I miss living at college. Can I replicate it as a working adult?
August 26, 2013 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Going to college in Ann Arbor was great in that everything was located conveniently, public transportation was great, and the city was filled with extremely intelligent people. I want to live somewhere like this eventually again, if possible. More criteria inside.

Some things I really liked:

Reliable and free bus transportation
Work/stores/libraries/almost whatever I needed was within walking distance from my dwelling
Access to giant libraries and cultural events, museums, etc
Only having to use my car once or twice a week

I realize this sounds like I am describing a big city maybe. I don't particularly like what I have seen of big cities though, and would not want to live there. One of the really appealing things about my college town was that if I drove five minutes up the road, there were farms, parks, big open green spaces. But it wasn't a rural area.

The last criteria is something I am not sure I can find anywhere in the US. At my school, they gave us "free" (included in semester fees) medical exams whenever we wanted/needed them. No co-pays, no hassle. Also, free therapy, free psychiatric services, free physical therapy and lots of support groups. No calling around to doctors to find out who takes my insurance, or only being able to do certain treatments. A lot of times it was nurse practitioners doing exams but that is fine. And of course this was within walking distance too.

Is there anywhere I can find a similar set-up? So, as a person who is not in college anymore, can I ever find this again?
posted by tweedle to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Ha! This sounds like my neighbour in Victoria BC.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:49 AM on August 26, 2013

Why don't you just live in Ann Arbor?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:53 AM on August 26, 2013 [26 favorites]

Move to San Francisco and get Kaiser-Permanente for your health insurance?

You can buy a MUNI pass for a month. Then it's nearly free.

That's all I got.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:54 AM on August 26, 2013

At the risk of stating the obvious, maybe you should try and wrangle your career to work at a campus somewhere?
posted by thinkpiece at 9:54 AM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Bellingham, Washington, if you live in/near downtown or Fairhaven.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:57 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Any big city with good public transport + excellent job to provide the low deductible insurance plan would cover all your points if you looked for a job outside of academia.

To your last point, many tech (think microsoft/google campus) and financial companies (investment bank) will have an in house doctor/lab (so employees don't need to take time off for a fever/cold/quick checkup/bloodwork). I've worked at a firm like that and I went 4 years without seeing an external doctor- since there was no wait, all copays were waived, and they had connections to get me into any specialist I needed that took the firm insurance. Usually there'd also be an in building gym, and an in building physical therapist (usually next too each other) that also was co-pay free, and if you did a "wellness checkup" at the gym every 6 months with a nurse, it added a discount to your insurance. For Mental Health I think they would recommend you to pre-approved shrinks, but I never inquired.

Downside: you're tied to your job.
posted by larthegreat at 9:58 AM on August 26, 2013

You could also enroll in enough evening/online classes at your local university to qualify to use their student health center. (Six credits/semester will also keep any federal student loans in deferment.)
posted by Jacqueline at 10:00 AM on August 26, 2013

I just moved to Woodley Park, Washington, DC which is a quiet and almost suburban-feeling part of the city and is right next to a very large park with lots of green space. What you describe sounds exactly like my experience.

And yeah, get an HMO.
posted by capricorn at 10:00 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you open to being an ex-pat? There are several university towns in England that fall under most of what you're describing, though many university towns in the US would too. (Aside from the medical care issue, though some places do have in-house health care centers. I work at a college, have great insurance, and am a fifteen minute walk from nearly every medical specialist I could want.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:01 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If not a big city, you need a dense city, or you need to adjust your perception of "convenient."

In college towns, lots of amenities are located and timed with college students in mind, as they are a reliable population with a central hub of activity (the college). Most towns don't have such a dense focal-area/population.

And the medical benefits of the college are also made possible by the focused college population. As you noted, your tuition paid for your medical coverage, and your medical facilities were on the campus, where all the students were focused.

Some campuses are great at making college life easy, and promoting students to live healthy lives. After graduating, you have to make things work, by either getting a job with good medical benefits or moving out of the US (though Vermont or Massachusetts could fit this category). "Free" public transit means someone is subsidizing it completely, or you are paying for it some other way (as you were in college). Some places have downtown business pitch in so their employees can get free passes. Great libraries and lots of events means a big city, or a decent-sized city that isn't too far from usual tour routes and whatnot.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:03 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lots of the university towns in Canada are like this. Check out the list, click through to learn about the towns. The health care is covered because of Canada.

Can you wrangle Canadian citizenship somehow? What does your career look like? I think getting work in university admin might be your best bet.
posted by AmandaA at 10:05 AM on August 26, 2013

I went to U of M (class of 2002) and the closest I've found was when I moved to Chicago in 2005: living in Wicker Park gave me a neighborhood with tons of bars/music/food/shops within walking distance, tons of people my age nearby, and easy access to public transportation, putting all of the big cultural attractions of the city 15-20 minutes away. I got by without a car for 7 years (until the baby showed up, basically), so that's totally doable.

I work for a Large University here in Chicago too, so I get great benefits, so I know that part can be done.
posted by Oktober at 10:05 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think you need or want a big city. It sounds like you just want to live in a college town. So you should do that! I moved from Gainesville, FL (which fits all of your criteria) to just outside New Paltz, NY. They'd fit most of your requirements, but most college towns would.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:05 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I went to grad school in Ann Arbor and while I liked the convenience of things being walkable in a densely packed area, I really didn't like the quality of what was available in walking distance. Lots of crummy fast-food chains and stores selling North Face crap, regional chain coffee shops that really weren't that good, and the few locally owned shops were all closing up, especially bookstores. Basically, stuff that is geared towards college kids.

Living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle has, to me, been the best mix of that density of Ann Arbor but with more locally owned, good quality, interesting things to enjoy. It's extremely walkable and Seattle as a whole is pretty bike-friendly. The buses aren't free for everyone, but they are cheap if you get a monthly pass. You can get to beautiful mountains and ocean and farms within an hour of driving outside the city. Group Health would probably fit your criteria of one-stop healthcare - I don't know a lot about it but from my understanding it's a very well regarded local HMO.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:11 AM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

This sounds like Cambridge or Somerville MA to me, but they are definitely more "big city" than Ann Arbor. Maybe Northampton?
posted by oinopaponton at 10:15 AM on August 26, 2013

As others have noted, it sounds like you're looking for a classic small/midsized college town.

Usually to get the free bus thing, you'll have to work at the major institution in town (I live in Ithaca and Cornell employees get a bus pass with their employment). Other towns around the country that I have been told are similar to Ithaca in terms of arts and culture include: Burlington VT, Madison WI, Charlottesville VA, Chapel Hill NC, Santa Barbara CA, Eugene OR, and, a little larger than the rest, Portland OR.

I have a feeling you'll find the easy public transportation part to be the hardest to accomodate. Also, rents tend to be a little steep in college towns, because of all the students in the market whose parents are footing the bill.
posted by aught at 10:16 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this sounds like you should be aiming to become an employee of a large state university. You get to live in a college town, have good benefits, and probably get reduced rates on public transportation. I might suggest Raleigh, NC. The buses are not super great, and you might have to accept some driving, but certainly not on a daily basis if you plan your work/home location well.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:18 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Working at a large university sounds ideal for you. I honestly hated my time as a university student, but I love being a university employee for all the reasons you've listed.

Now, a lot of the stuff you mention isn't FREE, but it's cheap. And since so many of the people in town are connected to the colleges, it's not too hard to find doctors that take the insurance. I can get things like PT and allergy shots right on campus, for a lower copy than I'd pay elsewhere.

Being a college town, rent is higher. There's no question that I'd have a bigger, better home somewhere else.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:38 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live in a largish college town (really a city and it's also the state capitol. I don't use public transport much but could- more importantly there are many people who simply bike everywhere. Distances are close and much of the fun stuff is clustered. As a university employee I have access to a lot of cool stuff. I do have a regular doctor and it's not free but I do see the dentist on campus.
I tell people that my city is just big enough to be interesting, but small enough not to be a hassle. I think many uni towns must have a similar vibe.
posted by PussKillian at 10:52 AM on August 26, 2013

i think the obvious answer is get a job at u of m and stay in ann arbor! or msu and live in east lansing.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:23 AM on August 26, 2013

Montpelier, VT. Walkable, lots of culture and bars and restaurants and such. Nature is quite literally at your doorstep. All the general VT progressiveness.
posted by youcancallmeal at 11:39 AM on August 26, 2013

As for the medical insurance question, in my experience, if you work at a public university, you get the same health insurance that state government employees get, which is almost always widely accepted, things might not be free, but copays have been small enough that they're effectively free.
posted by czytm at 1:25 PM on August 26, 2013

Davis, California. Or a university town in general, I suspect.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:34 PM on August 26, 2013

Chapel Hill and Carrboro have free buses. Just sayin'
posted by oceanjesse at 8:52 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

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