July 4, 2011 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Yet another where should we move? question: the liberal gay Northern edition

My partner and I are currently in grad school in the southeastern US. We're hoping to move sometime in the next year, fueled by our mutual decision that we don't actually want to be professors in the field we started in anymore. I have an MA in linguistics, a graduate certificate in women's studies, and a BA from a liberal arts college. She has an MS in Instructional Systems Design and work experience in that field, but she doesn't want to keep doing it, besides as temporary income if necessary. She will also have an MA (maybe ABD) in linguistics.

We don't know where to move next. She's in her mid-30's, me mid-20's. We like cities, we're gay, we're liberal, and we need somewhere we can theoretically move with not a lot of money and get jobs that will at least support us for awhile. I have a lot of student loans. I went to grad school right after college, so my only work experience is food service/random college jobs, and then I've taught freshman composition and worked at a writing center while being a grad student.

We might like to go back to school eventually, but that's not a given. She might do library science and I might do public policy or women's studies. We're both kind of taking a post-grad school leap: we don't have a set plan on careers, though I'd like to do anything involving feminist/women's rights/LGBT rights. I figure moving to a large city will afford us being able to get whatever job we can at first and see what paths present themselves.

Things we want in a new city:

Public transit - We have one car and would really like at least one of us to be able to get to work on public transit. It'd also be nice to be able to do social things with public transit instead of driving.

Walkability – we'd really like to live in a neighborhood that has a walkable grocery store, maybe some bars or restaurants, bookstore, etc.

Four Seasons: we're both cooler weather people. Anything in the South is pretty much out: we've been here several years and I HATE 100+ degree summers. We can handle hard winters.

We like cities that “feel” more Northern too: compact instead of sprawled out.

Diversity/Culture: I'd like at least the opportunity to see lots of different lectures/plays/movies/restaurants, etc. This probably means a pretty large city. We don't mind smaller cities in theory, as long as they have a lot of cultural stuff going on.

Liberalness: we'd like to get married someday and hey, it'd be nice to live in a state that recognized our union, so bonus points for states that recognize gay marriages or civil unions. In general, the more liberal/gay friendly the politics, the better.

Cost of Living: I like Boston, but I can't see any way we could afford to live there unless we were way out in the suburbs. Same for Washington DC. I know all cities are expensive, but which ones are less expensive to live relatively close to the city center? We'll be renting an apartment or small house if we could afford it.

Scenic: we enjoy hiking/camping sometimes. I really like to live by water, and she likes mountains, so both somewhat close by would be ideal. I love the ocean but don't need to live by it: lakes or rivers are fine too.

Pet Friendly: we have a 50-lb dog so we would need dog friendly housing and parks to take her.

Places we're considering:

Twin Cities
Burlington, VT
upstate New York
Portland, Maine
Anywhere New England (don't know the region that well)

Places we're not really considering:

Chicago (my partner has already lived there and wants to try something new. This is a little unfortunate because I love Chicago and think it fulfills a lot of our criteria. Basically we're looking for the feel of Chicago, but somewhere else).

Austin (also meets a lot of our criteria, but it's just too hot)

Portland, Oregon (I could be swayed, but it seems like every 20-something unemployed liberal arts graduate moves here, so I can't imagine my aimless self will have an easy time finding work)

Are there cities not on our list that meet our criteria? Do you live in the cities we're considering and can tell us the positives/negatives of living there? Does anything jump out as the perfect place we should live? We haven't been to a lot of these cities, and can't afford to visit them all – I just don't know how to start narrowing down a list.
posted by nakedmolerats to Grab Bag (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Santa Fe
posted by H. Roark at 2:16 PM on July 4, 2011

I know I'm already going against the grain of your question, but I absolutely love living in DC (very much in spite of the summers here). It meets all of your criteria other than the weather.
posted by schmod at 2:21 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Philadelphia, PA definitely has the cost of living feature, +dog-friendly, +public transportation, there is a "gayborhood" (is that okay to say; I heard it a million times and never in a bad way, but let me know if it isn't good).

Northampton/Amherst, MA has +culture, +queer-friendly, -jobs, sort of good public transportation, +hiking,
posted by sciencegeek at 2:23 PM on July 4, 2011

Boston would've been my first thought before you specifically mentioned not being able to afford it -- really, it sounds perfect. Are you sure you can't afford to live there? Philadelphia is somewhat similar and is worth looking into if you can afford it.

I know Vermont is hippie central, but Vermont feels really small to me. I'd go with Portland, ME over anywhere in VT or NH for the added culture.

If you can't afford Boston, you can't afford Seattle.

No first-hand experience, but from what I hear about Denver, it's great... except that it's a western city and so tends to be more sprawl than compact.

I'd also consider Providence, RI.

Twin Cities could fit what you're looking for fairly well. There aren't mountains, but there are lots of lakes and camping.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:26 PM on July 4, 2011

If you're willing to leave the country Montreal fits all of your criteria perfectly.
posted by smokingmonkey at 2:29 PM on July 4, 2011

I doubt you would move there solely based on an AskMeFi answer without checking it out yourself, but just in case, Northampton is not a city. It is as sciencegeek claims otherwise (culture, VERY queer friendly, few jobs, good transportation for a rural town, great hiking).

I think you should reconsider the greater Boston area. Somerville is technically "out in the suburbs" but it's a much better environment in all respects than the actual city of Boston, and is still decently affordable. Somerville is very queer friendly, great culture, solid public transportation. I can't speak to jobs, though.
posted by telegraph at 2:38 PM on July 4, 2011

I don't know how jobs are there, but the Twin Cities fit most of your other critieria.
posted by naturalog at 2:39 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


By big-city standards it's pretty cheap; livable car-free and very livable as a one-car household; very dog-friendly. There's the gayborhood sciencegeek mentions (that's actually the 'official' name of it, despite real-estate developers trying to give it various other names) but it's not like it's the only area with queer folk and it's certainly not the cheapest; my own inexpensive-albeit-gentrifying-rapidly neighborhood in South Philly has enough of a gay population, for example, that "Two well-dressed men walking their shelter-rescue pit bull" is a cliche image of the area.

Mind you, while the city itself is reasonably gay-friendly, the state of Pennsylvania is unlikely to get gay marriage anytime soon, barring a nationwide shift. So there's that. But I see a lot of other non-gay-marriage states on your list (Oregon, Washington, Pittsburgh) so I assume that's not a deal-killer.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:39 PM on July 4, 2011

You can totally afford to live in somerville or jamaica plain in boston and you will be very happy bostonians. Other options in new england that you might love are northhampton, ma and portsmouth, nh.
posted by pazazygeek at 2:40 PM on July 4, 2011

You might look at Iowa City. Public transit and walkability are fine if you pick the right neighborhood, it's extremely liberal and gay-friendly (gay marriage yay), and absolutely full of interesting liberal arts graduates who somehow manage to be employed. Availability of cultural activities is exceptional for a city of its size, however won't rival a place like Chicago or the Twin Cities, so if you need something totally action packed big-city style don't move to Iowa City.
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:00 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't move to upstate New York. I say this as someone who spent quite awhile of her delicate youth in Binghamton, which isn't even as dead as Buffalo. But it's pretty. Other places are pretty (in say, New England) without being dead left-overs of the Industrial Age, though. You didn't say why you weren't mentioning/considering NYC or the San Francisco area. I think you could move to a suburb of San Francisco and since the train is there (as long as you're by the train), it wouldn't be that different from being in San Fran, so it's not that expensive. With NYC, it's more a matter of being willing to live in more ghetto/immigrant-type areas (are you? willing?). Well, also the summers are hot, but not like the South hot. More just humid. As for nature, nature is actually pretty close in NYC (that is, Brooklyn is *on* Long Island, a semi-rural area in places, but no one cares...).

Anyway, I say Seattle! Pros: Seattle is awesome and then some. I know we don't have gay marriage (yet), but we'll get there faster than Pennsylvania, at least. Seattle is so beautiful it blows your mind, is always mild (and we even have winter! we do!), and of course everyone is gay and/or liberal and/or tolerant. Ok, mostly just tolerant. It really feels different than anywhere else I've been. It doesn't feel like it's hip the way Portland does. It's not as clean, and there are less bicycles. So it balances more of a metropolitan/big-city feel with a genuinely progressive, energetic and outdoorsy spirit. Did I mention it's beautiful? The sunsets over the bay alone are worth it. You can live on a boat and stuff. There is also a mountain (you can see it sometimes, randomly, floating between the sky-scrapers when you look towards downtown). You'd be in the middle of the Pacific Northwest, which is (I say!) the most awesome place to be in the US (for a certain type of person) in general. It's just so chill! It's amazing. And there's tons of music, arts, etcetc. A lot of energy and optimism, and of course some silliness. We have really good coffee, too.

Cons: it rains... a lot. People aren't kidding. When it's not raining, it's sprinkling. When it's not sprinkling, it's overcast (unless it's summer). You may want to keep pictures of blue sky just to remember what it looks like. But it doesn't rain hard. And it seems super-friendly and extroverted people find Seattlites to be distant, and there's the infamous freeze effect in new friendships. Depends just how patient and how friendly you are. It's kind of an introverted, laid-back city. But it's friendlier (or at least, more polite) than NYC, say, on a surface level. Beyond that, it's important to network and find a group of friends soonish. However, there's lots of activist/progressive spaces to do that in. The job scene isn't nearly so bad as in Portland, though currently it's not the best (though that's nationwide). If you live near enough to downtown (say, Queen Anne or Capitol Hill), everything is walkable, and if you don't, public transport is great and getting better. It's gentrifying fast, but it's still Seattle.
posted by reenka at 3:04 PM on July 4, 2011

Seconding the suggestions for Somerville or Jamaica Plain. Somerville is a quick ride down the red line from Boston, doesn't at all feel like "the suburbs," and isn't as expensive as you might think. It also meets all of your other criteria.
posted by rebekah at 3:09 PM on July 4, 2011

Have you considered the Bay Area? SF itself is pretty expensive to live in, but the East Bay covers most of your criteria except the cold winter part, but it never gets that warm in the summer either. It's extremely gay friendly out here, of course, and there are lots of jobs that would fit your needs.
posted by tau_ceti at 3:19 PM on July 4, 2011

I've lived in a few of these places, so I'll do my best to be helpful.

Upstate New York: With a few urban-ish exceptions (Ithaca, Binghamton, Albany), NYS is not actually that liberal. Most of the state is extremely rural, and I wouldn't bet on how gay-friendly folks would be. I grew up in Ithaca, and it seems like it meets most of your criteria - it's a small town, but there's a robust bus system, and tons of culture and diversity from the universities. Cost of living is rural. I think of Ithaca as kind of like one square block of NYC transplanted into rural NYS, and then smooshed out a bit. The colleges do leave a great surfeit of college grads who don't want to leave.

Philadelphia: I didn't live here, but my now-wife lived there for three years. We both hate it fiercely. The public transit is filthy, and once you leave city center it is an obviously dying metro area. Other people love it as much as I hate it. It gets very hot in the summer, too hot for me. DC (where I was living at the time) was utterly intolerable 2 months a year.

Boston suburb: I live in Malden now. If you like urban areas, there are actually some fairly inexpensive areas of the city - cost of living is higher, but so is pay, typically. It IS substantially more expensive than most other places, even taking that into account. The ocean is nearby, but there's a lack of uncrowded beaches, and I find the hiking unsatisfactory.

Amherst/Northampton: If Ithaca is a transplanted block of NYC, Amherst/Noho is a transplanted block of Boston. Most of the same discussion applies, except there aren't lakes, and the texture is different.

Good luck!
posted by contrarian at 3:23 PM on July 4, 2011

Nthing Northampton, MA. Like Madison, it's a college town, not a city, but it otherwise meets all of your criteria. I lived there for a number of years (I'm a gay man) and miss everything about it but the freezing, interminable winters.
posted by southern_sky at 3:36 PM on July 4, 2011

Providence seems like it fits a lot of your criteria. Parts of it are very walkable, and it's Northernly and liberal. I don't think public transit there is great, but it's a small enough city that I think you could manage. It's also close to water and a decent drive to the mountains. If it weren't for my Southernly aversion to cold winters and the fact that it's crawling with my in-laws, I'd love to live there.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:38 PM on July 4, 2011

(technically, Northampton is a city)

I suggested it because it has many of the cultural features (active arts community, active gay/lesbian community, public transportation, five area colleges, and so on) of a larger city while not being a larger city. It satisfied a bunch of your wishes. What it doesn't have are jobs. There are too many people who go there for college or visit and end up loving the place and moving there. It is an ongoing joke that you need a masters to get a job in retail. It is the kind of place where, if you had a good job offer, you should consider moving.

I think that Philly is a better bet for you guys. However the non-city parts of Pennsylvania are, like the non-city parts of many states, quite conservative. One could say that same thing about CA, NY, MD, and so on. Cost of living is good. There are great Philly neighborhoods (South Philly, Fishtown, West Philly come to mind) where you'd be able to find a good community. There is extensive public transportation (don't get me wrong, SEPTA is on my sh#$ list for life, but you can get around the city effectively and do your grocery shopping at HMart by taking the El, but I digress), a reasonable job market, and a personality that you don't find just anywhere.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:41 PM on July 4, 2011

Actually, I'll jump on the Philly bandwagon here, although I'm not an absolute expert on the place. You've got the added bonus that DC and NYC can *easily* be done as day trips, and if you ever want to settle down into suburbia, I've always thought that the Philly 'burbs were far nicer than those of any other big city (except perhaps Boston). Bonus points because everything's connected via transit.

You could also take a peek at Charlottesville, VA. Doesn't score terribly well on carlessness/walkability, but is a good 10-20° cooler than DC (or even Philly), is a bit of a liberal enclave in a red state (which is nowhere nearly as conservative as its residents claim to be; it's an odd dynamic), has great arts and culture, and there's ohmygodabsolutelyamazing hiking and scenery right in your own backyard.

(Also, I'd maintain that summers can be quite unbearable in NYC, NJ, and even Boston. Don't go by just latitude. Look at historic temperature data. Anchorage, AK has milder winters than Chicago..)
posted by schmod at 3:59 PM on July 4, 2011

I have gay relatives in Vermont. Other than the winter, they are very happy. I agree that northern NYS is not all that liberal and welcoming. It is worse than the most conservative parts of New England.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 4:14 PM on July 4, 2011

Seattle is expensive and spread out. It's easy to go North and South on the buses, but East to West travel requires transfers, most of the time. This makes it difficult to get to, say Capitol Hill (gayborhood) from just about everywhere else. Having a car is a necessity here, even downtown, because public transit options are somewhat limited.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:20 PM on July 4, 2011

Nthing Northampton. We are very happy to be in the area. PVTA is pretty good as far as transport goes, but not always convenient. It is also a very bike friendly town - heck, the city trash is collected and hauled away by bike.

It is a very livable little city with a great deal of interesting culture and it is very gay friendly.

I would also recommend Oberlin, OH. Might be worth a look if you can get a job with the college. It is similar to NoHo in many respects except that (1) Octobers can be brutal (I recall a year where it rained every single day in October except two, and on those two it was overcast - if you have seasonal affective disorder, this will be problematic). (2) the culture dries up after commencement and until the next fall. Public transport wasn't terrific, but it's a very small town.
posted by plinth at 5:38 PM on July 4, 2011

Nthing Somerville, MA as an option. I live there during the year (am in San Francisco for the summer, I love SF to bits, but it is VERY expensive, and I am not familiar with the 'burbs at all so wouldn't know which ones to recommend - may be worth looking into though?), and it is a good place - lots of young people, lots to do, doesn't feel like living in the suburbs at all. Summers are definitely still hot though - my apartment doesn't have air conditioning and it is pretty miserable in August.
posted by naoko at 5:53 PM on July 4, 2011

There's a lot about Denver that appeals to me, and I've visited briefly (but that was over a decade ago), but they're kind of the antithesis of "dog-friendly" (also mentioned recently by an area resident in a related AskMe). I'm perturbed and disturbed enough by the city's legislative actions that I won't even travel there, much less consider moving there.

I don't know or care if my ~50-lb mixed breed dog has Pit in her or not (she may, and has been thought of as such by random strangers). I just can't support that kind of BSL bullshit. Just my two-cents as a dog-lover.
posted by Ufez Jones at 6:55 PM on July 4, 2011

Re: Pittsburgh
She might do library science - if you're here long enough to establish residency, Pitt has a known library school program that was (when I was a student) significantly more affordable to in-state students. So that's something to ponder & investigate. We also have a fairly dense concentration of Universities (Chatham, Pitt, CMU, Carlow, Robert Morris, Point Park, CCAC, etc...) that in an ideal world, employment for one of you could lead to more affordable additional studies.

One of our more "quaint" issues here is that we are very much a "neighborhood" city. Some life long residents are loathe to cross a bridge or go through a tunnel if their life depended on it. What this means is that there are nice little walkable pockets where you can be completely self sufficient without ever leaving to the rest of the "big scary downtown". (I've had more than one coworker who live in the north express frustration that we just have one Ikea, that's in the south-ish.)

Liberalness - to a fault. If you're a democrat, you'll get elected here. The city proper and many of the neighborhoods are open minded (to the point that Anthrocon is welcomed with open arms, as long as they keep bringing back their $$$), it's when you get out into the burbs that you might have issues. I'm in a southern neighborhood and can think of at least three out gay couples in a two block radius, and we're not exactly known for it (like some others are.) As long as they mow their lawn, I don't think anyone cares.

Diversity/Culture - much more so on the culture than the diverse. Our cultural district can be pretty impressive. Multiple levels of theater (from city to Broadway touring), opera, ballet, symphony, concerts, speaking/lectures. We used to live in NYC and actually do more culturally now than we did there, because we can afford more.

That brings in cost of living. We watch those shows on HGTV a lot where they show people house hunting and marvel at the difference elsewhere. Our house, we figure on average, would be 3-4x the price anywhere else in the country. If you want to own a home, you can do it here.

Finally, there are the rivers, state parks, mountains, etc... my neighborhood here is surrounded by acres of greenspace. Driving home from the grocery store on Friday, we saw three deer out at dusk, three different spots, all within the city limits. I can not live without all four seasons, so as long as you're good with snow... and rain...

That said, I can't speak to the lesbian vs gay population here. All of our gay friends are male... so I wish I could tell you even second hand what that would be like for you.
posted by librarianamy at 7:27 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't go to upstate New York. The lower part of our state may be liberal, but when you go further north, it goes Republican.

But what about New York City or some of the suburbs? You could do well in some parts of Westchester (easy access to hiking and all that) or on Long Island (same, but you'd have to drive to them), or perhaps even in some of the eastern parts of New Jersey.

As to Reenka's comment about "With NYC, it's more a matter of being willing to live in more ghetto/immigrant-type areas", that's most definitely not true. (That's actually kinda offensive, if you think about it.) There are plenty of parts of NYC that are neither of those; for example, there are still parts of Queens and Brooklyn that are relatively inexpensive and have good access to public transportation.
posted by gchucky at 7:30 PM on July 4, 2011

Asheville, NC?

It's southern but my recollection is it was relatively cool due to being in the mountains. Liberal etc.

I'd also like to second the Providence recommendation – if you like Boston, you may well like Providence too. With RISD and Brown there's stuff going on and it's also an easy train ride into Boston for whatever other cultural events you want.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:56 PM on July 4, 2011

"You could also take a peek at Charlottesville, VA."

No no no no no. Summers are brutal there (lived there for five years). And for a small town it's horribly expensive, even to rent.

I'd consider Baltimore. It's got a lot of problems, but also a hell of a lot of character. Great music scene.
posted by bardic at 8:34 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like Madison would be a pretty good fit for you. Pretty liberal, compact downtown, decent public transportation and more lakes than we know what to do with. Definitely a smaller city, but I like to think we make up for it with easy drives to Milwaukee and Chicago. No gay marriage yet and the political climate is, ahem, a little frustrating these days, but a nice place to live nonetheless.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 9:02 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

You totally don't need a car in Seattle - my friends and I all live in Capitol Hill, but even some of those who used to have a car have sold it since moving here.
posted by jacalata at 11:14 PM on July 4, 2011

I've spent most of my life in Madison. I don't think it's a great fit, just an OK one. It seems to get suggested in every what-city-should-I-live-in thread on Metafilter. It's cold and ultra-left-wing, and it has lakes and a low cost of living. Aside from that, well, it's a far cry from Chicago, it's not that big, it's far from having same-sex marriage, and it isn't such a great city to get around without a car. I did get by without a car, but that's when I was a college student and fairly content to stay on campus most of the time. Someone who calls Madison "compact" is presumably thinking of the main downtown/campus area, which isn't within walking distance of the best grocery stores.

I've also lived in Albany and Ithaca, NY. You'd be bored in Albany, which doesn't strike me as especially "liberal." It has a lot of poverty and crime, but not a lot to do. Ithaca is more liberal and hip, but it's a little college town that revolves around Cornell and Ithaca College; it isn't remotely the Chicago or Austin of upstate New York.
posted by John Cohen at 12:08 AM on July 5, 2011

If you are considering Madison, you should consider Milwaukee.

It is much more urban and 'Chicago like' than many of the places you listed... and for the times when the culture is lacking, Chicago and Madison are easily accessible by public transportation.

Also, it can be expensive to live near the hip/cultured areas in Madison because of the size of the campus, rent can be high. Milwaukee it can be more affordable to live closer to or within the hip areas with the restaurants and theaters and whatnot.

I'm a life-long Milwaukeean, but I lived in Chicago for a year. I find Milwaukee much more livable.
posted by j03 at 3:06 AM on July 5, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, everyone! I'm surprised to hear all the Philly answers - we'll check it out more, but I am leery of contrarion saying that it seems to be a dying metro area. We definitely want a city that's still vibrant.

To answer some other inthread questions: New York City hasn't been on the table because of cost and New York actually feels TOO big to me.

We're not outright dismissing the Bay Area/California, but it's so far away from both our families that I think we'd probably go for something further east unless CA was completely perfect.

Thanks for all the comments on upstate NY - I didn't realize it was pretty conservative there.

Charlottesville, Iowa City, and Madison all sound maybe a little too small for our ideal spot.

Pittsburgh is sounding like a strong candidate from this thread.

I'm surprised to not have heard much about the Twin Cities - is anyone still out there that has some opinions on them?
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:00 AM on July 5, 2011

If you are considering Madison, you should consider Milwaukee.

I disagree, considering that one of the main criteria is "liberal." Milwaukee has its gay hotspots (hello Bay View!) but overall, it's very conservative relative to Madison. That said, here are my thoughts (I'm also a lifelong Milwaukeean).

Public transit - meh. It really, really depends where you live. It was great living on the east side and working downtown. I'd sure hate the commute from the suburbs.

Walkability – You're limited to the east side.

Four Seasons - Well, we've got those. Definitely a strong point.

We like cities that “feel” more Northern too: compact instead of sprawled out. - No. This is really only true of a small area of Milwaukee, and the city is on a grid pattern.

Diversity/Culture - there's an annual LGBT film fest and a couple of art house theaters, along with plenty of live theater, opera, etc. You can find most cuisines, though I can't vouch for the authenticity or quality of some of the less popular ones (e.g. Pakistani). There is a LOT of racism here, and it's not very subtle.

Liberalness - We lose massive points here, especially the further you get from Lake Michigan.

Cost of Living - We gain lots of points here! We live very close to downtown in a desirable location and pay a fraction of what you'd pay for something similar in Chicago.

Scenic - We live a block from Lake Michigan. There are lots of opportunities for recreational water sports, biking, hiking, etc in the area. And of course snow sports in the winter.

Pet Friendly - Lots of dog parks here. We have two ~40 lb dogs (and two cats) and haven't had much trouble finding housing. Seems like everyone in our neighborhood owns a dog.

Overall, there's enough pockets of liberals here that you'd be fine, but you're unlikely to enjoy the city as a whole. Our neighborhood is Lesbian Central, but I don't think most of those same people would want to live a few miles west.
posted by desjardins at 11:38 AM on July 5, 2011

It's probably too small and it's on the West Coast but Juneau, AK has a huge lesbian community, is very walkable downtown, is near the ocean and the mountains, has a pretty good cultural scene despite the size, and has all the outdoor activity a person could want (municipal ski area!). Downsides: small and rainy. But seriously, you can't throw a rock in the Starr Hill neighborhood without hitting a well-adjusted lesbian couple out pushing a stroller.

Otherwise, my vote is for Madison. I grew up about 45 minutes outside of Iowa City and I found the arts scene there to be boring. I always enjoyed Madison. The Twin Cities Are all right but it's not as exciting as it was in the early/mid 90's.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:44 AM on July 5, 2011

I'll chime on the Twin Cities side (though I'm about to leave here for a new job in central Maine...)

Public transit: there's one light rail line (running north/south) and another one in progress (which I think is due to be completed in 2013) which will run west/east between the cities. There's a decent but not awesome bus system: basically, there are parts of the Cities with great access including on weekends, and places where it isn't. (And you need to factor your comfort in standing outside waiting for a bus in sub-freezing temps into the equation.)

Walkability: depends a lot on location. I'm currently in South Minneapolis about a mile from the intersection of Lake and Minnehaha - a little far, but there's lots of places closer to various stores/groceries/etc.

Four Seasons: Got those, though sometimes spring is really fleeting. Summers have 3-4 weeks of hot and muggy to some degree (to the point that AC is really important in at least one room for most people). Winters can get very cold (below zero F for a couple of weeks is pretty common.) But as I point out to people, my life doesn't actually change hugely whether it's 20 or -20: I still have to bundle up to go out, etc. and as long as the car starts, it's good. (Block heaters, garages, or being extra careful to test/replace your battery are all solutions there.)

Diversity/Culture: The Twin Cities has a *huge* theater scene - and more seats per capita than anywhere other than NYC, at least a couple of years ago. There're good art museums, other kinds of museums, and a wide range of other activities.

Liberalness: Minneapolis proper tends to go democratic, but the state as a whole has been on the knife-edge between parties a lot (witness two multi-month recounts in the last two elections...) No gay marriage, and signs are mixed, but a lot of companies do offer domestic partner benfits, etc.

Cost of Living: My studio apartment has been $600 (water's covered, I pay everything else). One bedrooms are in the $800ish range, and two bedrooms in the $1000-1200 range, if you aren't looking at luxury places. There's a lot of reasonable options out there. (Houses in my neighborhood run $150-250K, depending on size, and there're a lot of one and a half floor Craftsman-era bungalows in the bottom half of that range that include reasonable backyard space.)

Scenic: We have tons of lakes! And this massive river. And tons of parks - amazing green spaces. I love the landscape here (though I do sort of miss both mountains and ocean.)

Pet Friendly: Reasonably easy to find dog friendly places, and my friends with dogs like the dog parks a lot.

Employment: depends a lot on field. (I'm a librarian, and the job market here has been lousy: there've been maybe a dozen jobs I was reasonably qualified posted for in the last year - and every one of them got over a hundred applicants.) There's a lot of medical technology work, so if either of you has skills that could transfer there (not just engineering, but things like technical writing) that might be a possible option.

Other stuff: St. Paul and Minneapolis have some very different feels in a variety of ways - there's the running joke that St. Paul is the western-most Eastern city (winding streets, etc.) and Minneapolis is the first Western style city (grids, planned layout, etc.) which is actually sort of true. Some people are really resistent to crossing the river to go to events in the other city (even though total transit from one downtown to the other is 20 minutes unless there's traffic.)

I've lived in both, and I think for your criteria, I'd suggest Minneapolis (especially the Longfellow, Seward, or Powderhorn neighborhoods) over St. Paul, but there are great places in St. Paul, too.
posted by modernhypatia at 1:13 PM on July 5, 2011

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