A Little Blue Enclave To Call Our Own
August 10, 2014 11:58 AM   Subscribe

We’re looking at a move in the next three to five years. Right now we live in a very conservative area of North Dakota, overwhelmed by an oil boom and all the bad that goes with it. It's time for a change.

This is all pretty theoretical at this point but while I can survive here it tugs at my sanity in a dozen different ways. We'll be more than self-sufficient in a few years and it's time to start planning. A liberal or at least moderate population would be a plus. Right now we've got a neighbor who has been investigated by the FBI for sedition. Between that, rednecks that let their dogs run all over town, rising crime rate, and the meth-fueled renegade truckers, I've had enough. We love a small town atmosphere but would like to be in a location within driving distance to a decent size metropolitan area (big enough to at least support a Costco or even a Trader Joe’s).

We'd prefer somewhere in the American West. My wife lived on the east coast and says never again. Mountains would be a plus. Medicinal marijuana would be neat as well. But mostly we just want to feel safe, have some sanity around us, be able to experience downtown city life when we want to. I was in Livingston MT not too long ago (vicinity to Billings +, mountains +) and enjoyed the funky little downtown. Several years ago we were in Santa Fe and the city bowled me over with its charm. So come on hive mind, show me what you've got.
posted by Ber to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like one of the suburbs of Seattle or Portland is where you want to be.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

What's "driving distance" for you? You could draw a circle around any city in the west or intermountain west and find what you are looking for, but how far out you are willing to live will shape which one is best. Boise, Salt Lake, Portland, Santa Fe, Boulder, Billings, even Eugene -- all have the shopping you describe and small places in their orbits with more ideological diversity than the maps of congressional representation might suggest.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:12 PM on August 10, 2014

Consider some of the small communities on the Colorado Front Range within driving distance of Denver and/or Boulder. Someplace like Evergreen, up in the foothills, would be pretty and have a very small-town feel (pop 9,000). Golden (pop 20,000) is slightly bigger and more easily accessible, but still lovely. There are a lot of little and tiny towns dotted across the foothills that might meet your criteria

Colorado as a whole is more of a purple state overall, but Denver proper is pretty liberal, and Boulder is famous for being liberal. This wikipedia article on Colorado's congressional districts gives an overview of how the state breaks down, politically. Colorado Springs is very conservative - avoid.

So -
Liberal or moderate population: check
Small town atmosphere, ability to drive to Costco/TJ: check
American West: check (Golden's motto is: Where the West Lives!)
Mountains: check
Medical marijuana: check, plus legalized recreational marijuana
Safe, sane: check
Funky little downtowns: check

The weather in and around Denver and Boulder is not as bad as people tend to assume. If you do choose to live outside the city, a 4WD or AWD car is a good idea, but after living in ND, you won't have any problems with the weather.
posted by jeoc at 12:38 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Minneapolis is not that far from North Dakota, and it has everything you want except mountains...
posted by miyabo at 12:45 PM on August 10, 2014

Well... Billings! Even though it probably leans conservative, it's not overwhelmingly so. There is a very active arts and music scene, a fantastic downtown area, lots of great restaurants, very bike friendly, big enough to be a city, but small enough to be, well, a small city.

We (I live here) are feeling some of the residual effects of the "Bakken boom" in both good and bad ways, but crime is relatively low and housing prices are are not outrageous.
posted by The Deej at 1:05 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

What did your wife dislike about the east coast? Because the DC-NY corridor is not the same as little New England towns is not the same as Savannah or Athens is not the same as rust belt cities and suburbs or associated cities/towns. I mean, if east of the Mississippi is just too far away from family or the land just feels wrong, then it is. But it's far from a monolith.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:09 PM on August 10, 2014

Response by poster: It's part the distance from friends and family, part that it all felt too crowded. We're talking a rancher's granddaughter here so wide open spaces are a must.

Minneapolis, well, we spent twenty years in the Cities and it's a been there done that too many bad memories. Although the short time we spent in Northfield was a dream...until our dog died and the commute almost did us in.

Missoula or Whitefish are strong possibilities. As was guessed above, we ain't too bothered by winter.
posted by Ber at 1:30 PM on August 10, 2014

Best answer: I'm surprised that Billings is getting more votes than Missoula. I visited Missoula for the first time last month, as a lifelong Canadian turned East Coaster, and was surprised by its loveliness. You have mountains, a great downtown, liberal politics (it reminds me of Austin, a blue dot in a red state), small town atmosphere. Plus a Costco and the Good Food Store, which is local and better than Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. The restaurant scene is on par with San Francisco or Philadelphia in quality, except for a lack of diverse/authentic Asian cuisine.

Portland or Seattle also has mountains and great culture, but there's no escaping the fact that they're cities. And the Pacific Northwest is distinct from the Mountain West in culture and landscape, so it may or may not be your cup of tea.
posted by serelliya at 1:37 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why not Santa Fe?
posted by mon-ma-tron at 2:53 PM on August 10, 2014

I'm surprised that Billings is getting more votes than Missoula.

To be fair, Missoula is fantastic. I live in Billings but have spent a good amount of time in Missoula since my daughter attended college there. It's truly a beautiful and remarkable town. I wouldn't vote against it at all.
posted by The Deej at 3:10 PM on August 10, 2014

Laramie, Wyoming, is one of two blue-leaning enclaves in a very red state. It's got a lovely campus (it's the only 4-year university in the state, hence the blue-ish population), nice downtown, easy access to the mountains, and when you need more amenities you're an hour away from Fort Collins, just across the state line (and another hour or so past that to Denver).
posted by scody at 4:19 PM on August 10, 2014

(Oh, and I meant to say that the other blue enclave in Wyoming is Jackson Hole. I haven't been there in a million years, so I can't say what it's like these days.)
posted by scody at 4:21 PM on August 10, 2014

If I could move anywhere in the world right now, it would be Missoula. That might be just a personal fantasy I've been having though.
posted by the jam at 6:25 PM on August 10, 2014

Response by poster: I have not been in Missoula for thirty years but I'm going next year for the SF con. I'll give it a thorough examination. Colorado, we've got a friend in Ft Collins who's been begging us to swing down for a visit. Santa Fe, I will check out again.

One things about mountain living that frightens me of late is the climate change-sponsored wildfires. But hell, we're getting more severe storms and tornadoes so I guess it's six of one and half a dozen of the other.

Thanks everyone. This has been very helpful.
posted by Ber at 8:22 AM on August 11, 2014

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