City or country? I want both.
September 5, 2012 5:03 PM   Subscribe

City or country? I want both.

I grew up in a beautiful mostly rural area (with mountains) that was also known for its culture (in terms of theater and the arts,). It was socioeconomically diverse but not ethnically or culturally diverse. I loved growing up there and I picked a similar area to attend college.

For most of my post-college adult life, I've lived in a city that I also love. I most appreciate the ethnic/cultural diversity, convenience of most things, public transit, social life, being near the ocean, and more job opportunities. I only need to drive 15 minutes (without traffic) to hike in the woods. But at least two hours to really "get away" and see mountains, which I crave on a regular basis.

I lived for about two years in a small city/suburb type town and kind of hated it, so the suburbs scare me.

I want the best of all worlds. I want a house in the woods near mountains and the ocean, but I want a job in a city working with and serving people from all walks of life (a city salary is nice too). I also prefer no longer than a 45 minute commute by public transpo or car. I know this is totally unrealistic (or is it?)

For others who love both city and rural/country, how did you decide where to live long term (and raise a family if you have)? Would you do anything differently?

Also I know job/career is a factor, let's pretend it isn't for this particular question. If it helps, I live (and plan to always live) pretty frugally/modestly no matter where I live or how much I earn. Also I have a partner who is on the same page with me about this. We just can't decide. Fortunately there's no rush to make a move, but it's always on our minds.
posted by wannabecounselor to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps Marin County, north of San Francisco? You can live in the redwoods or right on the water or next to Mount Tamalpais, and still commute into SF without too much trouble. It is mostly an expensive place to live, but it's very lovely.
posted by brainmouse at 5:09 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have preferences a lot like you. I really enjoyed living in Portsmouth, NH. IT's not very ethically diverse, though it is economically diverse. It is a small city surrounded by rural areas/farms, woods and lakes and mountains and seashore just minutes to two hours away. And it's only a little over an hour from Boston if you want a bigger city experience.

You might like Portland, ME, too. Portland is a lot more diverse, just a bit farther from Boston and other major hub cities.
posted by Miko at 5:11 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might like Hudson, NY, though I think it's a little farther by train then you're hoping.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:17 PM on September 5, 2012

I reconciled this by living in the city and weekending in country. Then reversing the commute. If country life ever gets tiring, I'll reverse it again.

Thing that sucks about those suburbs, they make that commute pretty long...
posted by slateyness at 5:20 PM on September 5, 2012

Northern New England is really a good option for this. The cities you would be looking at are not exactly megalopolises, but Burlington VT, Portsmouth or Manchester NH, and Portland ME are really cosmopolitan little cities, and you can drive 45 minutes from any of them and really be in the middle of nowhere.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:26 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

That is similar to where I live in the GTA (except my mountain is the escarpment and it is a Great Lake not an ocean). Vancouver/Victoria fit the bill though (shorter commute in Victoria). On the other coast Halifax somewhat fits the bill. And Ottawa is close to the Laurentians and lots of lakes (but I don't find Ottawa too diverse). Montreal is more diverse but and shares the Laurentians (south of the border they are called the Adirondacks).
posted by saucysault at 5:40 PM on September 5, 2012

I used to know a woman who had a house in the hills east of Seattle, a very wild place, but worked in the city.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:44 PM on September 5, 2012

I came in to suggest Marin County but brainmouse beat me to it. I would particularly recommend checking out the town of Fairfax - it feels almost like a little mountain resort town, with lots of hippies and mountain bikers. It is one of the most affordable towns in Marin. Fairfax is also a big music town - several bars host live music pretty much every night if the week - and so it does have some culture of its own. This is a rough estimate, but I think if you commuted by ferry to San Francisco (you would need to drive to the ferry, around 15-20 min), you should be able to get to downtown San Francisco with an hour commute. (Note: taking the ferry is kind of awesome and definitely makes for a much more enjoyable commute).

If you wanted closer to the city you could try Mill Valley, but that town is waaay up there in terms of housing costs. Like, comically way up there. It's a very beautiful town though.

If you were willing to do a longer commute you could consider West Marin. Then you'd really be in the country.
posted by imalaowai at 6:05 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't say Portland, ME is diverse, and as much as I love Maine, the mountains there are not very . . . mountainous. I love New England, but if you're really into mountains, you might be disappointed. But if you are okay with glorified hills, then Portland, ME, Portsmouth, NH, and Burlington, VT are really cool towns, and Boston is not too far away if you're craving some time in a bigger city.

The West Coast options mentioned here (Marin County, areas around Seattle) sound like a great fit, though.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:39 PM on September 5, 2012

Just be aware that country places which are "just outside of the city" will be in the gross (in both senses of the word) suburbs ten years from now.

My plan if I ever have money will be to buy a house that's really in the countrty, and live there seasonally, working in the city seasonally as well. At least, that's my latest plan... who knows?

You could also buy an acreage instead of a lot, so that when the surrounding area is developed you'll still have some space.
posted by windykites at 6:42 PM on September 5, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far!

I'm looking for even more of the "I feel/felt the same way, and this is what I did/where I live and how I feel about it now" as opposed to geographical suggestions, though they are good to know as well.
posted by wannabecounselor at 6:53 PM on September 5, 2012

Check out Duluth, MN.

Duluth and the North Shore is quite hilly and "mountainous" in an upper Midwestern way, Lake Superior is nothing but a freshwater ocean, and Duluth is quietly becoming quite the cool place to live. Cool, of course, both in weather and reputation. Ethnic diversity is lacking, but it is a quasi-college town with a traditional student, athletic and cultural uniqueness. When you are ready to get away, it's really easy to get away in northern Minnesota.
posted by lstanley at 7:02 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not particularly close to the ocean (but it's only a 4 hour drive away from it!), but I would suggest looking into Jefferson County, West Virginia (namely, the towns of Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown, Charles Town, or even Martinsburg [which is in Berkeley County]) in the (far) Eastern Panhandle. There is a MARC train than runs from Martinsburg, WV, to Union Station in D.C. If you were to get on at the Harpers Ferry station and were going to (for example) the Germantown station, it would be 45 minute ride.

Jefferson County is still quite a rural little county. If you were to live on The Mountain (Harpers Ferry area) you could have a nice view of the river, corn fields, cow pastures, old barns, and newer silos. Shepherdstown (just north of Harpers Ferry) is a beautiful little college town and the oldest town in the state.

My aunt lived just outside of Harpers Ferry for years, in a house in the woods on the side of a mountain and right by the confluence of two lovely rivers, and commuted to Arlington, VA, each day. I believe her commute was more than 45 minutes each way, though. Two more of my aunts also moved out of the D.C. area and into Jefferson County and still commuted (via train or car) to their D.C. area jobs. (My parents also moved out of the just-outside-of-DC-area and into WV, but my dad only commuted to Frederick, MD, and that's more suburb-y than city, I think.) Years and decades later, they are all still glad they made the move. I know I'm very glad that I was raised in a rural setting but was able to have close ties and frequent trips to a big city.

Also, Buffalo, NY.* There are very hilly, rural, farmy areas to the south of the city, and while it's far from the ocean, it is right on the great Lake Erie. And your commute could definitely be under 45 minutes.

*You should know that I currently live here, and living here seems to turn everyone into a cheerleader for the area.
posted by Silly Ashles at 7:17 PM on September 5, 2012

wannabecounselor: "For others who love both city and rural/country, how did you decide where to live long term (and raise a family if you have)? Would you do anything differently? "

Grew up in the citified suburbs, less than a mile from the big city border. In my 20's, I moved into the city proper for a while to do All THE THINGS, and started dating a guy (eventually my husband) who lived in a farther-flung suburb, where certain areas of town had these weird stalks growing right out of the ground (omg, THAT'S where corn on the cob comes from? I had no idea!). Spending time out by him felt different. It felt slower, like I had time to think and breathe, and hear and see things I never heard in the city (crickets! birds! stars!). It only took a half hour or so to get into the city anyway, so it wasn't a major inconvenience to still go to the same bars and museums and stores, etc.

So for me, the decision was just one of living/spending time in both types of places, and realizing most of the things I valued in the world were easier to come by in this particular more rural area, and even the things that were more difficult weren't impossible, they just required a teensy bit more planning.

One thing I would have done differently is I wouldn't have kept my job in the city when I moved out to the suburbs for good. The commute KILLED me, and made me hate my job and my life for a few years. I didn't start on the best foot out here, and sometimes I still feel a little out of place and isolated. I could have made more friends and been connected to the community sooner, had I been around more and not been so wiped from a 1 1/2 hour commute each way the first few years I was here.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:23 PM on September 5, 2012

I'm looking for even more of the "I feel/felt the same way, and this is what I did/where I live and how I feel about it now" as opposed to geographical suggestions, though they are good to know as well.

I felt similar, and this is what I did: I moved to Roanoke, Virginia. I have the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway in my backyard, and I watch storms come over the ridgeline of the mountains from my window at work. My house is in the "city," and it takes me 12 minutes to get to work clear across town if I hit all red lights. There's very little suburban sprawl because we're surrounded on three sides by mountains, so you go from urban to rural pretty quickly (farmer's markets and CSAs are amazing here because the farms are so close by). It's beautiful. My next-door neighbors keep bees and chickens in the backyard, and I'm four blocks from an indie theater and great restaurants. Best of both worlds. When I crave more, DC, Asheville, and beaches are an easy roadtrip away. There is also a lake here, but I haven't checked it out as I'm not beachy. Most jobs around here are healthcare related, but in general it's an area that didn't really have a bubble, so nothing really burst. Music/arts scene is growing, and the outdoor culture is fantastic. I almost don't want to tell you about it because I want to keep it to myself.
posted by headnsouth at 7:34 PM on September 5, 2012

Check out Boise. You can live up the hill toward Idaho City in the piney woods and commute down. See recreation in Idaho.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:54 PM on September 5, 2012

I worked in town, lived on 40ac and commuted the 35kms (35mins) every day for around 30 years. Raised three children, and worked a 1000ac family property for 10-15 years on a weekend. We wanted a bush environment for ourselves and children, and it worked pretty well for us. Children caught school bus, or were dropped off.

Biggest issue is when school sports, ballet/dancing etc are a priority, the commute kills either the extracurricular stuff, or you move back into town.

We were close enough for the attractions of the city, entertainment, schools, medical/hospital, shopping, etc without the drag of traffic, noise, neighbors etc so it was a best of both worlds for us.
posted by GeeEmm at 1:50 AM on September 6, 2012

Live in the city.

I grew up out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing accessible unless you drove a long way. Just trees, dairy cows, and corn fields. The trees ran right up to the back door. Lovely stuff. But you had to have a car and use it, or you had to ride your ass off every day on your bike. Nothing was close to home.

As an adult, I started living in cities, dumped the car, and got used to finding everything within walking/train/bus/tram distance. Right now, I even live within easy walking distance of my job, so I have zero commute time unless you count a leisurely ten-minute walk from door to door. I haven't used wheels to go anywhere at all in... weeks? months? I don't remember. Maybe one short train ride for a doctor's appointment a couple of months ago.

And that's what I want most of the time: to be within easy distance of everyday things. If I need to go to the deep woods occasionally, or head out to the seaside once in a while, I can arrange that, but I don't need to do that every day. I do need to work or shop every day, as does my spouse, and kids have to go to school and see friends every day. If we moved out into the country, our family would collectively lose maybe two or three hours every day to travel time and be apart from each other much more every day. Every damn day.
posted by pracowity at 3:56 AM on September 6, 2012

I wouldn't say Portland, ME is diverse,

Not compared to most major cities; I was simply saying it's much more diverse than Portsmouth, NH. Portsmouth is 95% white, Portland 85%. In Northern New England this is a pretty noticeable difference, and since being in that region often entails the tradeoff of good diversity, if diversity matters a lot to you, Portland may be be the better option. Burlington, VT is 88% white, and Northampton, MA is 90% white.
posted by Miko at 6:15 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Live in the city, but get a weekend place in the country. This doesn't have be be a place you buy, but it can be something you just regularly rent for the season (if you have seasons where you live).

If you don't go every weekend and don't have too much stuff, you can probably use a zipcar; otherwise you'll have to get a car, which can be a drag in the city.
posted by NotPayingAttention at 12:05 PM on September 24, 2012

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