Where to live on the East coast?
July 21, 2012 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Help me pick an east coast city! Boston, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia or NYC? Or something else?

I currently live in NYC and the housing costs are driving me nuts, especially since my ex and I want to move into separate apartments without bankrupting ourselves. Yes, I currently live with my ex. Thank you, NYC. Plus the specter of school in a few years (I have a 2-year-old) is frightening.

Here's what I want in a location:

--Decent public schools, and/or reasonably priced private/parochial options
--Good public transit that runs reliably and often OR relatively good roads and traffic OR good bikability (I don't want to live in my car)
--Good public universities with decent in-state tuition
--Apartments fit for two people who really like each other that are under $1200 a month, ideally more like $1000, and within 5-10 minutes of amenities like groceries, bars, etc.
--Decent public benefits systems for things like food stamps, daycare subsidies, Medicaid, Head Start, free clinics, etc. (Not planning on relying on them, but you never know).
--Public spaces and events that are free or cheap to use

And, slightly less important, it would also be nice for there to be a decent number of well-paying programming jobs.

I currently live in NYC and might stay if there's nothing better. I'm leaning towards Boston because my child has family there, or the DC-area because I've lived there before and have close friends in Baltimore. I guess Jersey could be okay but I worry about having a super-long commute and about the school situation.

I want to stay on the East coast if possible because of the connections I have here and because I love having access to so many different cities without flying or driving.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you looked into staying in the NYC area but moving out of the city proper?

I know a lot of people who've moved up into the Hudson Valley. A lot of the towns on the east side of the Hudson have train service to Grand Central. Or maybe you do something for a living that doesn't require a commute into Manhattan, and you could just move up there?

They all have cars, but that's more for running local errands, shuttling the kid to soccer practice, and the like. Though I guess if you worked up there you would probably be driving to work.

Do you have to be in or on the periphery of a big city, careerwise?
posted by Sara C. at 5:10 PM on July 21, 2012

Without kids I'd recommend Philadelphia, but the schools are not so good.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:12 PM on July 21, 2012

Well, the places to look at around Philly would be suburbs like Media or Drexel Hill (maybe the Main Line) or, in Jersey, Cherry Hill.
posted by supercres at 5:13 PM on July 21, 2012

If you weren't tied to the idea of living in a metropolis as such, what you described is pretty much Northampton, Massachusetts. Boston and DC are going to be more expensive than you want (both cities' rental costs have exploded in the past couple of years).
posted by General Malaise at 5:23 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

DCist here.

-Comfortable living for two under $1200? Only in the sketchiest neighborhoods or far away from transit or good schools.

-Metro is serviceable but calling it "good" would be a stretch at the moment.

-Traffic ranks among the worst the country.

And it is godawful furnace-hot and rainforest humid every interminable summer.

Other than that, I guess it's ok.
posted by roomwithaview at 5:29 PM on July 21, 2012

DC isn't going to work for you, I think.

Although you could get an okay English basement for maybe $1500 or $1800 in CapHill and hopefully luck into one of the okay elementary schools, what will you do with the 2 year old for the next 2-3 years?
Childcare costs in DC are nuts. In no small part because there are less off-the-books options here because so many people work for the federal government. There are few centers, so many do nannies. Full-time nanny = super expensive.

The other problem with dc is that stuff is hard to do. Paying taxes in dc is a PITA, for example. Maybe some of the other services work better, but I hear otherwise.

On an upnote, you can get health insurance through DC that is pretty cheap. My kid and I are like $133/month for decent insurance.
posted by k8t at 6:06 PM on July 21, 2012

If you enjoy being in the NYC area, then you should look into moving to my area. I'm in NJ, less than ten miles from Manhattan and commute in daily - its a breeze - 20 minute bus ride to midtown or slightly longer train/PATH/ferry ride. I own, so I can't address rental rates, but I have a hard time believing they'd be unaffordable for you. Schools here (Carlstadt/East Rutherford) are very good with a variety of public and independent school options. Several good state college/universities. Plenty of public spaces and events - despite the reputation, Jersey really IS the "Garden State" so there's lots of enjoyable, free outdoor space.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:09 PM on July 21, 2012

Reading your last question it sounds like your baby isn't even a year yet. That's 3-4 years of fulltime childcare before you have to worry about schools.

With your last question in mind...
If you were my friend, I would tell you to find the best possible income maximizing career plan. Do that program in the cheapest place you can find, especially if you have family nearby that can help, and rely on student housing and/or childcare stipends to get you through the program. (Income maximizing would be nursing, pharmacy, maybe?). You'll be done around the time kiddo is edging into preschool and hopefully you can have your pick of affordable locations.

Struggling as a single mom is likely, but if you were my friend, I would say get the benefit out of being a student while the baby is young (and care is the most expensive and you need the most flexibility<) so that you'll have more freedom once s/he is a bit older.
posted by k8t at 6:12 PM on July 21, 2012

Boston is the nicest of the cities you've mentioned.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:52 PM on July 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Philadelphia is a good choice if, and really only if, you can afford private school. Or, perhaps, work hard to game the public charter/magnet options. The good news is there are tons of private schools in and around Philly that are really, extremely good. But you'll need about $10K a year to manage most of them...though some offer financial aid.

It has the rents you want, and with good spaciousness in decent neighborhoods, at that; the public transport you want, the public services you want, and the downtown/pedestrian life you want, but also it's not miserable to have a car there, the way it is in NYC or Boston.

If you're looking to meet people, it's a pretty good place to live, too. There are just a lot of 20- and 30-somethings in the city, and it's pretty friendly and sociable. There are a goodly number of parks and green spaces. Spring and summer are really nice - summer can start to lean toward the suffocating DC humidity, though. Not quite as swampy, maybe, but hot. Have a window unit at least.

It has great transit links to both NYC and DC, very easy to get to both and then to the other Amtrak cities beyond, without driving.

City politics are insane, but people are very involved. It's pretty affordable overall.
posted by Miko at 7:27 PM on July 21, 2012

Not Boston proper, but some of the surrounding areas would meet all your criteria. For example, Belmont (just west of Cambridge) has apartments in that price range, good public schools, buses and commuter rail. And Massachusetts is an excellent place for programmers, and for public safety net programs.
posted by acridrabbit at 9:28 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look, DC is out because the schools are sketchy, but what about a Virginia suburb near a metro? I live in a house in Arlington where the public schools are some of the best in the country, and we're only 20 minutes outside of DC. The metro is good here, fabulous public universities like UVA, public benefits are good (speech therapy for our 3 year old daughter was partially subsidized by the county), and while I can't attest to the job market things usually seem a bit better to me in the DC area than elsewhere because of the government job market here.

Sure, summers are hot, but there are county pools, and the other three seasons are nice.
posted by onlyconnect at 10:31 PM on July 21, 2012

In most of these metro areas you are simply not going to find a neighborhood that is accessible, affordable and has good schools. I think your plan should be to live somewhere accessible (in the city proper of whatever area you choose) for now, while being prepared to move into a suburb when your kid starts school.
The Dulles Corridor outside DC is a pretty horrific example of suburban sprawl right now, but we're all crossing our fingers and hoping that the Metro expansion will make it more livable within the next few years. There are lots of programming jobs out there (if you are willing to enter the weird world of government contracting) and it will be reachable from several really good school districts.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 5:36 AM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live in Baltimore and love it here. I'm childless for life but most of my friends have kids. There's one public school I consider worthwhile (Roland Park), and while the neighborhood is beautiful, bikeable, and desirable in other ways, it's not walkable to more than a handful of businesses, and rentals are very scarce. Any rentals you'd find 1) would almost certainly be houses, not apartments, 2) would be above $1200, more likely in the $1500-$2500+ range.

Baltimore does have relatively affordable housing, though, and depending on what type of neighborhood you're looking for, you could wind up with a beautiful, affordable, large apartment near a farmer's market and Penn Station, but your kid would need to attend one of the burgeoning charter/magnet schools. I can't speak to parochial schools here, but the privates are really expensive, like $8000+/year.

Baltimore has an exciting DIY art & culture scene that makes for a unique culture. It's not at all on par with what's in New York, but you will of course lose that by moving anywhere. There's so much to do on any given day that it makes me really happy to live here, and it's usually pretty cheap.

More factors: Baltimore's roads are notoriously pockmarked with potholes, and although we have a fair number of bike lanes, we've lost 2 bicyclists to obliviously turning vehicles in the past few years. We have the U of Md public university system that's reasonably priced, and we have among the best health care in the world, being home to Hopkins and the UM hospital system. Lastly, we have a burgeoning tech entrepreneur community that's extremely active, and (as I work in IT) programming jobs are plentiful and competitively salaried, though you'd get paid more for the same jobs in DC because the cost of living there is higher. A LOT higher. In fact, every few years Baltimore engages in a serious campaign to get even more DC workers to live here, since the commute from Penn Station to Union Station is about 50 minutes by MARC train.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:09 AM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Echoing General Malaise (an odd moniker considering we both live in the Happy Valley :D ). I live in Amherst, MA. The Pioneer Valley is home to UMass Amherst (flagship campus for the UMass system,) and in the immediate area are four other excellent colleges (Amherst, Smith, Mt. Holyoke, and Hampshire). Travel a bit from Amherst/Noho and you have several state colleges and community colleges. Springfield has some bigger corporations (Mass Mutual, for example) who employ programmers, and the colleges employ them as well.

School systems, in general, are pretty good (MeMail me if you want more details, I've worked in some of the the systems around here.) Amherst public schools have been called "The best private education you can get in a public school." Others may disagree, but most graduates I've spoken to from that system say that their education served them well. There are several private schools to choose from (including Deerfield Academy, if that's in your budget.)

The bike community is excellent in the northern part of the valley (e.g. Northampton/Amherst, etc.) but driving commutes are really not all that bad, even if you live in Greenfield and work in Springfield (it'll be about a 45 minute commute on Interstate 91) and even then, most people live closer to their jobs than that. Commuting here is nothing like around Boston or, what I imagine, NYC must be like.

Rents are generally in your price-range for very nice apartments, presuming you mean $1200 total for an apartment. If you mean $2400/mo for an apartment (that is, $1200 for each person), you can live very well here. You can save a little bit of $ by heading a town or two away from Amherst or Northampton.

Now, all this to say that western MA is NOT, NOT NYC, or even Boston proper for that matter. I've met many students/families from metropolitan cities who go a little stir crazy when they first move here because they perceive the area as "boring". It's a quieter, slower pace, with small, fun little things to do that often require a bit of digging to find. But Northampton has some excellent music venues, and the colleges often pull in interesting entertainment options (e.g. Cirque du Soleil was at UMass last year.) UMass has some good sports teams if you like college sports. There is a strong local food culture here, with plenty of farms and farm shares for you to enjoy, local dairies, locally crafted beer (that's a big thing around here), and great restaurants. People are very proud of the Valley in that regard.

So, if any of that sounds like your cuppa tea, I'd be happy to chat more with you about it! Boston is a 2 hour drive east, so family won't be too far (unless they are native Bostonians, in which then anything beyond route 128 is uncharted wilderness where there be dragons :D)

posted by absquatulate at 7:57 AM on July 22, 2012

Just jumping in to say that a lot of the DC elementary schools are no longer horrific.

However, for middle and high school, you'll either need to go with a charter/private school, or move out to the Virginia suburbs.

Also, despite its many faults, if you're living out in the suburbs, Metro is still a lot better than most commuter rail systems.
posted by schmod at 7:42 AM on August 20, 2012

« Older How to get data consolidated from a bunch of...   |   Hoping for the Hopa Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.