so.

If you want to stay in your field, again I'd have a hard time seeing how Augusta would compete with Columbia. It's the state capitol, so many non-profits, NGOs, govt. agencies, etc. are headquartered there. (One of my best friends actually worked for the Historic Columbia Foundation doing development for several years). It's size also makes it home to many small business and corporate offices for statewide presences. No guarantee of course that you'd find something appropriate, but you'd stand a better chance there than anywhere else in the state (outside of Charleston & Greenville/Spartenburg). As others have said, the downtown core Columbia is very nice, quite walkable, and has a good range of bars, restaurants, coffee, etc. The burbs (like Irmo) tend to have their own, secondary downtowns that are much smaller but just as nice. (I'm not sure if Irmo does, to be honest though; it's been a while).

I'm not sure about Jewish life in Columbia, but I'd wager it's around; South Carolina has one of the longest histories of Jewish settlement in the US, and is quite visible in Charleston, at least. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim is actually one of the earliest Reform congregations in North America, dating from 1842. A quick google search turns up Beth Shalom Synagogue (from 1905), the Tree of Life Congregation (Reform), and the Columbia Jewish Federation.

I'll just throw some links in here to give you a feel for the type of things in and around the city:
Columbia Visitor's & Conventions Bureau.
State Maintained page of links of interest.
The Nickelodeon, the local art-house theatre (which is actually hosting the Jewish Film Festival of Columbia soon, apparently)
University of South Carolina
The Town of Irmo

Anyways, let me know if you have any specific questions; I'd be happy to help!

On preview: Yes, Lexington county (where Irmo is located) is often touted as the most Republican county east of the Mississippi, mostly by residents proud of this bit of lore. Most of my family lives in the county, and it is quite conservative (which doesn't mean most of the people aren't fine, of course).

Mittens, I understand perfectly. I've been a Charleston evangelist for years, but have begrudgingly come to accept that Columbia isn't the worst place you could end up in SC by far!
posted by scdjpowell at 9:56 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I grew up in Columbia. While I am a big city girl and Columbia is too small for me, I would say there above Augusta. USC has some quite good programs & bog university means at least some good cultural opportunities. The zoo is great and at least as far as I know, Irmo has good schools & is a pretty nice area. Also Columbia is a scant 2 hours to great beaches.
posted by pointystick at 9:56 AM on May 12, 2011

Best answer: I lived in both cities, in the late '90s, consecutively over the course of three years. I would go back to Columbia way before I would go back to Augusta. Augusta has nothing you can't get in Columbia, except the Masters, which is more of an inconvenience for residents anyway.

Jewish life in Columbia exists (I once helped an Israeli find a place to buy kosher food (poor bastard didn't know you could get kosher food in the U.S.)), but I can't speak to the details.

Honestly, they're not so far apart that you couldn't live in one and work in the other -- when I was living in Augusta, I flew out of the airport in Columbia a few times. Once, I forgot my ticket, and didn't realize it until I got to the airport. I drove back to my apartment, got the ticket and got back to the airport on time for my flight.
posted by Etrigan at 11:12 AM on May 12, 2011

Best answer: I don't know much about Columbia, but I grew up in the Augusta suburbs. Under no circumstances should you live in Harlem/Grovetown. They're basically the middle of nowhere. A better option would be to live in Martinez or Evans and commute, which isn't that far. They're nice enough for what they are, though it's still going to be a pretty big culture shock coming from Decatur. Think SUVs, manicured lawns, and strip malls. Walkability is non-existent. On the other hand, the public schools in the area are excellent, at least by the standards of the South, and it's a pretty good place to raise kids. I can't speak to the Jewish community issue much other to say that I don't think there is one. I knew exactly one Jewish kid growing up.

I will also note that downtown Augusta is improving, though I still wouldn't exactly *endorse* it.
posted by tau_ceti at 12:25 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If walkability is important to you, you'll want to skip Irmo and move into the downtown area of Columbia. A reverse commute from downtown would be easy - Downtown to Irmo can be done in less than 15-20 minutes.
posted by chiababe at 12:47 PM on May 12, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your help, all! Lots of good info for the Hubby and me. Sounds like Columbia is preferable! :)
posted by danielle the bee at 5:30 AM on May 13, 2011

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