Chicago is relatively... ?
August 16, 2016 5:42 PM   Subscribe

If you moved away from Chicago after a decade or so (or more), what did you think of your new city? Did you like it better or worse?

I hope this isn't chatfilter, but after living in Chicago for about a decade, I suddenly have a bunch of opportunities (job-wise) to relocate. Chicago is the only city where I've ever lived long-term; I grew up in a small rural town, so to me, Chicago is just kind of... life. The first place where I felt like an individual. I've enjoyed traveling around the US in the last few years, but I'm having a hard time envisioning living anywhere else in the long-term.

In my first few years in Chicago, everything felt shiny and new and AMAZING. It was the city! After I graduated college and started traveling and living "adult" live, Chicago felt dangerous, frustrating, and expensive, but simultaneously unimpressive compared to e.g. NYC. In the last few years, I've started seeing it the way I always hear it described-- a relatively cozy, affordable, major urban center, with lots of world-class culture and interesting American/Midwestern history. My relationship with Chicago is now sufficiently deep that I have a hard time comparing my superficial impressions of other cities to my intimate relationship with Chi.

So if you grew up or lived in Chicago for a significant amount of time (say, around 10 years) and then moved, was it a good thing or a bad thing? Ambivalence is acceptable, but I am really curious about people's gut instinct about whether their new city is better or worse, and why.
posted by stoneandstar to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
After I graduated college and started traveling and living "adult" live, Chicago felt dangerous, frustrating, and expensive, but simultaneously unimpressive compared to e.g. NYC.

See, that was almost exactly my feeling about Boston vs. Chicago, with Boston coming out unfavorably. We're talking several years in Boston, with employment elsewhere in New England on and off. I had a sweet deal on an apartment in Cambridge for a while, so cheap it kind of made up for other problems, but then I moved to the Back Bay and hated it. It felt really expensive, long lines for everything and I had several encounters with crime, as opposed to none in Chicago. If I had to move back there I would make it work, though. I found quite a few things I liked, and if I'd been committed to the place like forever, would have found even more.
posted by BibiRose at 6:04 PM on August 16, 2016

Best answer: I lived in Chicago for 6 years, then lived for at least a year in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, New Orleans, and now Upstate NY. (what a weird journey it's been).

The most shocking thing about Chicago compared to other places I've lived was how segregated it is. I knew it was segregated (and as someone who rode the red line from the north to the southside to get to work every morning I saw the segregation in realtime), but living in the south and now in NY I came to appreciate how weird it is to have no black neighbors, like, at all, the way many northside chicago neighborhoods are.

Of the places I've lived since living in Chicago, Pittsburgh was by far my favorite. I'd probably move there instead of Chicago if I was given the choice. All the world-class culture of Chicago, with dirt cheap living, small enough to bike everywhere and decent enough public transit that you can get by without a car, working class pride and an incredible sense of Place. Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh, no matter where you are you know you're in the 412 (and I saw quite a few 412 tattos). Whereas places like Roscoe Village or the West Loop could be Generic American City. I guess I could say the same thing about New Orleans but I always felt like an outsider there. But still in PGH I ran out of new restaurants to try! In Chicago there's always some new great place to eat.

I also still miss specific things, like the Music Box and the Siskel, the Empty Bottle and the Rainbo Club. The Seminary Co-op is the greatest bookstore I've been to in the States (the Strand is garbage in comparison). And world-class public transit.

I dunno, Chicago's a great city. It's got a lot going on, even if not as much as LA and NYC. But there's a charm to other places, especially if you don't mind driving.
posted by dis_integration at 6:39 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

One of my best friends from college moved to Chicago after graduation and just left two years ago... so she was there for, 12 years or so. I know that she misses the arts scene, and the public transportation (she doesn't drive.)
posted by Automocar at 7:09 PM on August 16, 2016

I was little in LA. I went to junior high and high school in Chicago. Now I live in San Francisco.

  • I miss the economic diversity of Chicago: having friends with blue collar jobs and office jobs that can live within a 2 hour radius of each other
  • I miss the food. Oh, the food. There's not a lot of kale and quinoa in the Chicago food I miss: hot dogs, pizza (both thick and thin), Greek diners that are open 24 hours. Polish and German bakeries.
  • I miss seeing fat and thin people in totally normal settings together hanging out
  • I miss the density of amazing touristy experiences (museums, the aquarium, theaters)
  • Seconding the Music Box, Gene Siskel Film Center; all the improv and standup that's actually great
  • Pinball machines are much cheaper since everyone had a cousin or uncle that worked for Midway or Stern or somebody decades ago and has a machine in their basement
  • Being able to drive stick since it's so flat (unless you're on the Ike at rush hour of course)

    What I don't miss:
  • Really serious and overt homophobia, sexism and xenophobia
  • The weather in summer. The weather in winter
  • The fact that road construction takes forever because crews only work 9-5pm weekdays
  • The corrupt aldermen-based political system
  • The near universal interest in major sports and the assumption that you care about sports as well
  • This terrible accent I ended up with

  • posted by Gucky at 9:06 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

    Moved to Chicago for college, stayed about 10 years. Grew up in a very liberal (and isolated) patch of the West Coast. Like you, I became an adult in Chicago, thought it was dangerous, vital, exciting.

    Since then I've followed jobs to Atlanta, New Orleans, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Orlando, Miami,

    Nothing ever compares to the social scene I had in Chicago but that is in all likelihood a function of being 23-28 ANYWHERE. In retrospect, after having lived other places, Chicago's residential racial segregation is insane. I say that as a person who lived in Latino, White and Black neighborhoods in Chicago and so I basically lived in 3 entirely different Chicagos with different sets of friends, ways of talking and even recreation.

    Living in the sunbelt now, I don't miss the winter at all and stay in much better shape, drink less, have better mental health now getting sunshine year-round. Oddly enough, it's much harder to find people into the arts since I've left. They're there in other cities, you just have to search them out more. On the plus side, I've become friends with people from all walks of life--Chicago has a strong tendency to push people into niches, not just racial, but almost micro-cultural--I mean I swear for a year I had a social life built around an open mic night at one bar in Logan Square.

    I miss the El terribly. Driving sucks.

    I had Chicago friends who moved away for a year or two to travel the world, support family in other countries and then return to Chicago, and then resume their old social life, and sometimes even the same jobs w/o missing a beat. Hell, even years since I've been there, this is still an option for me. With the possible exception of New Orleans, I've never been anywhere in the US where this is even possible. Keep in mind that going back to Chicago and resuming your life may actually be an option.

    Also Chicago's 24-hour polish/greek/mexican taqueria/korean bibimbop joints are sorely, sorely missed. If you travel to other countries, you can find this, but nothing with this diversity. Food may taste better in other cities, but it's rarely served in a setting so real, so caring and so social as a 4am diner in Albany Park.

    On the plus side, living in Chicago may have been the only thing in my life that could even have begun to prepare me for the brazen garishness and open-faced corruption of living in south florida.
    posted by caveatz at 8:26 AM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

    I know that this is not quite the perspective you're looking for, but . . .

    Having been to a lot of North American cities (albeit usually only for a day or two) over the last 20 years, it sounds to me like a lot of the things you like about Chicago (give or take the affordability - I mean, from my 30-year Clevelander perspective Chicago is borderline-NYC expensive) are mostly . . . . general city/urban things. Every city has some element of world-class arts & culture, every city has history and waves of residents and immigrants that have left pockets of ethnicity (like a Little Italy, or a Chinatown, or a Little Poland, or etc etc etc), every city has a few cool trendy arty neighborhoods (some that are new and cheap, others that are older and more expensive), every city has a park system or green spaces to hang out in, every city has lots of stuff to do, so on and so forth.

    How much of the above a city has depends a lot on the size and economic health of the general metropolitan area, and Chicago, of course, is the third largest metro area in the US, after NY & LA. So it's certainly possible other cities will seem unimpressive to you (at least on first impression), the same way Chicago seemed unimpressive to you after you visited NYC. It's bigger and richer so there's MOAR EVERYTHING. OTOH, I think it's worth considering how much actual real world time, money, and energy you have to experience city life vs. how much you're sort of . . . . . aspirationally liking that it exists. (I mean, NYC'ers aren't wrong to boast about their art galleries and museums, but it's not like all 9 million of them are cramming themselves into MOMA every Saturday.) If Chicago has 200 street festivals a year (a number I just totally made up), that's cool, but you certainly can't go to all of them, so . . . . . . really, how many of those street festivals actually affect your life? If you only wind up going to two in a year, how would that be really different than going to two in a different city that only has 50 street festivals? If you see what I mean.

    Having said all that, I think the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes cities - Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Milwaukee - are going to seem pretty familiar to you in attitude & architecture & layout & climate & etc. This might be a good thing, or you might wind up comparing them all unfavorably to Chicago. The smaller/further away you get from the lakes (Columbus, Indianapolis, Youngstown, Ann Arbor) the less familiar I think things will be, and/or the less there is to do, but I don't think you'll have a major culture shock.

    IOW, it might help to consider things from a regional perspective - it seems clear you're a city mouse, (in some ways the bigger the city the better, but I think you can find a lot to love in any city) but if you would still like a Chicago "feel" I'd say stick with the Midwest, especially the Upper Midwest. If you'd like to try something different then head to the coasts or south or wherever, and each "area" will have its own feel - like, IMO, Boston, Philly, NYC are more similar to each other than they are to Chicago and the same with, say, Richmond, Nashville, and Atlanta.
    posted by soundguy99 at 8:48 AM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

    I lived in Chicago for about seven years, and I've been in the Boston area (Somerville/Cambridge) for seven years. I started writing this comment with a big list of pros and cons of each place, but I don't think it would have been particularly helpful. You can compare rents and snowfall and football teams, but everyone's sense of place is different and a lot of times it just comes down to how you feel.

    I also can't perfectly compare the two because I'm a way different person now than I was fourteen years ago. Chicago was my early to mid-twenties, when I was more adventurous, more in-the-moment, and not entirely sure of my trajectory in life. My Boston years have been more "settled," with all that implies: more secure and stable, probably kind of boring but I'm cool with that. I can't credit or blame either city for the changes in myself; rather, I think the way I've changed has colored my perspective on each place. You bring yourself to wherever you are. I can't compare nightlife because I stopped going out years ago; I can't compare kid-friendliness because kids weren't on my radar back then. But Chicago had what I needed then, and Boston has what I need now.

    They're both dense, walkable cities with good public transit and roughly similar climates, which made the transition easier for me. Chicago has a lot more of everything urban, and it's supremely easy to find your way around, and it's hard not to miss that. I explored and experienced a lot more of Chicago than I have of Boston. But there's a certain quirkiness about Boston that's grown on me. It feels greener and older and well-worn. And for some reason the Midwest never felt like the right place for me, but New England absolutely does.

    I also frequently got the sense that Chicago felt like it had something to prove: We're a world-class city! We're as good as New York! Yet we're Midwestern and the Midwest is great! While Boston is fine with what it is and doesn't really care what anyone else thinks. But that's also a succinct description of me in my twenties versus me in my thirties, so maybe I've just been seeing myself reflected in my surroundings.

    One last thing: When I moved to Chicago, it clicked for me almost right away, but around my sixth or seventh year I felt like it was time for me to move on. When I moved to Boston, it felt weird and awkward for the first few months, and it felt okay-but-not-home for a few years after that. I don't know when it became home, but it did. You may fall in love with different cities at different timelines and in different ways.
    posted by Metroid Baby at 12:49 PM on August 17, 2016

    Best answer: Grew up in the 'burbs. Lived in the city proper for seven years, left for LA and San Diego for four years, came back to Chicago for two years, San Francisco for seven years, Honolulu for three. Have traveled quite a bit through the US (except for the South), Europe, and Asia.

    For maybe the first six months to a year in LA, I couldn't help but compare everything to things back home, and LA pretty much always came off worse. There are no seasons. You can't walk anywhere. People are superficial and flaky. There's no culture. Etc. That all changed once I decided to embrace what LA had that Chicago didn't. Now I'd happily live in LA again given a chance. The important part about this is neither Chicago nor LA changed - I did. I grew.

    I don't know that I'd describe any place I've lived or to which I've traveled as better or worse than Chicago. Chicago has lots of things going for it:

    1) It's cheap, relative to comparable cities
    2) It's pretty livable
    3) Getting around is reasonably easy
    4) The people are solid. Pragmatic, prompt, not a whole lot of pretense, nice but not too nice.
    5) It's not an industry town in the way that San Francisco, or LA, or New York are. People do all sorts of things to pay the bills
    6) Lots of culture/nightlife

    All that said - I'm not sure I'd choose to go back to living there. Why? The biggest things are the flip side of my points #4 & #5. Re: #4 - yes, the people are no bullshit and get things done, but they can also be pretty close minded. Towards everything. In general, there are very specific, well defined ideas around town or neighborhood reputations, school systems, masculinity, femininity, business process, you name it - and there's not a whole of acceptance or entertaining of dissenting voices or ideas if you stray behind those defined boundaries. I have a completely unsupported theory that the kind of midwestern thinking that I'm describing is near the root of the profound segregation you see in places like Chicago/St. Louis/Cleveland/Milwaukee/etc. You feel the path there, and you feel when you're leaving it.

    When I went back to living in Chicago, I missed having crazy people or ideas come into my life in the way that they did all the time when living in California. Sure, some of those people or things were giant wastes of time or really bad ideas, but they made the world bigger. Less stifling. More open. Chicago often felt pretty constraining in comparison.

    Re: #5 while it's good that Chicago has a broad economic base, the flip side to this is it's not necessarily the world's destination for any one thing. For good or ill, LA is the world's entertainment capital. San Francisco and the bay area are the epicenter of technology. It's incredibly enlightening to be in places like that, which are not only the center of worldwide industry, but also where the bleeding edge happens before it propagates out. This relates to the suppression of crazy ideas. It's like Chicago doesn't want to waste it's time on things that aren't proven. Other people can push the envelope or be early adopters.

    Not the question you asked, but if it were me I'd definitely move. Not because I don't like Chicago - I actually often miss it quite a bit, and it will always be home. But rather because every place I've lived has expanded my perspective and forced me to grow in ways I both was and wasn't expecting. You could do that staying in one place, but you won't be provoked into doing so via the sheer (good) trauma of up-ending your life and setting it all up again somewhere else. Even if that new place sucks, you'll come out changed and have learned from it, and I just don't think you can approximate that if you never really live anywhere else.
    posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:41 PM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

    Best answer: I'm 45 now and live in San Diego, but I lived in Chicago from ages 29 to 36.

    I lived in Rogers Park so, while I saw the racial segregation, I didn't live inside it.

    I am so glad I lived there, but nowhere near as glad as I am that I no longer live there. It is so much work just to exist. It's so cold. It takes forever to get anywhere. The trains are decrepit and slow. It was exciting the first few years, and then each year afterwards felt more and more oppressive.

    It felt so good to get out.
    posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 4:42 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

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