Another one of those where should we live questions- please help!
December 14, 2013 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Please help me find a new love now that I have to move on- love of place.

The last several months have involved a lot of agonizing over where to settle down for the next few years (and if it was awesome enough and we could manage it, forever). Right now we're living in a city which was just convenient for various temporary purposes (best job offer to start off career, very close to family which was important a few months ago), and we knew that most likely we wouldn't live there for more than a year. So the following is a list of cities that I lived in and what I liked and did not like about them, to base your advice on- please! Kindly find me a place to call home.

I spent a few years living in a city abroad. I absolutely LOVED it there but forced myself to come back to be closer to family and where I grew up, and raise my children with more diversity and certain values that are more part of the US value system. I feel heartbroken like I've left behind the love of my life because I decided I couldn't be with them in the long run. I'd rather not identify which city because it might lead to assumptions about what I liked when I'd rather define it myself. So things I liked about it: the views of the water, the focus of the culture on aesthetics (not in a superficial way, but they just like things to be stylish, less simply utilitarian), the seafood and high quality affordable produce (all food is non-gmo by law and much of it is organic), that people focus on relationships and are social every night, it's a busy city like NY except the people also have a work/life balance, there's a lot of service-orientation (like, free delivery from all local shops and restaurants, even at late hours. you can call for anything to your home- water, dry cleaning, vegetables, fruits, snacks...without extra charge), I felt safe (no guns, very little drugs, generally safe). What I don't like about it: well, I'm not from there and will never be from there and will never truly understand them 100% and I'm not sure if I want my children to be 100% raised in that culture because many of my US values are important to me, a good education is hard to get there, so not so great for a future family...traffic's bad, lack of diversity.

What I like about NYC: busy, diversity, a city that has stuff to do at night every night. what I don't like: expensive, many people have no work-life balance and place less value on that, not so much nature.

What I like about Philly: neighborhood feel, affordable, amazing food at reasonable prices, close to lots of major cities. What I don't like: It feels like it's going down even as its trying to improve, it feels dangerous to walk around, always someone is yelling creepy stuff at me. It not feeling as safe is the biggest reason I want to live somewhere else. I lived in Philly a long time ago and used to feel plenty safe enough, but after living in the city abroad where I always felt safe, it's simply harder for me. If it wasn't for that factor, I could probably settle there because of the great food, affordable living, proximity to family, major intl. airport. As is, obviously there are places where I can feel safe enough, but I want to feel free to roam a much larger expanse of the city without feeling uncomfortable.

What I like about DC: greener, good balance between city with suburban feel (so I could have a family and not feel compelled to leave the metro area), has great job opportunities in the field that I'm in, great jobs for my husband too, lots of green spaces, some diplomatic/international activities in the city. What I don't like: well, it's not so socioeconomically integrated, it just never really felt like home (the city abroad, ironically, felt like home), still not phenomenally safe but probably better than Philly.

We've thought about Seattle. What I like about the idea of Seattle: chickens, people who are progressive/liberal in values, nature, water, great seafood, the idea that it has a different culture and who knows, it might feel like home in a way that the east coast never did. What I don't like: far away from hometown and family.

What I like about the east coast generally- this is where I passed my childhood and where most of my childhood friends still live. Close to family which is the biggest plus for me. Easier travel abroad. What I don't like about the east coast: the standardization of everything (wal-marts, mcd's) type things, that make everything so boring and predictable.

The factors most important to us are: safety, good area to raise kids, cultural diversity, within a couple of hours of an international airport, the population generally appreciates a work-life balance. Some degree of walkability. We like urban areas if possible but don't know how to balance that against wanting a good place to raise children- please help. I really want to be close to my parent's home which is in the Philadelphia area, but I feel like trying to do that is really restricting my choices and making it less likely that we'll find a place to settle down. We're not factoring in our jobs too much into this decision- we won't move to the chosen city until we find jobs there, and our fields are pretty location flexible.

Cost of living is not a huge concern as long as the city is otherwise right- we will simply scale down our lifestyle to suit our new budget. My guy is new to the country with no real preferences for where to live.

I apologize for any obnoxiousness in my descriptions of what I like/didn't like about different cities. My only intentions were to provide material on which to base any ideas of where we might want to live. Thank you in advance!
posted by cacao to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you considered Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa?

They are all fantastic high-culture places to live and raise children. They're not close to Philly, but drivable (I lived in Philly for 3 years and my family is in Toronto; we would drive back four or five times a year, even just for a long weekend sometimes).

Canadian cities in general are much more liberal and progressive than American ones, and you'll get a touch of that "living abroad" feel (especially in Montreal) while at the same time raising your children in a culture with values very similar (though not identical to American ones).

Of the three, Montreal is the most "international" feeling (it sometimes feels like you're practically in Europe), Toronto is the most "big city" feeling (there's very little you can find in New York that you can't find in Toronto), and Ottawa is the most family friendly (small city feel and cultural festivals almost every weekend. All are very safe and very green.
posted by 256 at 2:49 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Might add Portland or Portland metro to your west-coast considerations, since Seattle is already on your list. In much, they're similar, though I've been told by those who've lived in both that Portland has a more family-friendly vibe than Seattle.

The free-delivery sort of thing, unfortunately, isn't likely to be had anywhere in the states.

I'm not entirely certain what kind of night-life/social activities you're looking for, or the frequency, or the acceptable distance... because nearness to some (many?) of those has a tendency to put you further from the "good family areas".

Depending on where exactly your priorities lie, anywhere from a Portland neighborhood or suburb, stretching to elsewhere in the Willamette Valley and even down the Gorge, might fit your needs.

Even Hood River, though it's an hour from the metro, sort of has its own special microsystem and plenty of music and restaurants, breweries, and wine places to keep those that desire it busy... and it's gorgeous drive down the interstate to the city when desired. (And easily accessible almost 365 days a year - many commute daily for work or school.)

As for safety - I'm generally wary in the metro, but not worried, even as single female alone, or mom with kids. Here in Hood River, eh, well... there's still an awful lot of people that don't even lock their doors.
posted by stormyteal at 2:58 PM on December 14, 2013

It's on the smaller side, but what about Richmond? Like DC, it is very green in some places and offers a nice blend of urban and suburban feels. The open outdoors are easily accessible, too, if you're willing to drive a bit further. Lot's of job opportunities, and unlike Philly it has a very optimistic, on the upswing feel to it IMO. There are some truly terrific museums, parks, and cultural opportunities. It's in a good spot along 95, too - very accessible to many other East Coast cities.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:59 PM on December 14, 2013

Investigate New Bedford and Northampton, MA, or perhaps Providence.
posted by vrakatar at 3:02 PM on December 14, 2013

I was at a party a few weeks ago and talked with a couple who moved from a large European city to various places in America and the city they liked living in above all was Charleston South Carolina.

As for raising your kids. I'm a city boy and have noticed throughout my life that people raised in the supposedly child-friendly suburbs are far less well-adjusted to the world than those of us raised in the supposedly crime-ridden urban areas. The biggest dopers I have known have almost always been kids raised in perfect, white-picket-fence neighborhoods - which is why I raise my kids in the city.
posted by three blind mice at 4:29 PM on December 14, 2013

What about Boston? I live in DC and love it but Boston is a place where I think I could be happy.
posted by kat518 at 5:42 PM on December 14, 2013

This is probably more of a long shot, but have you considered the Twin Cities? (I'm partial to Minneapolis, but they are right next to one another.) It sounds like it has a great deal of what you like about your home abroad and many of the other cities you've mentioned, and it's possible to have a very full and comfortable life there for much less than you'd spend if you were on either coast.

These are the things from your lists that make me think you might like it:

high quality affordable produce - Minnesota is outstanding in this regard. The Twin Cities also have an extremely high density of cooperative grocery stores for a metro area of their size, if GMOs, organics, labor, etc. affect your food purchases. I really miss being able to shop at them, now that I've moved. (There's actually a great seafood supplier in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, too.)

people also have a work/life balance

I felt safe (no guns, very little drugs, generally safe) [...] neighborhood feel, affordable
- These will obviously vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, but I always felt extremely safe, even moving around on foot or bike very late at night. There are lots of places that look and feel very neighborhoody in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

major intl. airport - A really nice one, too (but I'm biased), reachable by transit. It's a KLM/Air France/Delta hub.

lots of green spaces, the views of the water - Minneapolis has a superlative amount of those, almost a park in every little neighborhood. There's a beautiful system of state parks, too. The Mississippi River runs through the middle of Minneapolis and divides it from St. Paul along its eastern edge, and there are numerous lakes throughout the city, all of which are surrounded by public spaces and trails for outdoor recreation. Seriously, people are outdoors and using the lakes and river trails all the time.

people who are progressive/liberal in values - Very much so. There are several great cultural institutions throughout both cities, too.

Cultural diversity is less apparent at a glance in many places around the Cities, but it's there (and increasing). And of course, liking - or at least tolerating - the winter weather really helps there, but it's comparable to Montreal (mentioned above) in that regard and actually gets quite hot in the summertime.
posted by Austenite at 7:15 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just throwing this out there since I've lived in DC, Richmond, and now Minneapolis. Of the three you couldn't go wrong with either Richmond or Minneapolis if you're looking for a family friendly environment with tons of green space and a good work-life balance. If cold weather isn't an issue (and being hours from other large metro areas) definitely give the Twin Cities consideration. Great schools, great work-life balance, TONS of green space, fabulous coops, and a robust economy. Richmond, while smaller and a bit more "southern", is a really great option if you're looking for a family friendly East Coast city that's not part of the BOS-WAS 95 corridor.

I don't know your financial situation, but raising a family in DC is going to be very expensive if you want to live in or really close to the District (read: north Arlington, Bethesda, Falls Church). If you don't want to take on a sizable mortgage (think $650K+) you're going to be looking at dealing with really bad traffic daily and bland surroundings in the true suburbs in Fairfax County or Montgomery County. You can make really good money in DC but, as a result of permanent housing inventory shortages, you're going to be paying a real premium for housing that you really only find in SF, LA, and NYC. Obviously if you're wealthy and have deep pockets this isn't an issue, but it is something to keep in mind.

Another thing to keep in mind is if you're not going to be using a conventional loan and using FHA the ceiling is going to be cut from ~$730K to ~$625K. Here's a WaPo article on the coming mortgage rule changes that go into effect in January. Obviously if you're not planning on using FHA these rules won't have any impact on you, but if you are just keep them in mind.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 6:31 AM on December 16, 2013

Where did you study abroad? Bangkok? Paris? Rio de Janeiro? Jerusalem? Knowing more about what you liked outside of the US could help point to what you'd want inside of the US.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:01 AM on December 16, 2013

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