Santa Fe, Portland, and ?
May 20, 2015 3:42 PM   Subscribe

Three overeducated, artsy young liberals are searching for a reasonably affordable small-to-mid-sized city to move to—someplace with a vibrant arts and/or academic community. We're seriously considering Portland, OR and Santa Fe, NM, which both offer the atmosphere and cost of living we're looking for. But which other cities should we consider?

All three of us are at good transition points in our careers, and thinking about moving to one place where we would split the costs of a house. We love hipstery crap, good food, and lively music and art scenes. At this point we’re thinking a moderately-sized city or a particularly vibrant college town.

We all have PhDs in the physical sciences, but we’re not looking for high-powered research university professorships. Ideally we could find various jobs at a university/college/research center or at interesting start-ups or other kinds of tech/design companies. If we can find a number of places we might want to live, we can start looking at what’s available job-wise.

So far we’ve considered Portland OR and Santa Fe NM, but I’m sure there are lots of places we haven’t considered. We (well, I) would rather stay away from the intensely frozen north. Conservative states would be workable, but only if it’s a very liberal enclave; California is too expensive for us at this point. And finally, I’d really rather not have to commute long distances (especially not by car), so we’d prefer a smaller city to a distant suburb of a major metropolis.
posted by alycoop to Grab Bag (36 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
posted by jayder at 3:49 PM on May 20, 2015

New Orleans
posted by TheCavorter at 3:51 PM on May 20, 2015

I understand that Madison, Wisconsin is terrific. I think you might want to look into Boulder, Colorado. On the cutting edge of things, maybe even Missoula, Montana. I think Austin, Texas may have jumped the shark. I'm a fan of Claremont, California. In general I think that college towns are your answer.
posted by janey47 at 3:52 PM on May 20, 2015

Boulder, CO?
posted by singmespanishtechno at 3:54 PM on May 20, 2015

Response by poster: I should add, if anyone has suggestions for larger cities that are still affordable, we'd consider that too — Denver CO came up at one point, though to be honest I wasn't crazy about the suburb-ness of it.
posted by alycoop at 3:56 PM on May 20, 2015

RTP, North Carolina. (Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, Raleigh ... with Durham being the cheapest).
posted by Comrade_robot at 3:57 PM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I moved from Portland to Santa Fe in, oh, 1994. So 20 years ago but they are totally different places. Santa Fe is small and largely older. The art scene is the opposite of hipster. It's a neat town but be sure you know what you're getting yourself in for if you're serious.

I'll add Asheville and Boulder to your list.
posted by Nelson at 4:06 PM on May 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

I'm told that Pittsburg is the town that Portland was 20+ years ago when I moved here.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 4:28 PM on May 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

Nashville, TN.
posted by kimdog at 4:48 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not sure if it's too cold and/or too big, but Philadelphia is academic, artsy, and relatively affordable. Philadelphia is very much a neighborhood-focused city, so it's possible to technically live in this large city while feeling like you live in a smaller one.

I would describe Philly as delightfully less pretentious than Portland or Boulder. Others might say "gritty."

Three working academics could easily afford to split a house in most neighborhoods; my sense is that jobs in industry often pay better than academic ones, so I'm guessing you'd be fine on that front.
posted by brackish.line at 4:50 PM on May 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

posted by nubianinthedesert at 4:59 PM on May 20, 2015

I agree with most of what folks have said here.

I live in Madison, WI. It has tons of university/research jobs and a good start up scene for its size. It has a great arts scene, especially music. At the moment the governor is very conservative, but it won't necessarily stay that way (WI voted for Obama twice in a row at the same time it was voting for Scott Walker twice in a row, so it's hard to say). Regardless, Madison will always be very liberal.

From what I've heard, Boulder, Austin, Asheville, and the research triangle could all be good for you, too.
posted by Fishkins at 5:03 PM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Lexington, KY is a liberal conclave in a conservative state. It has a gay mayor and one of the most educated populations in the country. You may want to consider it. Cost of living is quite affordable as well.

But if you are looking for a city that is a bit off-beat and hipster, I do think Portland, OR and Austin, TX are good choices.

Seattle may be another one worth a look -- not far from Portland either. I think Somerville and Cambridge, MA may have the things you're looking for, but they get very cold and snowy.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:06 PM on May 20, 2015

I stopped telling people they should move to Boulder a while ago, because the last thing the Front Range needs is more people, but lately my reasoning for suggesting an avoidance of Boulder has changed: It's really starting to suck. It's been a rich town since long before I moved to Colorado ~2005, but the baleful gaze of California has really honed in these last few years, and the tech money dudebros and similar cohorts are fast becoming unavoidable. Google's about to move in in a big way, which I'm sure will only function as an accelerant.

On the other hand, I live in a nearby small town now, and continue to like it, and just rented an office in Longmont, where despite the continuing whiff of bad drugs and occasional violence, things seem kind of poised to take off in the next few years. The young, creative types I know are buying houses here for money reasons, the city government seems to have its shit together and is putting in municipal fiber, etc. So I guess there are some nearby escape valves.

Denver's genuinely worth considering, and large swaths of it are not in the least stereotypically suburby, but driving in Denver can be kind of miserable.

Ft. Collins has some pretty good stuff going on.

Lincoln, NE is cheap, has lots of housing stock, and the last few times I've been back to visit has felt like interesting things are happening. If I didn't have too much history there, I'd seriously consider it. (Then again, winters aren't full-on-upper-midwest brutal, but are definitely real winters most years.)

I really love Austin, but it's kind of a huge city with bad traffic and drivers who will straight up kill you if you aren't on your toes, so it may not be quite what you're seeking.
posted by brennen at 5:11 PM on May 20, 2015

Albaquerque is cheaper and younger than Santa Fe and has a big U of NM campus. I liked it when I've visited, maybe a resident can chime in...
posted by jrobin276 at 6:34 PM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you can, I really recommend a road trip and see which places resonate with you. My preferences are kind of finicky and unpredictable, and I've found it does matter. When I get homesick its for landscape, smells, weather... Maybe just me though?

Oh, watch the snow line in NM!
posted by jrobin276 at 6:40 PM on May 20, 2015

Larger cities that are affordable? Chicago.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:47 PM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Denver CO came up at one point, though to be honest I wasn't crazy about the suburb-ness of it.

Whut? I've lived in Denver for nearly 25 years. There is nothing suburb-y at all about the city, which is small, dense, composed of (mostly) nice historic old neighborhoods, and laid out on a grid. If you visited and found it suburb-like, you weren't in Denver.
posted by caryatid at 7:15 PM on May 20, 2015

posted by Conrad-Casserole at 7:44 PM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just my opinion, but Austin is not all its cracked up to be, and Texas is doing some scary shit when it comes to women's health care ( if any of you are female).
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:49 PM on May 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

Durham, NC =hipsterific (but MILES of suburbia)
posted by sandmanwv at 8:01 PM on May 20, 2015

This far into the thread and no one's suggested Philadelphia yet? We've got big research universities, arts that run the gamut from basement punk shows and DIY galleries to world class museums and concert venues, and pretty low cost of living.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:47 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Santa Fe is a lot hippier than hipster-y. It's also pretty expensive, at least from my perspective. I live in Albuquerque, which you might also look into. Santa Fe's only an hour away anyway; you can take the train up if you want to go there. I live in the Nob Hill area and it's cheap as hell compared to "real cities" but I can walk to restaurants and bars and a bookstore and a comic store and an overpriced grocery. Dunno what your budget is, but for the amount that it takes to live modestly elsewhere you can live, if not like kings, at least like, I dunno, barons.
posted by NoraReed at 10:19 PM on May 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Tucson, AZ has a research university, semi thriving optics industry, cheap living, and a very quirky feel. It's really easy to get around on a bike and go from the university to the artsy downtown. I haven't dealt too much with the politics, but my understanding is that Tucson is a bit like Austin in being a blue dot in a red state. I just moved here from The Extremely Frozen North and highly recommend it.

My husband went to grad school in Albuquerque and has said it has many of the characteristics you're looking for, but is a bit seedy in some places and doesn't have a ton of jobs. That said, ABQ has the university of New Mexico and also the Sandia and Los Alamos national labs in close proximity. What my husband loved about ABQ was that the cheap cost of living allowed a lot of artists he knew to survive on little money.

I really don't think Santa Fe is at all what you're looking for - it is full of government and older hippies.
posted by permiechickie at 10:36 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just the US, right?

Boulder, Tucson, Missoula, Bellingham, Eugene
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:03 PM on May 20, 2015

I don't think you can write off the whole of California as being too expensive. I mean, Boulder, CO certainly will be more expensive than some parts of CA. Upon initially reading your question (before I got to the CA part) I thought of the Eureka/Arcata area. Traffic isn't bad at all, there are a couple universities in the area, it is v liberal, and quite beautiful.
posted by Halo in reverse at 1:29 AM on May 21, 2015

Durham, NC is full of people like you and more are always welcome. Right now, I don't think you'll find a more hipster, locovore foodie, DYI science community. There are lots of places for y'all to work at colleges and universities (UNC, Duke, NC State, yes, but also NC Central, Meredith, St. Augustine, Shaw, etc etc) as well as interesting opportunities in RTP ranging from tech and biotech companies to SAS to government agencies (the EPA has a big air quality and atmospheric division there) to the Research Triangle Institute.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:37 AM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think Durham is awesome. I'd check that out for sure.
posted by josher71 at 4:08 AM on May 21, 2015

Disclaimer: I'm a hipster.
posted by josher71 at 4:27 AM on May 21, 2015

"Santa Fe is small and largely older. The art scene is the opposite of hipster. It's a neat town but be sure you know what you're getting yourself in for if you're serious."

I'll throw out that this is slowly changing.

There are a lot of younger and hipster-ish people in Santa Fe than there were even 5 years ago. The Santa Fe University of Art and Design (former College of Santa Fe) seems to have brought in an injection of youth to the community. There's an arts collective called Meow Wolf that has some great stuff happening. There's been a push to ignite the nightlife scene in Santa Fe too, though I'm not sure how successful that's been.

Sure, there are still the typical Santa Fe style art scene happening, but I think things are changing. There's still a lot of gray hair in Santa Fe. It is a small, quiet town. And the cost of living is higher than you'd expect. But, it does seem like a shift is starting to happen.
posted by BooneTheCowboyToy at 7:41 AM on May 21, 2015

Asheville is really, really wonderful and temperate and liberal and cozy and friendly, BUT I will say: don't move here unless you intend to stay for a while, get involved in the actual community, and buy an existing house at a fair price. The only downside to Asheville is a growing one, and that is well-to-do transplants coming here and driving up housing prices by building McMansioncabins on scenic overlooks. That said, it is still lovely and every day I thank my lucky stars for these mountains.

Also, Durham. Raleigh is pretty nice, too.
posted by witchen at 8:22 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Santa Fe in 2015 is not what you want. As others have said, it's older, expensive and art-oriented. Yes, it is changing, but not quickly. Maybe try back in 2025.

Albuquerque, on the other hand, *is* pretty cool and affordable right now. The area around UNM and Nob Hill are full of bars, breweries, cute stores, culture, etc. etc. We live in SF now because we have jobs here, but we'd move to ABQ in a heartbeat.
posted by Flamingo at 10:41 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ithaca, NY.

Liberal, artsy, farmer's market, Wegmans, waterfalls, gorges, lakes, hiking trails, wineries, live music, home to Cornell and Ithaca college, and a whole bunch of high-tech spin-offs from Cornell.

Also, plenty of fresh water and farmland, no tornadoes or earthquakes, a good place to ride out the apocalypse when it arrives.

The only downside is the winter. This last one got so bad that our Tourism bureau famously gave up and directed visitors to go to Key West instead.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:47 AM on May 21, 2015

Well, I'm always tempted to recommend my beloved Athens, GA in these threads, and the University of Georgia is here, but I don't know that you would have enough job opportunities.
posted by feste at 1:24 PM on May 21, 2015

Mrs. cnc lived in Sante Fe for several years. She left Sante Fe for Sacramento in part because there weren't enough jobs or people her age. Sante Fe only has 70,000 people.

I'll give you the honest-to-goodness rundown on Sacramento (specifically, the grid - Downtown, Midtown and the close-in suburbs, and/or Davis, which is 15 minutes away). On the Walkscore map, the grid is the green area in the middle and yellowish areas to the south and east.

Reasonably affordable - we would split the costs of a house

I'm not clear if you're talking about renting or buying. You can rent a smallish three bedroom house on the grid for $1,800 to $2,200 or so. You may pay a little more in Davis, and toward the higher end if you want two bathrooms.

Buying on the grid you're probably looking at $450K and up for a three bedroom. Sacramento's suburbs, which are admittedly endless and something you'll have ZERO interest in, cost a third less.

Find various jobs at a university/college/research center or at interesting start-ups or other kinds of tech/design

Your best bet here is UC Davis, and to a lesser extent Sacramento State University. The tech/startup/design community is minimal. Portland would be a much better option on the tech/startup scene.

However, there are a LOT of State government analysis/policy positions in the area. (Water Resources, Air Resources, Fire, EPA, etc.)

We (well, I) would rather stay away from the intensely frozen north.

We have 300 days of sunshine every year. It's probably been 330 in the last year. Be aware that high temperatures average 95 in July and August, but there's a wonderful urban canopy on the grid, and it generally cools off 30 degrees overnight. It's really only hot from 12:00 PM to 7:00 PM, even the worst days. Very low humidity, so it's not nasty heat. You can eat outdoors eight months per year.

I’d really rather not have to commute long distances (especially not by car)

Chances are you'd be working on the grid or in Davis. It's not completely unreasonable to walk to work. Davis is one of the better bike cities in the country, and Sacramento's grid is excellent for cycling.

(Sacramento's suburbs are openly bike and pedestrian-hostile).

We love hipstery crap

We have our share of moustache wax, fixies and mullah beards. However, Portland is certainly more hipstery.

good food

Most of the nation's food is grown here, so we have some of the best farmer's markets in the country. The bigger ones are open all year. The restaurant scene is excellent.

lively music and art scenes

Art - yes. The Second Saturday art walk (on the grid) is well-attended all year and has a nice mix and variety of work. We also have an excellent theater scene, though the audience tends to be older.

However, our live music scene is generally terrible. No insult to the bands here, but most people just don't go see live music here. Almost no nationally touring acts stop here, especially if they don't have radio hits. Bands go to the Bay Area (1.5-2 hour drive) and skip Sacramento.
posted by cnc at 4:19 PM on May 21, 2015

Seconding Minneapolis/St. Paul. Great for biking, our parks system is widespread and legendary, public transit has been improving, food co-ops and other natural grocers/farmers markets are incredibly common, and the arts here are vibrant. Our local music scene is incredible, we have more theater seats per capita than any other U.S. city besides NY, and we have a ton of working artists. Unemployment is laughably low so entry-level wages have been getting more competitive, too.
posted by kitarra at 5:39 PM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Oh my god I'm finally going to Japan!   |   my accent is not so good (what rhymes with orange?... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.