24 hours to decide where to live!
May 29, 2012 12:06 PM   Subscribe

My husband has been accepted to med school in Buffalo and Syracuse. We have to pick one by tomorrow (!) and pros and cons are overwhelming. Which would be the best choice for our family?

My husband got into medical school (yay!) as a "non-traditional" student -- i.e. he's older and has a family. We have to decide between Buffalo and Syracuse (Upstate) by noon tomorrow and need help!

We currently live in Manhattan and have two small children (6 months and 2.5). I work as a Digital Media exec at a major media company, but I am willing/wanting to leave that behind for a slower pace and more time with the kids. I'd like to find a job that I can do remotely and/or on a part-time basis.

We're not religious and generally pretty liberal. We look forward to access to the outdoors but aren't particularly athletic. In theory, we like museums, theatre, and good restaurants. Finding the right environment in which to raise our children is most important to us, a place where we can all feel comfortable and happy.

As far as we can tell, the two med schools are fairly even. Seems like Buffalo has a slightly better reputation, but Upstate might have a slightly smaller workload, so the two balance out.

We have some family in Syracuse, and distance-wise it's definitely much more drivable to NY, where our parents and most of our friends still live. But that said, we find the city a little less desirable. (Seems like the traffic/commute to school will be worse for my husband, which means even less time seeing him.)

So, can anyone weigh in on this from a couple of different angles?

-Does anyone have knowledge of the quality of life in Syracuse and/or Buffalo? How bad is the crime? How nice are the neighbors? Figure we'll be in the suburbs either way.

-Any past, current, or future med students with thoughts on the two schools that might help us decide? It's hard, from a distance, to really assess the differences.

-Has anyone faced a similar decision, who might have tips on how to best reach a decision?

Thank you all so much, we really appreciate any thoughts you might have!
posted by mandlebrotz to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I live in Buffalo (Lockport, a suburb actually) and work in NYC, 3-4 days perweek.
I'd choose the Buffy, just because I feel like there is more to DO, more to see, more to eat, good stuff for the kids. etc. You can ghet anywhere in 20-30 minutes. You can live downtown and actually have great neighbors and not worry (too) much about crime. Not at all my impression ofr Syracuse.
Good luck on your decision!
posted by jen14221 at 12:12 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

From Buffalo originally and I still have family / friends there. What I know:

-Buffalo quality of life is very good. Comfortable, sunny summers. Sure, there's a lot of snow in the winter but the road crews are experts at removing snow and it's rarely an issue for days on end. It's not so much cold as there are days in the winter where 1-3 feet can fall thanks to lake effect snow. Syracuse has similar levels of snow, from what I know.
-People in Buffalo are notoriously friendly. It's been voted the "City of Good Neighbors" on a few occasions for good reasons. The suburbs I am extremely familiar with (Kenmore, Amherst, Tonawanda, Cheektowaga, Williamsville) have nice neighborhoods and are very accessible.
-None of my family / friends have had issues with crime in Buffalo, with the exception of my cousin who lives within 1 mile of downtown Buffalo. The suburbs are very safe, from my experiences.
-The food in Buffalo is amazing. Great family pizza places, Mighty Taco (which is absurdly good), Lloyd's Taco Truck and Anderson's Ice Cream help in this case. A Taste of Buffalo would be a great event for you to attend should you live in the city.
-Buffalo has great museums (Albright Knox, Fort Niagara)

Let us know if you have additional questions and let us know what you decide!
posted by glaucon at 12:17 PM on May 29, 2012

I would caution taking advice from people who live, or come from these 2 towns.

I've never lived in either, I have spent time in both (and the area). My thought: you will find Syracuse absolutely decrepit. The suburbs are better, but that is a vastly different life.

Buffalo: everyone from Buffalo seems be an unofficial ambassador - they paint an unusually rosy picture of the city, and when people actually start living there, they are underwhelmed.

If I was you, I would skip Syracuse, pick Buffalo for the med school, and live in *Toronto* so that you actually may have several options in taste to enjoy life.
posted by Kruger5 at 12:34 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've never more than driven around Syracuse, but:

In theory, we like museums, theatre, and good restaurants.

Buffalo does pretty good with those, but it's hard to imagine that either town holds a candle to what you're used to in Manhattan.

A lot of it will depend on what you would rather do -- take some combination of driving and train into NYC for really world class dining/museums, or drive to Toronto. Glancing, it looks like the trips from Syracuse to NYC are worse than the ones from here to Toronto.

Does anyone have knowledge of the quality of life in Syracuse and/or Buffalo? How bad is the crime?

Amherst is one of the safest places in the US.

We're not religious and generally pretty liberal.

Buffalo is more conservative than NYC by a wide margin, but still liberal by national standards. It's also very Catholic. I've never found a problem with this... Catholic conservatism seems to take the form of sending kids to Catholic school instead of en-Jesus-ating the public schools, and conservative Catholics are a whole different planet of reasonable from the conservative Baptists I'm used to.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:34 PM on May 29, 2012

If I was you, I would skip Syracuse, pick Buffalo for the med school, and live in *Toronto*

Just to say: you cannot reasonably commute from the one to the other. Also you would spend almost as much on housing as you do now.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:39 PM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've only visited both, but Buffalo seems much better if you prefer urban living (though I know nothing about living in the suburbs). For things like food and the arts scene, it wins hands down, though it will hardly compare with what you are used to in nyc. It would be my pick, but is very much a gritty post-industrial town. I would expect a bit more snow there due to the lake. It may not be a factor for you at all, but I'd value the fact that it is a hub for both Southwest and Jetblue (nice if you travel a lot). It's also close to Toronto, a really superb city.

Syracuse is a bit boring and bland (I identify it with the mall and the airport). On the other hand, would you have lots of family help there? That'd be a huge factor for me if I had a young family. It is also well located for day trips to Ithaca, Rochester and a number of good hiking areas in the finger lakes.
posted by susanvance at 12:41 PM on May 29, 2012

Syracuse consistently gets more snow than Buffalo and is generally colder. Just saying.
posted by oflinkey at 12:44 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

So, I don't have anything to say specifically about either town--med school is so all-encompassing, at least for me, that the town itself is, sad to say, kind of irrelevant. (I'm also a nontraditional student, in my second year.)

But--one thing to ask about both schools. Is attendance at lecture mandatory and/or are lectures videotaped? Or is there a note-taking service available for students? At my school ALL lectures are video-taped and are NOT mandatory. We have a few small-group type things that are mandatory a couple times a week. This is huge for students with families and/or other life stuff going on. It means that on days when getting to school is tough--kids are sick, you've got stuff going on, etc--it's a not a big deal for your husband to miss lecture since he can just watch the video later. For me, anyway, having this flexibility makes a big difference in quality of life.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 12:45 PM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh, god, Buffalo, this isn't even a contest, honestly.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:54 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know anything about either Buffalo or Syracuse as cities, but speaking as a former medical student he should pick the one with the better financial aid. If it's the same (as I might expect given that they're both SUNYs) I would pick the one where you think you would enjoy living more. Would your family in Syracuse be a big part of your life/childcare or are they more "let's have dinner once a month" kind of family? That could be relevant.

We have residents in our program from both schools and they were all equipped just fine for residency, and I think of the schools as basically equivalent when looking at residency applications. The workload in medical school will be heavy no matter what so it's pointless to make a decision on those grounds but as namemeansgazelle points out, if one has more flexibility during the 1st 2 years, that could be good for your family. There is much less flexibility the 3rd-4th years when you're doing clinical rotations.

Sounds like you guys have 2 good options and either decision will be just fine! Good luck!
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 12:56 PM on May 29, 2012

Just so that doesn't seem like a total drive-by: Buffalo is bigger, safer, marginally warmer and less snowy, closer to a major city (Toronto), and has hockey. Syracuse has a lot of snow. I would pick Buffalo, given the option of those two, in a heartbeat.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:57 PM on May 29, 2012

If all the academic and financial considerations are relatively even I'd pick Buffalo. The only thing that would swing me towards Syracuse would be if the nearby family are very willing to take on lots of childcare responsibilities, or if they were providing a free apartment or something.

And no, a med student with an infant and a toddler would not commute from Toronto. It's a day trip from Buffalo but a long one, and the border crossing can be brutal.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:19 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unless the family that you have in Syracuse is going to provide significant assistance and comfort, Buffalo is by far the more livable city right now (I'm around your age, from NYC, have visited both cities multiple times).
posted by FeralHat at 1:21 PM on May 29, 2012

Also, the drive from Syracuse to NYC is much shorter than to Buffalo, but it's not a desirable trip to make regularly with small children or a med student schedule. The flights from Buffalo are reasonably priced & convenient, and seem like something I'd be more likely to do than drive back & forth from Syracuse.
posted by FeralHat at 1:26 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm from Rochester, squarely in the middle, so I have no dog in this fight.

Buffalo is a city, Syracuse is a large town.

In either place you'll have more snow than in NYC, but between the two, you'll be hard put to really say which place has more: the the differences are small enough that neighborhood A in one may have more than neighborhood B in the other, even if B has more on average than A.

Everyone here is assuming that you'll live in a suburb. If you plan to live in the city center, you'll need to say so to get better advice.

Commuting from Toronto is not a realistic option.

I'd personally prefer a Buffalo suburb to a Syracuse suburb, and either to most of Buffalo's urban center.
posted by tyllwin at 1:29 PM on May 29, 2012

All my family is from upstate NY, and I would pick Buffalo in a heartbeat if the decision was between Syracuse/Buffalo. My cousins grew up in Williamsville/Amherst and (upon a quick search) the schools there are very good (Advanced Placement participation at Williamsville East is above 50%!), and as someone upthread mentioned, crime is basically nonexistent.

A lot of the things that might tip a decision like this really aren't a factor here. The economy in both places is comparable (and not really anything to sing about). The weather is almost identical (and also not something most people get terribly excited about).

I love area where most of the rest of my family lives outside Syracuse (Oswego, right on Lake Ontario), and it is gorgeous to visit for a week or so... but no more. No. More.
posted by jph at 2:00 PM on May 29, 2012

I grew up in the Buffalo suburbs going to public school. There are some good ones out there (your kids are still young, but hey).

Here is an example place (on the upper end of the price scale, honestly. The whole area is pretty inexpensive compared to NYC) in my hometown next to a lake and community center, and also close to Chestnut Ridge Park.

posted by troika at 2:04 PM on May 29, 2012

I'm originally from Buffalo (and living in Toronto - and no, that would not be a good daily commute and the housing prices here are frightening). Buffalo actually looks really good to us, primarily for the affordable housing and pace of life. We have friends there, like what there is of our type of music scene, and there's always an event or something we like happening. That said, without health care, we can't live there - but I'm saying, I'd happily live there if that were taken care of.

Based on what others have mentioned, I'll say that I spent my early childhood in a rural part of Orchard Park; my youth in Snyder/Amherst; my early adulthood in Kenmore. My parents live in Cheektowaga now, and the rest of my family lived in Clarence. I really like all of those places, for various reasons - but I most admire the beauty of the town park in Clarence, and the sense of community that area seems to have. But it's one of the more remote choices for someone going to med school. Growing up, my schools were excellent (in Orchard Park and Amherst - both on troika's link). I was recently comparing the quality of my work from back then to what the students in the school where I work are doing now, and I am shocked by the difference. I'm grateful for my good education, but considering there was no socio-economic diversity where I went to school, I can also see that's part of the reason why.

I can only think of a few walkable neighbourhoods - downtown off the Elmwood Strip (where we'd choose to live - here's a link); off Hertel Ave; Kenmore (where I used to live as an adult there). There is not much in the way of public transit. In fact, I'm a horrible snob about that, having done my time, and I'd say there's no really viable public transit unless you're right off a main strip near Buff State or UB. That's important to our family, which would narrow our choices. So, if you're in the suburbs, you're likely going to need to think about being a two-car family. If you're in more of an area in North Buffalo or thereabouts, many are similar and vary mainly by age and the ethnic makeup of years past and can offer a more "villagey" feel. Aesthetically, downtown Buffalo is really nice, and it's full of gorgeous and charming houses. It hasn't been overrun by boxlike apartment buildings and condos.

The neighbours are nice. It's a friendly city. I find the traffic easier to manage than in Toronto - people follow the rules of the road, and I quite like that. There's always parking! There's so much parking! The violent crime seems to be limited to certain areas. The random/other crimes never seem to strike me as being particularly heinous or pervasive. There are areas that are incredibly, sadly run-down and depressing, and it's unusual that in a city like Toronto or New York, those would be incredibly expensive and popular areas to live, whereas in Buffalo, the suburbs are more desirable.

We look for fun things to do when we go - music in the square, church parking lot carnivals, the Broadway Market, Clarence Antique Market, Taste of Buffalo, the Allentown Art Festival... Every weekend there's something.

We find that kids don't really play at parks on the weekends, and people keep to the malls, grocery stores and their yards unless they go to an event. So, there's no "bumping into" people we know, I find. We make plans to see people, and to find places where our daughter can play with other kids. I remember when she was small, looking for drop-in programs or play places and there weren't many.

Certain jobs are hard to find, but there, $40,000 is a good income. For example, a friend in the fashion business moved back home and her choices were: display/mannequin dresser at JC Penney; manager of a Goodwill; manager at H&M. The job market kind of sucks, and many of my friends have spent some time in the past year out of work (but then, Buffalo doesn't need a lot of archeologists.)

There's some good food there, but little in the way of ethnic stuff that isn't at a strip mall in a suburb. In fact, we have to work harder to eat healthily at restaurants there - but the "bad" food is sooooo good. Wegman's, for groceries, is lovely. Beer and liquor is so insanely cheap compared to Toronto that it makes me weep. There aren't too many indie stores, for things like fashion or gifts - there's definitely a mall culture. There will be small galleries and art shows, but there is AN art museum, A science museum, A FEW theatres. You'd get to know them very well, that's all -- though that can be fun and comforting for little kids, like it was for me and is for my daughter. Having memberships to places like the Zoo means we can drop by when we need to kill a few hours.

There are a lot of fun little day trips you all might like - Olcott Beach (noisy link), the Strong Museum in Rochester, the Fisher Price Museum in East Aurora, Chataqua, Ellicottville, or Corning, NY. And New York is not even a bad drive - we leave the dog with my folks, stay in the Catskills, and visit New York every year.

Artvoice is Buffalo's alternative weekly paper. This will give you an idea of the arts/theatre/music/family/bar/club/movie events, as will the Gusto.

I've only every been through Syracuse - and that's because, aside from an annual vintage clothing show, there was never anything that really struck us as being must-see there.
posted by peagood at 3:02 PM on May 29, 2012

I lived in Buffalo for a year with my ex-girlfriend who went to the med school there. She seemed to like it.

I haven't been to Syracuse, but my at least half-educated guess would be Buffalo, and it's not even close. Buffalo is really great. The nice areas are VERY nice and still very cheap (the one negative is that things seem bizarrely segregated there, especially if you're coming from Manhattan.) There are good restaurants and museums. The architecture is amazing.
posted by callmejay at 3:31 PM on May 29, 2012

I can't comment on Syracuse, but I see people suggesting Toronto. I'm from Toronto and live in Buffalo. I am back in TO regularly and I can't even imagine living there now, it's just so expensive and I feel like way too many people live there. The cost of living here in Buffalo is incredibly low, and the quality of life you can lead here is awesome - housing is cheap, there's all kinds of stuff to do, beautiful architecture, great music scene, the weather is great (if you like actual seasons), the infrastructure was built for a larger population than now live here, so traffic even at rush hour is laughable compared to Toronto (or NYC). The safe areas of Buffalo are very safe. Plus, you're a couple of hours' drive to all kinds of other places (including Toronto). And yeah, there's no way a commute from Toronto is feasible, it's a two hour drive or so if the traffic is good, plus you'd likely be trying to cross the border when everyone else is trying to cross, and that can add hours to the drive. I drive back and forth from Buffalo to Toronto a couple of times a month at least, and there's no way I would want to commute (plus the cost of living in Toronto is insane).

I vote for Buffalo, it really is a well-kept secret how nice it can be to live here. I love it.
posted by biscotti at 4:18 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm from Buffalo, specifically Williamsville. I know very little about Syracuse. My vote is for Buffalo. If I had an opportunity to move back, I'd take it very seriously. My husband and I met there for undergrad and he loves it too ( I'm typing this on my mobile - just landed back in Baltimore after a visit home). One thing to keep in mind is that Buffalo is *not* New York City's baby sister. It's an entirely different city. That said, plenty of people have moved to Buffalo from Manhattan and never looked back.

Since you have a six year old, I'd encourage you to look at housing in Williamsville. They have excellent schools and the commute for your husband would be around 20-30 minutes.

The people of Buffalo ate incredibly warm, friendly and earnest. You can easily find other families with young kids. People go to church but aren't really religious, if that makes sense. It made more sense in my parents' generation when churches had more of a sociological context to them - the Polish church, the Italian church, etc. - but it's not really like that any more, as far as I can gather.

The politics are interesting in that, for the most part, people just want to be left alone. I frequently look to my 69 year old aunt as my politics barometer and she supports gay marriage and loves Michelle Obama. She actually walked out of her church the other day when the priest started saying bad stuff about Obama - and other people joined her.

I met my best friend in undergrad in Buffalo and she's currently living on Long Island and debating a move back to Buffalo.

Also, I feel like I buried the lede here - my sister went to Med school in Buffalo. Not sure how much insight I can offer on her experience but she matched in Rochester, get classmates seemed lovely, diverse, warm.

TL;DR Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.
posted by kat518 at 4:53 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

But seriously, Buffalo, for the arts, culture, architecture, history, housing prices, transit system, etc. For Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House. And art cars. For the Albright Knox Museum And the Buffalo Bills and the Sabres. And the fact that it's a city of discrete neighborhoods, terrific food and wonderful people. And Niagara Falls. And so much more.

Really: Buffalo. It's no contest.
posted by carmicha at 4:59 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Buffalo (well, the suburbs, Williamsville) and while I didn't realize how special it was at the time, I definitely appreciate it now. And yes, the schools are great. In my public school graduating class, all but two students went directly to college, and they also eventually went to college. A huge number of the top 20 students in our high school went to Ivy League colleges and had at least a semester's worth of AP credit.

I went to graduate school in Syracuse, and literally never managed to identify one superlative that would have made me consider staying there a day beyond receiving my M.A. Granted, it's been over two decades since I lived in either place, but I can tell you that from practically every perspective, Syracuse ranks a distant second (OK, fifth) in places to live in New York State.

The weather in Syracuse was memorably miserable. Colder, snowier, rainier, greyer, more humid in summer, buggier, icker.

Culturally, even though Syracuse does get its share of concerts, Buffalo has more...of everything. Art, theater, live music, clubs, athletics, groups. The multicultural experience, especially in terms of restaurants and cultural events (fairs, festivals, etc.) is unparalleled in Buffalo. The proximity to Canada means more and better radio (and even TV). From a medical perspective, the opportunity to be close to world class institutions like Roswell Park cannot be overlooked.

Does Buffalo equal NYC? Well, no, but does anyplace in the U.S.? But having spent 18+ years in Buffalo, four in Ithaca, two in Syracuse and a smattering of time in Utica, Binghamton, Albany and NYC, before living in the southeast for two decades, I feel confident that your family would have a superior experience in Buffalo.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 7:02 PM on May 29, 2012

I should also mention that some of the revitalization Buffalo's going through is well-done. Here's a great article about the plan for the Central Terminal. Whether or not it sticks, that's the question.
posted by peagood at 6:50 AM on May 30, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your thoughtful responses! And the great links and info as well.

We are no longer feeling torn... it seems obvious that Buffalo is the better choice. Aside from all of the positive comments, it speaks volumes that not one person has come out in support of Syracuse.

Have to love Metafilter for helping us make a difficult and life-altering decision. I'm sure we will have follow up questions and will tap into your generous advice again when we move next month :)
posted by mandlebrotz at 8:12 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

FYI: I live in Rochester and we take day trips to Buffalo and Ithaca on a regular basis -- never to Syracuse-- although it's equidistant.

And they really do get more severe weather -- twisters and killer-lightening in addition to more snow.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:40 AM on May 30, 2012

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