Moving question, smaller town near a bigger city edition
April 2, 2020 2:20 PM   Subscribe

My latest coping mechanism is daydreaming about future times and moving to a new place. Help me figure out where to move in a year or two!

My partner and I live in Denver and we’re starting to get restless for somewhere new and different. We're both interested in living in a smaller place again -- big enough to have some culture and stuff to do, but small enough to be cheaper, quieter, slower paced. We also want to be near enough to a bigger city that we have occasional access for a night out or more diverse music and food options.

An example of what we're looking for is Fayetteville, AR. Partner used to live there and loved it. It's a college town (U of Arkansas), about 85K people plus 30K students, beautiful, very green, lots of hiking trails with hardly anyone on them, good food scene, small but robust live music scene, more liberal and safer for us (queer and trans). A downside is that the nearest bigger cities are all 3+ hours away. Also considering Savannah, GA, which we've heard good things about and sounds similar to Fayetteville in many ways. (Would love to hear your perspective if you're familiar with it.)

Here’s what we’re looking for...
- Cheaper cost of living, especially housing
- Access to nature/trees around/access to secluded or less busy nature
- Friendly culture
- Safe for queer and trans people
- Small town (not suburbia) with access to a nearby city

Denver is a nice place to live for a lot of reasons, but for comparison here are some of the reasons we want to leave Denver:
- Cost of housing
- Small city = inconveniences of city life without the culture/food/music of a bigger city
- Nature is not that accessible. Driving into the mountains takes several hours, there is usually considerable traffic and trails/campgrounds are often crowded.
- Culture in general… feels very young, white and lacking in personality.

Would love to hear about places where you've spent a significant amount of time and can speak to the general atmosphere/character of the place! Also, if possible, what you like about both the smaller town and the bigger city. We're mostly looking in the South and Midwest, but are open to other suggestions.

Excited to hear your thoughts!!
posted by switcheroo to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm planning a move to Tacoma WA for many of the same reasons, except for queer and trans.
If you don't mind humidity, maybe Durham NC?
posted by travertina at 2:32 PM on April 2, 2020

Ashville NC! Meets all your criteria. It is a bit young and white, very much like a smaller, chiller version of Boulder. Great local music and art scene, very progressive, and in a beautiful area. Maybe look at Chandler too (10 min away) if you want a cheap place on a lot of land.
posted by ananci at 2:38 PM on April 2, 2020

I have suggested Iowa City as a dark horse before. A bit farther to Chicago than you might like, but honestly I think price is going to be your tipping point here, whether you're willing to pay more or compromise on one of the other factors.
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:09 PM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest Corvallis but it's not cheap either. And... the PNW is SOOOO white. Again, compromise, but it is a thing to know because ooof I thought I knew what whiteness was and then I moved here.
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:12 PM on April 2, 2020

Urbana-Champaign, IL! It's super-progressive and fairly diverse. There are a lot of cornfields surrounding it, but there are also nature trails. Chicago is a train ride away; Indianapolis is 2 hrs' drive. Lots of arts & culture & great food because of the presence of U of I.

Also have heard good things about Athens, GA.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 3:21 PM on April 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Lawrence, Kansas is one of my favorite cities. It’s an hour from Kansas City. I describe it as an unpretentious Ann Arbor (where I live now - also nice but less affordable).
posted by FencingGal at 3:33 PM on April 2, 2020

Northampton/Amherst Mass. Less than 2 hours to Boston and Providence. Less than 3 to NYC. Within a couple hours of White Mountains, Green Mountains, Berkshires.
You can really get remote in Northern New England. Within a couple hours of great beaches.
I am not exaggerating when I say you could never run out weekend road trips.
posted by ReluctantViking at 3:45 PM on April 2, 2020

Dayton, Ohio is super cheap, has an extensive trail network, and is in the middle of three big cities (Columbus, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis). If you’re OK with a small town just outside of a small city just outside of big cities, check out Yellow Springs, which is like ten minutes from downtown Dayton but culturally... well, it’s unique.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:38 PM on April 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Minneapolis / St. Paul has a ton of exurbs that fit your bill nicely. We live in a quiet town of about 8000 (with smaller towns surrounding it) and outside of our growing 'downtown' it's quite a rural area, but it's only an hour from downtown Minneapolis - we (used to) make that commute nearly every day. An hour the other way and you're well into 'Lakes / Cabin Country'. Tons of nature, and Minneapolis has a pretty prominent and active LGBTQ community. Cost of living is also very reasonable, far below the inner burbs and city proper.
posted by SquidLips at 4:48 PM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

The areas around Madison, WI and St. Louis both might work for you. Madison is a surprisingly cosmopolitan city considering its size, though it may not fit your definition of affordable. And it's not especially far from Chicago or Minneapolis if you need to get even more cosmopolitan. In the St. Louis metro area look at places like Webster Groves. St. Louis itself is quite cosmopolitan, but it is surrounded by excellent places to go hiking or canoeing. In either case nature is at most a 20 or 30 minute drive away.
posted by Tehhund at 9:09 PM on April 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seconding Squidlips. We just moved from the Twin Cities metro to a small town only about 25 minutes north and we love it. Not a *ton* of culture (there's like 4 restaurants and an art gallery) but very welcoming and we love how quiet the neighborhoods are. And when the pandemic is over we can motor to the big city in no time!
posted by Bacon Bit at 6:19 AM on April 3, 2020

If your partner has experienced Fayetteville, I'd be interested in their take on Little Rock. I grew up there and miss it terribly enough that I have been thinking about moving back (after 15 years in France, DC, LA, and SF). Fewer than 200K people, comes with all the culture of several universities and the government/capital infrastructure, an exploding and diverse queer scene (seriously, there was one gay bar when I was growing up and now there are paste-ups for genderfuck performances), great art and music, some gorgeous neighborhoods in the center of the city (and jsut over the river in North Little Rock, especially the Argenta Arts District), the cutest lil' airport that is never crowded, and a gorgeous setting perched on a river where the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains meet before the river spills out into the Mississippi Delta. Outdoor activities are close by and varied, and in no way crowded like trails and campsites are around big cities. After a decade and a half elsewhere, the cost of living is so reasonably low that I can tear up reading real estate listings.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:02 PM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

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