Well, I've made it HERE, so...
December 18, 2012 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Given this list of things I do and don't like about living in NYC, where might I want to consider moving?

So I live in NYC- moved here about a year and a half ago- and though it's in many ways amazing and awesome, I'm not sure I want to live here forever. I was thinking about this recently, and an earlier question today prompted me to write this. This is a long-term, maybe-never proposition- I have things left to accomplish here before I go- but I figure it can't hurt to start thinking about it now.

I honestly have very little context for what it's like to live in other cities or regions of America. I grew up in Greensboro NC, attended school in Chapel Hill NC, briefly lived in Chicago and Beijing, and then moved here. But, this is the first place I have ever lived as a non-student adult. I don't really know how to be a grown-up anywhere else...

Things I love about living here:
Functional, all-night subway system
Awesome food from everywhere on Earth
Beautiful parks
Politically liberal/GLBT friendly
People can let their freak flags fly
Interesting and variable fashion and other forms of self-expression
Opportunities for classes in any conceivable topic
The Brooklyn Public Library
The growing urban food production movement
High relative salaries mean I can save more and pay more towards my loans

Things that I'm simply not sure I can tolerate for the rest of my life:
FUCKING EXPENSIVE RENT, and I will never be able to not have roommates unless I move in with a partner
Constantly dirty streets/sidewalks
Not enough wild nature. Locals try to tell me that Central Park counts. Nope.
Takes forever to get around the city- many of my friends live an hour away from me
The pace of life is sometimes too much for me- I can easily find myself away from home for 18 hours at a time, doing this and that with no time to rest
You can't own a car (well, I certainly can't), which makes it hard to do things like take spontaneous day trips or buy flea market furniture
It's hard to make a tiny rental apartment feel like a capital-H home, which matters a lot to me. I find myself envious of FB friends' gardens and non-Ikea furniture and frequently-used dining tables and garage bike shops and shit.
Similarly, it's hard to routinely entertain at home
Gets dark too early in winter
Smelly and humid in summer
Sometimes it seems like there's no room to have a new creative idea and implement it, because there are a few hundred unemployed people with PhDs in whatever your casual hobby is

Of the places I've lived before, Greensboro was WAY too suburban and spread-out; Chapel Hill was pretty much lovely but kinda small (and also I was in college, so, rose-colored glasses); Chicago was pretty great in most ways BUT I only lived there for three months in the summer; and Beijing was like New York but all the bad stuff (except high rent) was even worse...

I'm open to basically any climate except desert, though I prefer shorter winters and places where it rains at least semi-regularly. (I love thunderstorms!) I'm mostly looking for American cities here, because I'm not sure what paths for immigration would be available to me, but feel free to include those too!
posted by showbiz_liz to Society & Culture (40 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Seattle or Portland (it rains, winter is short) would seem to be what you're looking for.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:40 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you might actually be a West Coast Person at heart. Seattle, Portland, maybe SF (although cost of housing in SF is pretty high).
posted by Mender at 1:42 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not SF if you value good mass transit and low rent.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:44 PM on December 18, 2012

Usually this is where I come in to say MOVE TO CHICAGO CHICAGO YAY, but in case anyone else comes here to recommend it: you will not be happy in Chicago.

It doesn't meet a number of your criteria, but one big glaring one is that it's a bit past 3:30 here right now and it is dark outside. Like, it might as well be nighttime.
posted by phunniemee at 1:47 PM on December 18, 2012

Oaky. I'm gonna say it: you might like L.A.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:49 PM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Well San Francisco might be a good choice. Everything on your list for New York, more temparate weather and nature abounds within an hour's drive of the city.

You'll have expensive rent, you'll have a small place, and did I mention Earthquakes? Those too.

You can do a Zipcar for the furniture stuff, because a car may be out of your price range.

Atlanta might do. (It does for me.) We have a sort-of transit system, but cars are affordable too. Housing abounds and is pretty cheap. Our salaries, not so great.

Awesome foodie culture, great LGBT stuff going on.

Great neighborhoods include:

Decatur, Virginia Highlands, Marrietta (by the square), Chamblee

As for urban food stuff, check out Your DeKalb Farmers Market. Check out any of the dumps and dives along Buford Highway. We have food trucks now!

We have a high concentration of Fortune 500 companies, AT&T, Home Depot, Delta, CNN, etc. We also have the CDC and the IRS if you like Federal Govt employment.

Yes, we're a small pocket of blue among a shit-ton of red (can't have everything) but you're only a couple of hours away from Greenville, if you want to visit your family.

I've been fighting it for quite some time, but I think we're here to stay.

As for weather, it's mild. Sure people spontaneously combust in the summer, but it's not smelly, so +1 there.

It's the compromise. I'm okay with it. You might be too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:49 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gainesville, FL has everything you want. No subway, but cheap buses and you can get around by bike everywhere. Of course, the trade-off for low rent is low salaries. But there are daily thunderstorms in August and September, a fucking prairie, international food, a local organic food movement, a great public library, and lots of weirdos.

Also I've been really happy up in New York state, which is commutable to the city. We have an amazing CSA (where we go to pick up food right from the farm), there are amazing restaurants (because the Culinary Institute is in Hyde Park), and there are all sorts of funky old hippies and young New York transplants. Oh and old farmhouses and such (I live in an apartment in a house built in 1720!). And who needs parks when you're surrounded by mountains and farmland? Of course, it means becoming a person who moves upstate. So, you know. Winters are the same as in NYC but summers suck less because the air smells like clover.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:52 PM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ruthless Bunny, Greensboro is in NORTH Carolina, which is a considerably longer drive than to Greenville, SOUTH Carolina (which is where my family lives).

Seconding Atlanta, though. My decade there was awesome. I lived Intown only--I don't do OTP--Cabbagetown, Inman Park, Poncey-Highlands.

You can buy a pretty nice house in Reynoldstown--where many of my friends have done just that--and get around on foot. MARTA is still sort of a joke, but at least it goes to the airport! I love Atlanta. I miss it. It might be just what you need!
posted by Kitteh at 1:53 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Specifically, you would probably like Beacon. Maybe Rosendale or New Paltz. Might be worth a weekend trip up metronorth if you haven't been.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:55 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

San Francisco rents are high; rents in the East Bay tend to be lower. But depending on your job, you may still need roommates.

It doesn't rain here from about May till about November. We have approximately one thunderstorm a year, maybe. Summers (in the city) tend to be foggy and cool; it's usually sunnier and warmer in Berkeley/Oakland.
posted by rtha at 2:03 PM on December 18, 2012

I agree, you sound like a West Coaster. In particular, they meet your pro conditions very nicely.

All the "hippy"/"green"/liberal stuff (awesome food, beautiful parks, liberalism, freak flag-friendly, fashion, classes, library/intellectualism, urban food) is most definitely available on the West Coast. I mean...aren't these like THE classic stereotypes of places like Portland or San Francisco?

The biggest weakness of the West Coast is the transit, but to be honest there's no place in the US like New York. I actually think that San Francisco has pretty good transit by national standards. I mean, my friends there bitch about it all the time, but at least there's a subway/commuter rail system to bitch about.

To look at your cons about New York, West Coast cities do well on:
- wild nature (hello, Griffith Park in LA and the California coast)
- pace of life, if you pick the right neighborhood
- car ownership pretty much ranges from "advisable" to "mandatory," so don't worry about not having to own a car
- NOT HUMID IN SUMMER! I am sorry to yell but oh my god the US east of the Mississippi river can sometimes be downright awful in summer (I am a native Angeleno, can you tell?)
- LA will not get dark as early, but the sun will still set around 5:15ish in December.
- You can probably rent a house, more of the housing stock out West is comprised of freestanding homes when compared to NYC.

This is where they don't do so well:
- Expensive rent. Yeah, LA and SF are not cheap to live in, and I imagine Seattle isn't super cheap either.
- Takes forever to get around: traffic in LA/SF (not as familiar with OR/WA) can be hellish.
- Portland has a reputation, maybe undeserved, for being a place where "young people go to retire." No idea how true it is, but that could be an issue from your unemployment perspective?

All in all, I think you've got a pretty good shot with the West Coast -- it meets most of your pros and fixes lots of your cons.

Also phunniemee I am in the Loop and WHY IS IT SO DARK?! Ugh.
posted by andrewesque at 2:04 PM on December 18, 2012

I would recommend Seattle or Portland, I think it checks all your boxes EXCEPT for the dark-in-winter thing. If you look at a map you'll find out exactly how far north they are compared to New York. NYC is at the 40th parallel, Portland is at the 45th and Seattle the 47th.

We're pretty close to the solstice, so it's a good time of year to compare the differences. Here is the amount of daylight in each of the three cities for today:

New York: Sunrise was 7:15, sunset is 4:30 (9h15m of daylight)
Portland: Sunrise was 7:47, sunset is 4:28 (8h41m daylight, 34 minutes less light than NYC)
Seattle: Sunrise was 7:53, sunset is 4:19 (8h26m daylight, 49 minutes less light than NYC).

Also, since it's usually overcast, there's not much light during the day even during daylight hours.

So there's that. Also, I grew up in NYC and when I moved to Seattle it took me a long time to get used to so many white people and hardly any black people (and Portland is even worse than Seattle in this regard). So although racial diversity isn't on your list, it's something else to consider.

But if neither of those things are dealbreakers, the Pacific Northwest might be worth investigating.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:04 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

On preview, rtha's point reminds me that June gloom in LA and the infamous San Francisco summer fog do exist, so it's not like there is no moisture in the air on the West Coast in the summer.

But by the wording of your complaint (Smelly and humid in summer) I'm pretty sure you mean that brand of gross East/South/Midwest 95-degree thick soppy air, which is worlds apart from the West Coast.
posted by andrewesque at 2:06 PM on December 18, 2012

True nature, weather, and Politically liberal/GLBT friendly rank highest on your list. Therefore, there is only one city in the U.S. for you that gives it all:

Los Angeles
posted by Kruger5 at 2:07 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

On second thought, Seattle might not do the trick. It gets dark early in the winter - just half an hour by plane north it's dark out *by 4:30* for much of November. It's pretty humid in the winter, so the cold is wet and clammy. Summer is glorious, though, and lasts basically from May to late September - one long dry season with a constant 70 degrees and blue sky.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:15 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

How much desert can you handle? Los Angeles is a desert. You might also consider Denver/Boulder, Colorado. It is also a desert but we have absolutely brilliant thunderstorms in the summer/fall - about half an hour long, so you get sun most of the day but still some nice rain. The winters are much less bad than you might think, some cold days but also warm sunny days.

Otherwise we have almost everything on your list: The area doesn't have all-night transit but there's still a pretty decent bus/light-rail system. The food diversity isn't as good as New York but is getting better all the time. Other than that you'd be pretty well set.
posted by medusa at 2:25 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would recommend Toronto. I lived there for three years and loved it. Living in NYC now, I would seriously consider going back to Toronto if I had the chance. It has a lot of the positive qualities of NYC without many of the negatives.

It has all of the things you like, except for an all-night subway system (which few places on earth have). It's clean, diverse, cosmopolitan, politically liberal (in the downtown core at least), and you get free healthcare to boot. It's close to lots of nature and plenty of people own cars, though it's by no means needed if you live downtown. It's fairly fast-paced, but I feel like it doesn't have the same workaholic culture as NYC. The subway is functional and goes most places you'd want to go. It's also more bike friendly lacking NYC's crazy traffic.

However, it gets dark early in the winter and rents are relatively high for North America - but definitely lower than NYC - I'd say NYC rents are around 1.5-2x as much as Toronto for comparable places.
posted by pravit at 2:28 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

It doesn't fit all of your criteria, but I think (the) Boston (area) might be a really great fit. It has a lot of the good things about New York without the SO MUCH OF EVERYTHING onslaught that can be exhilarating but also tiresome and overwhelming. Also, I don't know if this is relevant for you, but Boston has the most ridiculous bumper crop of educated, progressive, interesting, attractive, single 20s/30s folks of anywhere I've ever lived. Even if you're taken or not looking to date, for the same reason the roommate "scene" is really great too, IME.
posted by threeants at 2:30 PM on December 18, 2012

If you're up for returning to NC, Durham would be up your alley. There are definitely a lot of sprawly areas like Greensboro, but downtown's making a major comeback. No subway system, but there's no place in the US that meets all of your criteria (otherwise I would live there). I hear a lot of good things about Asheville, too.

Somerville/Cambridge, MA would be perfect for you, except for the rent and the dark winters. (Again, you can't have everything.) The Boston area has good public transportation and all sorts of city things, yet it's incredibly easy to escape if you want to go on a hike in the woods.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:43 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing the Pacific NW. The biggest thing (that no one has mention!) is that in addition to the darkness during the winter, it's quite cloudy during that period as well. There will be long periods of time (or at least seem to be long periods of time) without sunlight. If that is not a dealbreaker, take a look. The Portland job marked has reportedly improved and I know they have been working on mass transit (although it does not run all night in Portland and only a few buses in Seattle). Rent used to be ultra-cheap in Portland, but that was 9 years ago, so I don't know the situation now.

Also, as has been mentioned, there are very few non-white people. In Portland they tend to keep them in the NE and North parts of the city and the Portland PD treats them like all police forces do.

Also, Portland does not have gay marriage (not sure how relevant that is) despite being a really progressive city. Seattle now does.
posted by Hactar at 2:58 PM on December 18, 2012

Come to LA. Come visit first, if you've never been here, but it sounds like you want/need a big city. LA is a wonderful freakshow of amazing awesomeness, rent is slightly cheaper than NYC, and you can live a mixture of car-free and be-carred (bike to work, daytrips on the weekends) and food is so cheap and delicious.

And while access to nature is not what most people associate with LA, there is a lot within an easy drive.

Oh, and you can wear shorts in January.

If you want to check out SF/Oakland, that might also be a good fit, but really: LA is a magnificent beast. And while not a cheap city, rent is much cheaper here than in San Francisco and definitely cheaper than New York City.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:59 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seriously, LA. Live near the Red Line.
posted by synchronia at 3:04 PM on December 18, 2012

I think Pittsburgh would have a lot of what you're looking for except for short winters.
posted by Asparagus at 3:19 PM on December 18, 2012

Just to clear up a common misconception: L.A. is not a desert. Its climate is more accurately classified as Mediterranean.

The greater L.A. region will meet most of your requirements *if* you strategically locate yourself near a public transit hub, *and* you work close to where you live. Some pockets of L.A. are more freak-flag-friendly than others, but in general, we roll out the Welcome mat to weirdos of all flavors.

It's possible to find digs here that aren't hideously expensive, and that are close to public transit.

The one downside is that you will probably find yourself schlepping across time and space to meet up with friends. My tribe deals with that by turning get-togethers into sleepovers, or just working our socializing around traffic patterns to avoid rush hour meat-grinder drives.
posted by nacho fries at 3:19 PM on December 18, 2012

Seconding Denver.
posted by cyndigo at 3:52 PM on December 18, 2012

Gainesville, FL has everything you want.

...so long as you never, ever, under any circumstances leave the city limits. If you do, you're in deepest darkest Biblebeltia.

I would recommend Toronto.

If _liz could stomach some hardcore winter, I'd recommend Ottawa over Toronto; biscotti has repeatedly mentioned that Ottawa now has the good qualities she remembers from growing up in Toronto before 401 turned into a parking lot and the city began sprouting huge rings of American-style exurbs.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:02 PM on December 18, 2012

There's no city in the US with a subway system that compares to New York's. There are very few cities worldwide with 24 hour subway or light rail service. I think Chicago's L is the only other example in the US.

Without the mass transit, I agree that it sounds like you might be talking about LA....
posted by mr_roboto at 4:06 PM on December 18, 2012

San Francisco sounds like it'd be kind of perfect, minus how absurdly freaking expensive it is (sigh) and the public transit (which I think is really pretty good, though it's no NYC - as mr_roboto noted above, almost nowhere is really caught up with NYC on that one). Boston meets a lot of your criteria but how early it gets dark in the winter really bummed me out.
posted by naoko at 5:47 PM on December 18, 2012

International? Melbourne Australia hands down. Pretty sure it ticks every box.

Domestic? Check out some of the smaller university towns. Gainesville and Durham are already listed above, but there's interesting university towns in just about every state.
posted by mosessis at 6:14 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, the public transit isn't that great, but if you want a relaxed pace, awesome food, freaks, interesting fashion/self-expression, and a liberal/LGBT-friendly community, you should move to New Orleans. Oh, and we have thunderstorms.
posted by jalexc at 6:51 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should think about Oakland. A lot of people I've talked to compare it to Brooklyn, though I've never been to New York so I can't verify that. It meets all of your criteria except for a great train system (just an ok, fairly expensive, not all night one), the public library isn't great and the streets are still pretty dirty.

I would also put Austin, Texas on your list. I visited recently and talked to a bunch of people who had moved from bigger cities (NY, SF, etc.) and found Austin was just as much fun without some of the city stresses. Kind of hot, though.
posted by silvergoat at 7:04 PM on December 18, 2012

Hi! I have lived in New York and left for San Francisco. I think you might like SF, but it is hard to know because your desires conflict a bit. Fundamentally, good/decent transit = high rents + hard to own cars. And high salary = high cost of living. That's *why* you get paid more.

If you prefer nature + high salary + transit over cheap housing + easy to own cars, you will likely enjoy SF. You will never, ever find a subway system that is as useful as NYC's and with such high penetration. It sucks. The good thing about SF is, if you live in the city proper, you can bike + carshare your way about pretty easily, with some forays into transit when it is convenient. Very few of my friends are more than a 30-minute ride away, and my office is ~7 minutes. There are secret paths around most of the hills.

This is the closest I have ever lived to nature while still having a city. I really enjoy that part. On the creative front, I do think it is much easier here to just try something than in New York. Space is a bit cheaper and failing is more ok. People respect effort.
posted by dame at 7:06 PM on December 18, 2012

Also, don't listen to people who tell you Oakland is like Brooklyn. It is much more suburban—lots of single family houses and wide roads, less foot traffic. It has it's charms, and if you value owning a car over transit useful for more than going to work, then you might like it. But it really isn't Brooklyn and I'd hate you to be disappointed the way I was.
posted by dame at 7:08 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend Ottawa over Toronto; biscotti has repeatedly mentioned that Ottawa now has the good qualities she remembers from growing up in Toronto before 401 turned into a parking lot and the city began sprouting huge rings of American-style exurbs.

Yep agreed suburban Toronto is totally not what OP would be looking for...my Toronto recommendation stands only for the downtown core area.
posted by pravit at 8:18 PM on December 18, 2012

posted by 2oh1 at 10:03 PM on December 18, 2012

Denver or Seattle.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:34 AM on December 19, 2012

Seattle - Capitol Hill neighborhood.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:07 AM on December 19, 2012

Well, I feel an obligation to mention Philadelphia. It's about 80% of New York on most of your pros, while still having relatively liveable housing prices (way up from 10 years ago, but way lower than most comparable big cities), especially if you're willing to look at the newer gentrifying neighborhoods that have a lot of local personality, rather than insisting on being right in Center City. We get a lot of New Yorkers who would like a Real Life (or maybe a back yard, depending on where you end up), and while I hate to encourage so many of them that we end up overpriced, it really is a pretty good life here. I thought I was coming for a short stint and am still here 16 years later and loving it.

Specifically addressing your NY cons:
- lots of parks in the ciy, but, more importantly, you can be hiking in real woods in 20 minutes (inside Fairmont Park boundaries) to an hour (state parks and the like)
- transit actually not as good as NY, but most people you will know will live in a much smaller slice of the city, so visiting is not a crisis
- you can own a car here (and get permits for on-street parking, like $20/year), but Zipcar makes it easy to stay carless and still have flexibility anywhere on short notice
- a little farther south can make a big difference in weather (we get a couple of token snows per year, usually one big one but not recently, heh), but it still gets dark pretty early if you're used to being on the other edge of a time zone.
- pretty hot in summer, especially in recent years, but less garbage smell than NY -- I never think of unpleasant smells here, other than the occasional carriage horse output
- lower human density means less overall overload, whether that's in terms of temptation to be out all night or feeling like there's no room for originality. of course, the downside is that it can be hard to find a place to have dinner at 11pm (a recurring gripe in my grad school days) or coffee at 1am.

Also considered a plus is that you can visit NY or DC easily by car or train, whether for a day trip or a weekend, which increases your pool of possible activities, although I find I make those trips less often as my life complexities increase with time, and the NJ and DE shores are nice for longer trips, as are the Pocono mountains. A regional downside is that the political machine here is a little old-school and insiderish -- there have been a lot of signs of increasing support for modernization and reform, but the grip of the established power brokers is amazing (and frustrating) to watch in action.

So there you are. Philly!!!
posted by acm at 8:33 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Late answer but I moved about 4 months ago from Chicago to New York. NEVER EVER thought I'd say this but I can't wait for my lease to be up so I can move back to Chicago.
To me, personally (and I know this will make some mad) Chicago had all the perks of nyc but none of the downsides.
I didn't realize this at the time.
As for Atlanta.. I'm from a suburb of Atlanta and I know living in the city is a bit different but I think you would have a hard time moving from NYC to Atlanta. It's a fantastic city but TOTALLY different.
posted by twoforty5am at 2:42 PM on January 2, 2013

An interesting bunch of answers and I found myself agreeing with many of them. I have lived in NY, Miami, Boston and LA and have traveled extensively to Austin, Portland, Seattle and San Fran and would say that La sounds like its a good place to check out.
The downside for me was the expensive real estate. You can rent on the East side of town or in Hollywood for about $1500 a month for a one bedroom but for a house ( which is what everyone wants in La) it's very expensive to live alone. We had a tiny house on the West side ( my favorite part of LA because of the cool breezes) that was $3700 for a two bed one bath. So that's about the right rent for the west side.
La is really different from the west to the east side - weather wise and vibe etc so make sure you take a trip around all the neighborhoods to get the feeling of the place.
What I miss is the food, winter weather, access to nature and the open minded ness. We are now in the country in Ct. And not sure if we can last without the above.
Down sides of LA are the traffic, crowdedness and rudeness of the general public. Something weird happens to people when they are trapped in cars all day- they get crazy over the smallest thing so in traffic they are aggressive and rude. You have to make plans a month ahead to see friends on the other side of the "hill"
Good luck!
posted by privatechef at 4:52 AM on August 26, 2013

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