Looking for a leftist lily pad....
November 16, 2016 8:25 AM   Subscribe

In light of the recent election, it has become more evident to me that I need to become part of a community where there is more of a liberal presence. This includes not only political persuasion, but also religious leanings as well. Currently in AZ. I would like to leave this area and relocate to a place that would be a better fit. Additionally, in researching potential cities, I can't help but noticing that a lot of the most desirable leftist cities also have very high costs of living.

Soooo......my question, meefs, is:

what are some good liberal metropolitan areas in the US that would be suitable for a newbie to try out? (racial, ethnic, gender diversity a must too)

bonus points for the following: area where living wages exist, reasonable housing costs, access to higher education i.e. university campus, warm climate, access to lots of outdoor recreation, decent public transportation

I know this is a really tall order. However, I'm wondering if you guys might have an idea I haven't considered yet.

posted by strelitzia to Work & Money (39 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Gainesville, Florida. Housing costs are minimal, it's home to the University of Florida, and Payne's Prarie and tons of other parks are nearby.

Downside: Minimum wage is $8.05 / $5.03 tipped. While higher than federal minimum, unfortunately for you, anywhere with a living minimum wage is likely to be cold. Options for living wages expand dramatically with tolerance to cold. The rent there is so low that it probably doesn't matter as much.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 8:35 AM on November 16, 2016

It might help if you would tell us where you have considered, and maybe even why you rejected those locations.

For example, Austin, TX is a place where there are (1) living wages (2) reasonable housing (depending on your current expectations) (3) access to higher education (4) warm climate (5) access to outdoor recreation. They have a bus, and the traffic is a nightmare. And it's liberal (at least, for Texas).
posted by China Grover at 8:39 AM on November 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I like Albuquerque. Warm but with actual seasons, very low cost of living, university nearby, and very diverse culturally. Wages are ok, but jobs aren't super plentiful.
posted by answergrape at 8:40 AM on November 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Minneapolis meets all your criteria (although the decent public transit is arguable unfortunately). And apparently we're in a swing state now, so you can help swing it....
posted by miyabo at 8:40 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding Albuquerque (though I'm definitely hoping we move further left over the next 2 years with mayoral and gubernatorial elections to replace sitting Republicans). It's warm, diverse, relatively inexpensive, UNM is a big influence and there are lots of outdoor recreation opportunities. Public transit is mixed (and undergoing an overhaul to bring bus rapid transit down the Central corridor). Living wages exist here because the cost of living is moderate but echoing answergrape, high paying jobs can be tough to find. You'd likely want to live within a few blocks of Central Ave (old Rt. 66) near Campus, Downtown or in Nob Hill to get the lifestyle you want.
posted by jeffch at 8:49 AM on November 16, 2016

Response by poster: Love ABQ and New Mexico in general. Actually moved to AZ from Santa Fe for a job because of the job situation in NM. Would really like to move back to NM. Don't know if it will ever happen though, b/c my job field is extremely niche.

I've considered Austin, and it's still on my list.

Didn't really know about Gainesville as a liberal possibility. Thanks for that suggestion.

Familiar with Minneapolis. I've heard that a lot of people like it. It's lower on my list b/c of the cold and winter lack of light factor. Lovely city though.
posted by strelitzia at 8:51 AM on November 16, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far! Keep 'em coming.
posted by strelitzia at 8:52 AM on November 16, 2016

Philly is a weird sort of liberal at times, but otherwise really only loses on weather.
posted by supercres at 8:55 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Columbus, OH is colder than you would like, but otherwise seems suitable. I've extolled its virtues before.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:57 AM on November 16, 2016

Durham, NC! Awesome, diverse, progressive, warm place with a still decent standard of living and housing costs. Because it's a relatively small city, the bus system + walking and biking is doable, and they're working on building light rail. Depending on what your niche field is, there are a lot of different job possibilities there.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:04 AM on November 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

Eugene or Corvallis, Oregon? Has everything you'd like but might be gloomier/cooler than you want.
posted by jeffch at 9:09 AM on November 16, 2016

You want to live in Philadelphia, probably either in West Philly or the north end of South Philly
posted by OrangeVelour at 9:20 AM on November 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Unlike ChuraChura, I generally don't extol the virtues of Columbus. But it seems to fit your criteria, except for the public transportation. (Although we did just approve a tax levy for that.)

-The city (and even some of its suburbs) are reliably liberal. It used to be mostly white (or rather, the parts of the city that college-educated twentysomethings spend time in were mostly white; there have, of course, always been black and Hispanic neighborhoods), but that's changing pretty rapidly.

-Even though rents are rising, the cost of living is still very low (just not as low as they used to be).

-One of the nation's largest universities is in the middle of town, and there are various other colleges and an art school scattered around.

-The parks are decent (another levy we just passed), and a short drive outside of town gets you to some really spectacular places.

-There's no getting around the public transportation thing, although depending on what neighborhood you live in, it can work for you. Living along High Street, you should have no trouble. If you do have to go into the suburbs, though, you're in for a long trip.

-Oh, and the weather. I like it, but I'm weird and I love cold, dreary weather. It does get pretty damn hot during the summers, though, and the winters aren't like Minnesota-level bad.

In particular, look at Franklinton/the Bottoms (two names for the same place). It used to be a fairly bad ghetto, but now there's a flourishing arts scene. Although there are a lot more young, white professionals living there now, it doesn't seem to have gentrified much, and so you'll still see a lot of diversity. It's centrally located, and it's still very affordable. Worth checking out.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:20 AM on November 16, 2016

Think East or West coast. Think cities. And yes, they are expensive. And what they offer explains the expense.
posted by Postroad at 9:22 AM on November 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Denver is getting more expensive housing-wise, but has a brisk job market right now and is fairly socially liberal (75% for Clinton in the city). The rest of the state tends to be more liberatarian/fiscal conservative rather than Bible Belt. Bonus: you can help swing the state as a whole further to the left. The weather is sunny and mostly pleasant.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:26 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is Houston on your radar? Our gay mayor recently left office after two terms, and at the time it was hardly an issue. Now our mayor is black, and it is hardly an issue. It the last election Houston was distinctly blue, and Democrats made nearly a clean sweep of the local offices.

Houston is said to be the most diverse city in the country. Gay, black, trans, latino, asian, muslim, etc. are all represented and work together in relative harmony.

There are museums and art installations. There are world class universities. There are beaches to the south and woods to the north, and the Hill Country a few hours away.

People move to Houston to work. I have not met anyone who has moved here to retire. Jobs are not as tied to the oil business as they once were, and the labor market is healthy. Currently there is an apartment glut, and prices are down.

You can find expensive homes and you can find affordable homes. Because there is no geographic limit to the Houston sprawl you can buy a $200 K home 20 miles from work, or a $500 K home 3 miles from work.

You want warm weather, we have it. Also 100 year flooding almost every year, a reasonable certainty that a hurricane will hit the city every other decade, and a possibility that a really bad one will create a $100 billion mess of the chemical and refinery complex on the bay.

Come to work and live, and find that people here accept other people here.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:29 AM on November 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Where are you in AZ? What about Tucson? It's got higher education, is more liberal than Phoenix, and still has access to things in AZ you might otherwise enjoy. I don't know about its public transit though.
posted by nat at 9:48 AM on November 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm a left-leaning Phoenix resident. My vote is to stay here!

Here is where we need your voting influence and voice. Those other areas already have the policies they need to improve the lives of the low-income, protect the environment and welcome immigrants, etc. Arizona just passed an increase in the minimum wage, something I don't believe we could have done without independents and liberals (and the small-business community.) And man, we were SO close on weed!

I'm in the north central part of town. My community is welcoming immigrants from the Sudan and Somalia to our already entrenched Mexican, black and white part of town.

I don't know what city you are in but consider staying. You cannot beat the 300 days of sunshine, moderate cost of living and outdoor activities.

My two cents.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 10:09 AM on November 16, 2016 [8 favorites]

Consider Sacramento, Denver and Salt Lake City. Salt Lake is obviously an island, but the conservatism in Utah seems a little more principled than in some other areas of the country. I'm guessing that SLC is the least expensive of the three. The weather seems nice and the outdoor recreation is excellent. The University bit may be a little challenging.

Denver I'm not super familiar with, but it does seem to meet much of your criteria, plus it's in a swing state.

I'm most familiar with Sacramento, and the weather is great, the food is excellent, the weather is amazing and there are jobs to be had. The city does get more conservative the further you are from the city center, and housing has gotten to be fairly expensive, and is continuing to increase in cost. It's the most diverse city in the country, but I'm not sure if I'd call the public transportation "decent." You can get by without a car in the central city, but that's also the most expensive part of the city to live in.

Portland, Seattle, The Bay Area, LA and San Diego all fit your criteria to some degree, but are also terribly expensive, so I didn't mention those.
posted by cnc at 10:33 AM on November 16, 2016

Rundown on Chicago:

Liberal? Our Mayor's Obama's former Chief of Staff and just made national headlines by saying that Trump's government be damned, we’ll still be a sanctuary city. Numerically, we're pretty much why Illinois isn't a red state.

Racial, ethnic, gender diversity? Yes. Although there’s some historic “voluntary segregation” (not really voluntary if you look back into real estate history). But we are definitely a pretty diverse city.

Access to higher education? U of Chi, Loyola, etc.

Warm climate? Nope. Sorry. In summer, yes, but damn, do we get frigid in winter.

Access to lots of outdoor recreation? Hell yeah. Chicago Park District. Bike path. Millennium Park (and lots of others). Forest preserves within easy travelling distance of city.

Decent public transportation? For all our complaining, the CTA’s a pretty good transit system and they haven’t raised fares in a long time.
posted by WCityMike at 10:36 AM on November 16, 2016

A challenge is also that many warm liberal areas are enclaves in very red states. So will Houston for example can be an awesome awesome city it's subject to Texas state law. Which can be awful.

I'd aim for a cheap-ish California city. Like Sacramento.

But I've never lived anywhere warm so ... I'd move to Providence RI.
posted by French Fry at 10:37 AM on November 16, 2016

Perhaps surprisingly, St. Louis is fairly progressive and welcoming.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 10:40 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was going to ask about Tucson too; apologies if that is where you are now or if you've ruled it out for other reasons. I also wanted to share a tidbit below from an email that the AZ Dems sent me after the election, in case it gives you hope for the liberal future of AZ; it seems very likely that Arizona will be a liberal-leaning swing state in the future, though I certainly understand if you don't feel like waiting that long.

"Arizona is one of the fastest growing states for Democrats. In fact, among the 13 'swing states,' Arizona is the only one where the Democratic margin improved from 2012 (by 5.1%, so far). The only two states where Democrats are gaining faster in the entire country are California and Texas."
posted by Owl of Athena at 10:41 AM on November 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

@DrAstroZoom - Parts of St. Louis City could definitely fit the description. Cheap housing, which helps balance the lack of real living wage. The Board of Alderman passed a living wage ordinance last year, but it was overturned in court. The Fight for $15 is very active in the city. Still lots of racism here, but there are definitely more efforts to combat it in the last few years than in the past.

Most of West and South County St. Louis would not. Also, while the city is more left-leaning, the state of Missouri is very conservative. No Medicaid expansion here. Legislature completely Republican controlled and Missouri just elected a Republican governor for the first time in awhile. I am expecting more conservative legislation than in the past to make it through.
posted by hworth at 10:50 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

New Orleans is pretty lefty, has a warm climate, and lots of culture. Housing costs in the city itself can be a tad high, and the rest of the state is a giant sea of red. It's a great city for newcomers, in that people are super friendly and there are a million things to do to meet people.
posted by tryniti at 11:11 AM on November 16, 2016

"St. Louis is fairly progressive..."

That's true so far.

"...and welcoming"

posted by kevinbelt at 11:24 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pullman, WA
posted by blue_beetle at 11:25 AM on November 16, 2016


I will not lie, the weather is not awesome (but our winters don't get apocalyptic like the Great Lakes cities, they're just kinda child and grey).

Low cost of living (Pittsburghers are carping because it is going up, but it's been so incredibly low for so long, we're really spoiled), and you can live in a very blue sploch in a swing state that still desperately needs your D votes. And because of our long history of robber barons and their noblesse oblige, Pittsburgh has the cultural institutions of a much larger city while still having a down to earth small town kind of vibe.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:47 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

What about Flagstaff? Unless that's where you are...
posted by mareli at 12:26 PM on November 16, 2016

@hworth: good points; @kevinbelt: Your mileage may vary -- or rather, apparently has.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 12:35 PM on November 16, 2016

Consider state capitals of blue states.

No, I'm serious. I grew up in SoCal, and currently live in Portland. I wouldn't advise either location for you, but when I thought of suggestions, my train of thought was "Sacto... Eugene... Oly... waitaminnit here."
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 1:26 PM on November 16, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your suggestions. I'm a single person at lowest end of middle class salary, hence the emphasis on housing affordability. You guys have given me a lot to think about.
posted by strelitzia at 1:42 PM on November 16, 2016

I'm a single person at lowest end of middle class salary

If you do consider Sacramento, the State is still hiring. Look at the Staff Services Analyst and Associate Governmental Program Analyst classifications in particular. Those are solidly middle class jobs, and if you're competent and interview well, are very much within your reach. Feel free to Memail, though sometimes it takes me a while to notice they're there.
posted by cnc at 3:33 PM on November 16, 2016

Traverse City, Michigan! Unless cold weather is a deal breaker. It's also not super-diverse, but it won't get that way until people move here. The minimum wage is the state average, but many business are advertising entry level at $11 or more. Housing is an issue, but the city is actively trying to get in affordable mixed-use solutions. Plus it's so pretty!!
posted by mibo at 3:47 PM on November 16, 2016

If you're going to move, move to a blue state, not just a blue city. State laws may save you when federal protections are gutted -- on abortion rights, marriage equality, trans rights, even health care.

I'm from Durham, NC and recently moved to Austin -- both blue bubbles in red states. I'm frankly starting to get scared about living in Texas under Trump. NC will hopefully have Roy Cooper as governor, but the legislature is still far-right.
posted by snowmentality at 5:31 PM on November 16, 2016

What about somewhere in California? I think San Francisco and probably Los Angeles are out for housing cost reasons, but the state as a whole went over 60% for Clinton, and our state level officials have been releasing statements promising that California will be a bullwark against Trump's retrograde policies. It also looks like our upcoming gubernatorial race is going to be a slam dunk for one of two Obama-esque liberal candidates with national level aspirations, so it's unlikely that we'll be taking a conservative turn anytime soon. Covered California, our version of the ACA exchange, is in great shape, is not federally funded, and does not depend on Washington to set its policies for what is covered. (*cough* birth control *cough*)

Even if you were to move to the heart of the Central Valley (generally conservative, but much cheaper than the rest of the state), you'd still benefit from those state-level liberal policies.
posted by Sara C. at 5:46 PM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pullman, WA

Misses badly on the weather criterion. Other than that, haven't spent time there since the mid-70s, but I liked it a lot.
posted by lhauser at 7:38 PM on November 16, 2016

Consider state capitals of blue states.

Illinois excepted.

Of course, it's not really a blue "state", it's miles and miles of red counties full of people who don't particularly like big, blue Chicago.

Seconding the wonderful things WCityMike said about the City that I called home for 30 years. Great place, lots of good people—but the horrible weather got to me. Ungodly hot and humid in the summer. Icy sidewalks in the winter. Rainy springs. Fall can be nice, but it's hard to appreciate good autumn weather when you know what's coming.

Some interesting suggestions that I had never considered in this tread. Albuquerque, Pullman—I'll be checking you out.
posted by she's not there at 11:55 PM on November 16, 2016

I haven't lived there for years, but I'd move back to Lawrence, Kansas, in a heartbeat if I could find a job there. It's a college town - the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University are both in Lawrence. I live in Ann Arbor now, which is cold and expensive, and I tell people Lawrence is an unpretentious Ann Arbor. Lawrence is definitely a blue island in a very red state, so all of the warnings about red states would apply.
posted by FencingGal at 8:13 AM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

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