Calling residents of Atlanta, Raleigh, Charlotte, and Philly
October 7, 2019 3:50 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about all about your cities please! Ideal criteria of next city listed below. Also, when looking to relocate to these cities, how should I time applying to jobs?

I am going to escape! Ahem. Move. I have come to the conclusion that I'm moving from the west after my failed "experiment" (thank you to MeFites who helped me shift my perspective on this) of living out here. My partner has decided this is a yes too. However, he's still deciding whether to get his masters or continue with the PhD, so we will most likely be going long distance until he's done. I'm still looking around for jobs in our current town to get out my toxic one and hope that will hold me over until we both move. But I think it's just going to be best to not use any more time here when I could use all this energy towards building a life where we would like to live more permanently.

My partner and I decided on these areas: Atlanta, major NC cities (Charlotte and Raleigh were the top contenders, but Durham maybe?), Baltimore/DC, and Philly.

I grew up 30 minutes outside of Atlanta, and then lived there for a few months back in 2014. My sister used to live in the Decatur neighborhood right on the square, which seemed like a really cute area (but very family oriented, and we don't have kids or plan to any time soon) and now she lives in Lawrenceville. My parents are moving to Lawrenceville as well. Atlanta seems to tick off most of the boxes for us, I think the major con is our families will be VERY close (still adjusting to boundaries with this) and it seems everyone from my horrible high school years is moving there. Maybe the bad traffic will solve that problem and no one will drive to our part of town too often to visit :D

People keep telling me that it's SUPER expensive to live in Atlanta. (Granted, these people have never left the south.) Coming from Baltimore and now living in higher COL west area, I feel like it can't be that bad? Or is it that bad? Could we (my partner and I, no other roommates) find a decent 1-2 bedroom apartment for under $2000 that's in the city and not the outskirts? (Ideally less than $1500.)

I've visited Charlotte once and Raleigh for a hot minute, and Asheville a couple of times (but we don't want to live there, sorry.) Charlotte is our second runner up because I really want to live in a big city again. I also know a few people in/near Charlotte. Some say it's really fun, and others say it's not very diverse and a little bland, or just a new city with a bunch of chain places. I would need to visit more. A couple of my closest friends live in Wilmington and Winston-Salem, along with my partner's friends, so that makes NC a bigger draw. A friend here said they'd introduce us to their artist community in Durham (otherwise, Durham is not high on our list.) Raleigh has a lot of jobs in my field, but I'm afraid it isn't going to meet some of our criteria.

Baltimore is where we just moved from and we loved it for the most part. Some of my closest friends still live there, or have moved down to DC. My hangups with Baltimore are the corrupt city government (I know, that can be and is many other American cities) but also the inequities and crime really got me down. But the communities were great and so was the art scene. I used to work in food justice in Baltimore so I have connections there. It's also a little far for both of our families, but it's closer that the west, so we could deal. I would really like to live in DC, especially because of the public transportation, but....phew. Everyone I know in DC says COL is really, really expensive. So that's been holding me back.

Lastly, I have no clue about Philly, except a friend mentioned we'd really like it. We don't know anyone there, so it's low on my list, but it's a big city not too far from Baltimore/DC with a lot of art.

Here's our criteria:

*Diversity. I'm very tired of being the only visible brown body in many spaces. Also, I miss eating good Korean food that's not just galbi, or Ethiopian food or any other food that isn't cheeseburgers or tacos from an indie taco truck.
*Queer communities. I know it's a little harder to come by in the south...or they might exist but might not be as prominent as Baltimore/DC. But a thriving community, especially of queer folx of color would be ideal. Finding a thriving bi+ community would be so great. There isn't that in our current city, which is quite conservative despite being a college town.
*Communities outside of church, or queer churches. Again, I know this is a little harder to come by in the south (in my experience) but maybe things have changed in the past 5ish years? We will be unmarried, childless late 20 year olds, and I know how much life revolved around church communities. In Baltimore, I was part of a church that was queer affirming. Are there many of those in Atlanta or NC areas?
*Art and culture. I wouldn't say we are artists, but we love participating and supporting the arts. In the college town we live in, there certainly is some arts, but not on the scale of a big city. Back in Baltimore, we loved the symphony, immersive art plays, little tiny artist gatherings, to big scale productions. We really appreciated having that diversity of choices.
*Close to good hiking spots. My partner loves to hike and get into nature. I'm getting there. Living out west has provided this greatly. We know we're not going to find big, snowy mountains out there, but anything near great hiking (or less than a few hours drive) would be ideal.
*Bonus points. If there was pretty good public transportation or bike paths. Living in Baltimore... I know they're starting to work on this! Not sure about Atlanta. My experience there was that it was a very car oriented city.

We are planning to visit the cities listed (minus Baltimore), so if you have any neighborhood recommendations, please throw them out! What are the good, bad, ugly of these cities?

*Bonus question: relocation timing for jobs? I see jobs I'm interested in right now but our lease is signed for one more year and I would like to save more money for at least a few months. Should I hold off and not apply until 3 or so months from now?

If it matters, our fields are nutrition/public health and chemistry.
posted by buttonedup to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My hangups with Baltimore are the corrupt city government...and crime
You're probably going to want to take Phila off your list then, and I say that as a native and lifelong resident.
posted by mdrew at 4:05 PM on October 7, 2019

Durham is awesome, very diverse, lots of art, queer friendly, etc. -- but it is definitely not a big city, so that would be a big drawback for you. It's also gentrifying quickly, so there is that element.

One good thing about either Durham or Raleigh is that the "Triangle" cities are all close enough to each other that you can access all the activity across the Triangle pretty easily from any of the cities in it, so that helps give it more culture/jobs/stuff going on than these cities would have on their own. Durham definitely doesn't feel like a big city, though. Raleigh feels more urban, but still just like a medium sized city.

Raleigh, Durham or Charlotte (especially Charlotte) are all great for nearby hiking, though! Tons of hiking opportunities close by. This area (especially the Triangle) would also definitely have jobs for both of you.
posted by aka burlap at 4:49 PM on October 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Philadelphia is a great city (the single most underrated city in the entire country) that ticks all your boxes, but it’s not for everyone. There is a barely contained undercurrent of anarchy here that I’ve never felt outside of Eastern Europe. I love living here, it’s just not for everyone.

Crime is overblown, though.
posted by Automocar at 4:51 PM on October 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

My hangups with Baltimore are the corrupt city government...and crime

I would say that Philly is like this, just to a lesser degree. Otherwise, hits all your major wants pretty decisively.
posted by supercres at 4:56 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I lived in Philadelphia (specifically: Fairmount/Art Museum) for a couple years and really liked it. Checks all your boxes and has an active and pretty welcoming Meetup scene. I knew like two people when I moved there, and within a few months had found my tribe. I never felt crime was an issue for me, but this could be neighborhood-specific. Transit is good in Center City where you have multiple options, less so as you get further out and more dependent on Regional Rail. (My coworker used to call it Regional Fail.) Wissahickon Park has great in-city hiking which is transit-accessible. East Coast hiking is not the same as West Coast hiking, just keep that in mind.

I live in Durham now, and it's fine, but it feels like an also-ran compared to the other cities on your list. It is definitely the most diverse of the NC Triangle, though. Raleigh feels very white, although I don't know the statistics. Both are noticeably more segregated than cities in the Northeast. I am brown and have experienced more racially-tinged incidents in my 15 months living here than I did in 30+ years bouncing around the Northeast Corridor.

DC is definitely out of budget if you're planning $2000 max and ideally sub-1500. In the DC area that'll get you a room in a townhouse 30+ miles from the city.
posted by basalganglia at 4:59 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

My feeling on Charlotte was that it was kind of soulless and engaged in some very heavy active gentrification. We lived past the outer beltway in a majority poc condo community and when we left they had changed hands to a new owner who was doing serious block busting. Raising rents by almost 30% if you signed a multi year lease. It was extremely obvious they wanted to clear out the space for rich white people.

It's ostensibly liberal but liberal in a way that is best summarized as "we don't want to offend potential customers". The pride parade was 80% bank employees holding signs saying how their bank supported lgbt rights.

Also the communities just south over the sc border are basically full of retirees who want southern living with none of those pesky black people.
posted by Ferreous at 4:59 PM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

And I forgot to mention that outside of a small light rail system that mostly serves well to do or rapidly gentrifying areas it's a city based heavily on suburbs and arterial roads.
posted by Ferreous at 5:02 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am a Charlotte native and lived in Durham for years and adore it, but I agree that Atlanta best meets all of your criteria.
*Diversity! Yes! Literally among the most diverse places in the country, especially in terms of immigrant communities. Oh the food! Your parents have access to the best Korean probably up near Lawrenceville (I think Duluth is really the center of the Korean community), but there's amazing Korean in/near town on Buford Highway. Ethiopian for miles as well.
*Queer Communities! Yes! Pride is next weekend (because Georgia's LGBTQ community are not (all) masochists and prefer to celebrate during a more temperate time of year. It is huge. Everybody goes. In general, the visibly queer neighborhoods are busy and beloved parts of the city where everyone is welcome.
There are lots of welcoming churches, so some of it depends on what you're looking for. If you like more traditional liturgy and feel, St. Mark UMC and Central Presbyterian (my church) are two of the bigger publicly welcoming mainline churches, and The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception somehow pulls off being a welcoming Catholic congregation. If you want modern worship and more of a primarily queer community, one of my friends loves The Gathering Place (check out their URL).
*Art and Culture! Yes! Atlanta really does have most of your other choices beat (maybe not Baltimore) in terms of the quality of the symphony and big plays being produced locally as well as all the cool little art things going on everywhere.
*Close to good hiking spots--locally isn't spectacular, although both the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area and the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area are really nice and really close. But good hiking in the mountains is <2> *Transit--MARTA gets a bad rap, but it is actually pretty great for getting around within the city if you plan properly. Yes, you could get places faster driving if there wasn't traffic and you could find a place to park, but there is and you can't, so taking MARTA is pretty much always the best choice, again, if you plan properly and aren't scared to use transit, including buses. Going out to Lawrenceville on transit from the city is rough (I know, because that's my commute), but inside the perimeter, MARTA works. However, many people have figured out that MARTA works, so housing near train stations has gotten pricey.

Neighborhoods: For queer community, you can't beat Midtown, but most of it may be too expensive for you. The Old Fourth Ward is the hot gentrifying neighborhood right now, but probably again too expensive. Decatur/East Lake/Kirkwood seem to be the areas where queer folks settle down to raise kids, so that may not be for you right now. They also have gotten pricey (yes, there's a theme in Atlanta housing prices). On the cheaper side, East Point is where all of my friends are suddenly moving--affordable houses and on the train line, but farther out. Tucker is also suddenly kind of up and coming, and is close to stuff while still being affordable, but more suburban. Clarkston is the most diverse town in America, having taken in thousands of refugees--it's a bit farther out and even more suburban, but you might enjoy the international atmosphere.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:09 PM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

It's ostensibly liberal but liberal in a way that is best summarized as "we don't want to offend potential customers". The pride parade was 80% bank employees holding signs saying how their bank supported lgbt rights.

This is one of the best characterizations I've seen of Charlotte yet. I attended a historic preservation conference in Charlotte a couple years ago, and one presentation had some of the gentrifying developers speaking about "How to Get Rid of "The 3 Ps: Pushers, Prostitutes, and Panhandlers." It was...really disheartening. The general attitude towards community preservation there leaves a lot to be desired. And the surrounding counties are red, red, red and angry about everything.

Atlanta: probably your best bet for culture and diversity. The only downsides, to me personally, are 1) heat and 2) cost.

Winston-Salem: not on your list, except as a place where you have friends, but I think W-S and nearby Greensboro are two of the most slept-upon options out there. Super affordable, super active arts scenes, super liberal churches and other organizations (the Episcopal congregation I attended in Greensboro, 15 years ago, replaced He/His pronouns in the Bible with She/Hers) (the singular "they" was not yet so widely accepted), and super diverse and with a rich history with HBCUs and the Civil Rights era. Also, some really great coffee shops and bike culture. Greensboro is the last place I lived where I felt safe riding my bike downtown or to work--many of the major roads have bike lanes, and I never felt like car drivers were actively hostile to cyclists (unlike in Chapel Hill or Asheville).
posted by witchen at 5:29 PM on October 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

Philly is getting more expensive. Crime and corruption are, depending on your perspective: barely worth mentioning, an inevitable part of city life, or rampant. (I generally feel safe here, within reason.) The public transportation leaves something to be desired, but if you have the patience and the persistence, it covers a LOT of ground. To your other points:

*Diversity: A very brown and black city, though echoes of segregation and redlining remain, so different neighborhoods and communities vary greatly in terms of racial makeup.
*Queer communities: My queer Philly friends are numerous and active. There's lots of bi+ folks and a range of activities, activism, and groupings. Note Philly's historic Gayborhood, though look beyond it too.
*There's lots of non-church communities and certainly some queer churches.
*Tons of arts here, tons. At one end of the spectrum, there's venues like theKimmel Center that includes national Broadway tours, the Orchestra, and the Ballet. At the other end, there's countless basement & DIY & bar venues, with burlesque, comedy, punk shows. (I work for Broad Street Review, an arts & culture digital publication with a Philly focus. We try to cover the whole range.) It is very easy to engage with the arts in Philly, whatever your taste and budget and level of involvement.
*We're near a bunch of good hiking spots.

Memail me if you want more details on any of the above!
posted by knile at 6:08 PM on October 7, 2019

If you are brown and queer, take a closer look at Durham, which was historically a town heavily populated by African Americans who worked in tobacco warehouses. It's got a big queer scene as I understand. It's more progressive.

I'd also say Atlanta, but I don't know it as well.

I truly think that if you like Baltimore and have a community there, you should consider moving back. It's going to be hard to be alone in a new city, harder than when you moved out west with your partner. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:16 PM on October 7, 2019

Well, Philly is great but has become very expensive and quite crowded in the last 5 years, thanks to a crush of (white middle and upper-middle class) people fleeing the expense of NYC and particularly Brooklyn. Thanks to this influx, the city has one of the hottest real estate markets in the country. Lots of gentrification, too (obviously) which makes me sad. I'm not sure whether this is also the case for some of the other cities on your list (and perhaps this is an issue in every attractive metropolian area in the United States in 2019), but at any rate I'm having a hard time envisioning what Philly metro will look like in a few years if this massive demographic shift continues.

The public schools in this city are fairly terrible outside a few catchments, so if that's an issue for you might want to explore Philly's suburbs.
posted by shaademaan at 7:21 PM on October 7, 2019

Philly has not become “very expensive” compared to peer cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and I don’t think it makes the top 20 most demanding real estate markets. Yeah, it’s (slowly) getting more expensive, but let’s not overstate things. It’s also not really growing outside of a few gentrifying neighborhoods.

I know Philadelphians never want anyone to move here, but my apartment was on the market for 3 months before it was rented and they had to drop the price twice. Anecdata and all that, but characterizations above are well overstated. I know baristas that split a rowhouse with one roommate. No one is doing that in New York.
posted by Automocar at 7:39 PM on October 7, 2019

I'm originally from the DC area, lived in Durham for six years, Atlanta for two, and Philly for the last three.

DC is expensive, and the traffic is miserable. There are a lot of really nice amenities (free museums, etc.) but it might be hard to afford rent on your budget. You can find more affordable housing in the suburbs but then the traffic becomes more of a problem, and while it's true that the Metro goes many places, after decades of mismanagement the system is in pretty rough shape, and sections of the system are prone to being shut down for scheduled or emergency repairs on a fairly regular basis now.

I loved living in Durham. It sounds like it's probably a smaller city that what you're looking for, but it does have a lot going for it. It's more diverse than you might expect, and it's got a healthy arts scene. It's also easy to get to Chapel Hill and Raleigh for an even larger menu of events. I'm not a church attendee, but I had friends there who were happy with their queer-friendly churches. I think it's the most affordable of the cities you mention: I was a graduate student while I lived there, and I saved money. There's a number of good hiking areas within easy day-trip range. As far as Raleigh goes, I think it's generally less diverse and more conservative than Durham or Chapel Hill, and didn't generally seem to be quite as vibrant a place to live to me. On the downside, the public transit is quite limited, so be prepared to drive a lot. There's also not a lot nearby to the Triangle area, so unlike, say, the Northeast Corridor, you're somewhat limited in terms of access to other metro regions. The state legislature has also fallen off the right-wing deep end.

I liked Atlanta. It wasn't exactly for me but it had a lot going for it. I lived in Grant Park and while it was a bit pricey, we rented a nice house within the range that you give as your budget. Overall I don't think it's an extremely expensive city, but it's not as cheap as a smaller city like Durham; certainly it's more affordable than DC, though. The city as a whole is quite pleasantly diverse, but at the neighborhood level can be surprisingly segregated. I didn't find the MARTA public transit to be particularly useful, and traffic was definitely very bad, though not as bad as DC. Georgia state-level politics also suck and seemed to be getting worse, so be aware of that.

I really like Philly, and my wife and I are hoping to stay here for the foreseeable future. The public transit is the best of any place I've lived, there's plenty to do, there's lots of diversity of many sorts. Overall my monthly expenses are similar to Atlanta. On your budget, I don't think you'd have any trouble finding a good apartment in a nice neighborhood. Be aware that the renting culture in Philadelphia is wildly biased towards landlords, though: the standard here is to pay the first and last month's rent up front, plus a deposit. And I have yet to meet someone who moved into an apartment that had actually been cleaned before they moved in. As far as crime, I'm more aware of proximity to violent crime than in the other places I've lived, but in general I don't feel unsafe taking SEPTA or walking the streets at night in the neighborhoods that I need to go. There are parts of the city I'd avoid but I think that's true of every major city.

Overall I think you'd find any of the cities on your list will probably meet what you're looking for. I think you'd have the most trouble affording DC on your budget, though it's not impossible if you pick your neighborhood really carefully and are willing to "commute" to the arts venues and museums in the city proper. Honestly I would consider Durham before Raleigh, but really if your plan is to visit all of these places anyway, I think you'll need to check them out and see what you think for yourself.

Good luck!
posted by biogeo at 9:22 PM on October 7, 2019

I am a current Durham resident, and when you're visiting Raleigh, I would recommend visiting the Triangle area as a whole: Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill / Carrboro, Cary. The area is like you took what people typically think of as a big city but then stretched it out unevenly, so you ended up with areas of concentrated population and some not as populated, but all somehow still connected. So someone may live in Durham but work in Morrisville and end up doing grocery shopping in Cary. Sadly public transit is quite limited, so all this will involve driving.

Locally people make fun of Cary as the land of minivans, but it's also where in the past several years there has been an explosion of Indian and East Asian businesses, including restaurants and grocery stores. And a lot of office parks, or in other words, jobs.

Check out the local free weekly, Indy Week, to get a flavor of the area. Incidentally, the founder and former owner of the paper is the current Durham mayor.
posted by research monkey at 5:19 AM on October 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Current Raleigh resident here.

The job market here is red-hot, and downtown Raleigh is a lot of fun. Diversity is a bit lacking, but it's certainly a blue dot in an increasingly purple state. Plus, I've found you really can go car-free here, if you're careful about where you work. Chapel Hill and Durham are great, but CH in particular is a bit small - that being said, it's a great community, and Durham has a lot of really cool stuff right now - just a bit smaller than Raleigh.

Have you considered Richmond? I moved from there, and it might check some boxes. Great arts/culture/food, more bike/ped friendly than ATL/CLT/RDU, a bit cheaper than DC/Philly.
posted by Vhanudux at 7:08 AM on October 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

From your list I'd take Philadelphia.

As a DC resident I'll plug for it.
Good: DC is not as wildly expensive as stated but you will stretch your budget to afford living there without roommates. That said, you're both in fields that have lots of employment in the DC area and DC employers pay up because of the higher cost of living. You get proximity to Baltimore for your existing connections there (and can even commute to Baltimore from DC if it comes to that but at that point the cost of living starts to point toward moving to Baltimore). DC is no longer majority black but they're still a very large part of the population and culture. Tons of Ethiopian food in the city but if you want Korean you'll need to make your way out to the suburbs for the good stuff. DC is also a very queer friendly place with lots of social opportunities outside of church (and if you aren't in the political space you'll barely ever notice or run into them, DC has a lot more going on than politicians). DC bike infrastructure has improved substantially in recent years with real protected lanes and some decent trails - might be a replacement for hiking for you since aside from the National Arboretum there isn't a lot of public transit accessible hiking. There is good hiking near DC by car if you plan to have one.

Bad: It will cost more than anywhere else you're considering. As with Philly, in DC there are echoes of segregation and redlining but they're not as rigid as in Atlanta/NC cities. The public transit does have issues but it is still miles ahead of most US cities. There is a lot of art here but it's mostly large scale stuff like the Smithsonian. There are some smaller art communities here but DC is too expensive to support the kind of scene that Baltimore does.

Start applying now. I don't know a lot but one thing I do know is everyone I know in this space spent months applying applying applying and heard nothing until suddenly they were hired with basically no notice from an application they put in 6 months before. When they need you, inevitably because someone burned out and quit on them, they will do anything to get you but until then they won't tell you anything.
posted by Nec_variat_lux_fracta_colorem at 8:30 AM on October 8, 2019

Charlottean here. Charlotte gets a bit of a bad (and IMO outdated) rap, especially from people elsewhere in the state. It's the biggest city in North Carolina and essentially the biggest city until you hit Atlanta, Miami or Washington DC heading West, South or North. I don't know if you should move here, but I can try to answer your prompts. I, and my family, really like it here.

*Diversity. "According to the 2010 United States Census, the racial composition of Charlotte was 45.1% White or Caucasian, 35.0% Black or African American, 13.1% Hispanic or Latin American, 5.0% Asian, 0.5% Native American, 0.1% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, 6.8% some other race, and 2.7% two or more races."

I would imagine the percentage of Hispanic or Latin American residents has increased since 2010, as North Carolina in general has experienced a significant net inward migration of Latinx peoples. Lots of people who criticize Charlotte as some sort of bland suburb seem to overlook it's true diversity. I think some critics maybe just come in and visit an outer suburb, or take in a Panthers game and just leave. Our family has spent its entire 10 years in East Charlotte, which is the most international part of the city, so we have experienced Salvadoran, Honduran, Vietnamese, Palestinian, Somalian, Ethiopian, and Jamaican food and culture among many others. Our family likes to go to a little nameless Korean restaurant in the Super G mart in outer East Charlotte on the weekends. The whole food court there is a Pan-Asian set of counters where I can order Budae Jiggae, milk boba tea, taro buns and tres leches for dessert (and yes, I know tres leches is not Asian). About the only food I haven't personally experienced in Charlotte is Himalyan/Nepalese. But that's relatively rare in the US. I haven't had wonderful sushi here, but I was spoiled in previous places that I lived as they were near major Japanese manufacturing interests that brought over Japanese citizens for multi-year stays.

Also, I am a white person, so I don't know what it's like to be the only visible brown person, but in both places that I've lived in Charlotte, I've had black, white, Latinx and Asian neighbors. I pretty much always see a diversity of people wherever I go in Charlotte, but again, I live in the most international part of the city and my work is at the city's university.

*Queer communities. This I don't know as much about as I am not LGBTQ. I do work with several colleagues who are LGBTQ, two of whom have lived in Charlotte for 25+ years. I think they might say they have strong communities (they have introduced me to numerous people in the LGBTQ community, anyway), but I don't want to completely presume that. So, maybe another LGBTQ Charlottean will be along to comment. I am personally somewhat familiar with TimeOut Youth, Charlotte's LGBTQ youth center and advocacy group, and Charlotte's HRC chapter.

*Communities outside of church, or queer churches. I know that Charlotte's UU churches are explicitly welcoming of LGBTQ members. I would imagine there are some others that are, as well. Again, as I noted above, I am not LGBTQ, so I don't want to presume anything in my answers.

*Art and culture. Well, both my partner and I work professionally in the visual arts here in Charlotte. I would say it's plenty strong, particularly for the size of the city. These are the arts institutions I am familiar with, that you might Google: The Mint Museum, The Bechtler Museum, the Harvey B Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture, The McColl Center, Goodyear Arts, The Projective Eye Gallery, ClayWorks. There's also Blumenthal Performing Arts Center and the Knight Theater, which are part of the Bechtler/Mint/Gantt area. Things I am a bit less familiar with include the Belk Theater, the Charlotte Ballet and the Charlotte Symphony. A fair amount of contemporary pop culture (like live music and standup comedy) happens at the Music Factory Complex on the north side of Uptown.

*Close to good hiking spots. Charlotte would beat out Raleigh or Atlanta on this, as it is the closest to Western North Carolina. You mentioned snow covered mountains - Mt Mitchell is about a two hour drive from Charlotte and it's the highest point east of the Mississippi River! We went there once on a day that it was 95 degrees in Charlotte and the high at the peak of Mt Mitchell was 65! You could also hike much closer to Charlotte at the Whitewater Center or Crowders Mountain.

*Bonus points. If there was pretty good public transportation or bike paths. Uhhhh... I don't think public transportation or biking is easy in Charlotte, although I have used them both. In fact, I used to ride my bike to a bus stop that took me to work. The biggest problem was the infrequency of the buses - they came on time, but only every hour. Charlotte is expanding its light rail, but it primarily serves a North / South axis that goes from the University down through Uptown and out to some South suburbs. Charlotte is as bad as most American cities wrt regard to bicycling. You do see it in East Charlotte some, but I would be pretty weary of drivers.

Good luck with your move!
posted by Slothrop at 12:13 PM on October 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

If Asheville is NC's Austin, then Charlotte is its Dallas. I wouldn't want to live there personally (but then, I hate driving!)

The thing about NC is, its big cities tend to sprawl, so if you want a big city feel then you need to consider density over population size. If I moved back to NC, I think I'd want to live in Durham, even though it isn't one of the biggest, because 1. it has some lovely walkable downtown areas and 2. it's close to a lot of other interesting stuff.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:41 PM on October 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

From the list, definitely Atlanta. Hydropsyche hit most of the high points.

For neighborhoods, I will totally shill my neighborhood of Jefferson Park in East Point. While technically not in the city of Atlanta, we're ITP (inside the Perimeter) with a great MARTA connection between the airport (though only 2 stops away, we only rarely get plane noise) and the rest of the city. The neighborhood is diverse: racially, socio-economically, and lgbt-friendly, with lots of queer folk. Plus, Atlanta in general has the largest queer community in the South. Also, in the interest of establishing boundaries and minimizing unannounced drop-ins, living southwest of downtown, you might as well be out-of-state as far as people living in Lawrenceville are concerned (at least an hour by car, way more in traffic). Lot less likely to just show up than if you're living in Midtown or something.

Other neighborhoods you should check out that will be more affordable than Midtown or O4W are West Atlanta (especially the older neighborhoods towards West End, which is also close to the BeltLine) and East Atlanta Village (which is really South Atlanta).

For urban biking/hiking trails, there is of course the BeltLine, with new segments coming online all the time. East Point doesn't have a direct connection (yet, but they just started on our own trail network that will connect), but it's not far away. The BeltLine also connects with other trails, like the Freedom Park Trail. Plus Atlanta has lots and lots (and lots) of parks, and we're basically the city in the forest.
posted by yggdrasil at 11:44 AM on October 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

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