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June 23, 2006 4:34 AM   Subscribe

What is the most independent-minded city in the US?

We are looking at relocation options, and we decided we want to live somewhere where people follow the herd the least, think for themselves the most, are most skeptical, take the least on faith, and generally have the most lively and engaging open debate on everything. Bonus points for a thriving college / art and music scene.
posted by ZenMasterThis to Society & Culture (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
my first thought is San Francisco. I mean they have universal healthcare now... i'd consider that pretty independent-minded. I don't know about thinking for themselves the most, they seem to lean to the left no matter what (if that's a good thing or not - your call), but i'd call their debates open and engaging. they do not have such a "college scene" unless you go across the bay to berkeley, but SF has UCSF (health sciences school), USF, and some others which make their immediate environment college-like. art and music, definitely.
posted by ruwan at 4:40 AM on June 23, 2006

I'd second San Francisco. Also, the nearby Berkeley.
posted by hazelshade at 4:43 AM on June 23, 2006

Austin is in the only blue county in Texas.

I also liked Seattle, MA's Pioneer Valley (Amherst, Northampton, South Hadley et al), and Eugene on my visits there. When I lived in Denver, I drove to Boulder several days a week.
posted by brujita at 4:45 AM on June 23, 2006

Sounds a lot like asheville, nc
posted by necessitas at 5:09 AM on June 23, 2006

I lived in San Francisco for 8 years. Miss it terribly sometimes, but after a while, it just got exhausting, being balanced on that cutting edge for that long.

I'd vote for Berkeley across the Bay, maybe even Oakland under the Jerry Brown regime. A little less intense.
Austin, Texas I've heard good things about.

But what do I know? I moved to St Petersburg, Florida.
posted by willmize at 5:14 AM on June 23, 2006

Like Mick said: "Stuck around St. Petersburg/When I saw it was time for a change..." ;)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:15 AM on June 23, 2006

I can only speak for the northeast, but I'll second MA's Pioneer Valley (Amherst, Northampton). Although, if I had the money, I'd head west. The west coast is just more naturally beautiful, there seems to be more to do, etc.
posted by tom_g at 5:32 AM on June 23, 2006

Austin is in the only blue county in Texas.

I don't think so.

That being that, Austin is a good choice for you
posted by bigmusic at 5:42 AM on June 23, 2006

Thanks for the correction. Shanna Compton pointed out Travis County in her blog on 11-5-04 and I hadn't remembered the others on the map.
posted by brujita at 6:08 AM on June 23, 2006

Austin is like it's own little country. It's beautiful.
posted by NinjaTadpole at 6:09 AM on June 23, 2006

Eugene, OR
posted by mkultra at 6:10 AM on June 23, 2006

Key West makes San Francisco seem like DC. Name one other city in the US that has lobbied to be recognized as an independent Conch Republic.
posted by JJ86 at 6:12 AM on June 23, 2006

Madison, WI. People there do tend to follow the herd, but at least it's in a slightly different direction. It rises to the top when you mention the importance of a thriving college / art and music scene.
posted by stainofmind at 6:35 AM on June 23, 2006

In Northampton, MA you will have a hardtime fiinding a carnovore meal, and everyone will agree with you that highschools are prisons, and will invite you to their home-schooling commune.

< /mild exageration>
posted by gmarceau at 6:49 AM on June 23, 2006

gmarceau - I would say that's more than a *mild* exaggeration. If Northampton was really like that I would move back there in a second.
posted by tom_g at 6:58 AM on June 23, 2006

Come to NYC. You can be anyone and do almost anything and people won't give you any grief. If you want to walk down the street wearing clown shoes, a bathing suit and a tie no one will stop you or even give you a second look (except for the tourists).

The strange sh*t I regularly see on the streets of NYC never ceases to amaze me.
posted by camworld at 7:08 AM on June 23, 2006

MONTANA. 'Nuff said.
posted by davidmsc at 7:42 AM on June 23, 2006

NYC - People in NY take nothing on faith and are skeptical about everything although they're also completely cynical and sarcastic which can get annoying. I'd say it's gotta be the most skeptical city in the US.

The art/music scene is definitely thriving.

I've never lived in San Fran but have heard nothing but good things.
posted by bingwah at 7:50 AM on June 23, 2006

I'm not sure I accept the premise of the question. In cities like San Francisco, Austin, and my beloved Seattle, there's just a different group consensus that people follow. How can a city have an identifiable flavor without people agreeing (if tacitly) to a loose set of beliefs and procedures? It's like how when kids rebel, they tend to do it in predictable ways, and how members of groups of nominal non-conformists tend to look alike. If nobody followed the herd, how could there be a music scene or an art scene that was particular to that city?

I think the real question is which city fits your personality best, which city is most fun, most beautiful, and most interesting. The answer is Seattle. :)
posted by Hildago at 8:04 AM on June 23, 2006

Be warned. Austin is too hot for truly thinking about anything.
posted by xmutex at 8:46 AM on June 23, 2006

If you can deal with the summer heat, Austin is the place for you.
posted by Meagan at 9:02 AM on June 23, 2006

We are looking at relocation options, and we decided we want to live somewhere where people follow the herd the least, think for themselves the most

You do ge the irony, right? You want to move to someplace independent, where everyone thinks just like you? Perhaps 'progressive' would have been a better word.

Come to NYC. You can be anyone and do almost anything and people won't give you any grief. If you want to walk down the street wearing clown shoes, a bathing suit and a tie no one will stop you or even give you a second look

You could multiply that by ten in new orleans. At it's best/worst, new orleans makes nyc look stuffy. In fact, if it were not in such bad shape right now, that's the city I would have recommended. But then again, it's more truly independent, which really isn't what you're looking for.
posted by justgary at 9:06 AM on June 23, 2006

If you can deal with the winter cold, Madison WI is the place for you.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:34 AM on June 23, 2006

How the heck do you quantize "independent minded"? I'm reminded of something one of my readers emailed me one time:
About 1972 I was a senior in HS. My younger sister asked me, "Why don't you grow your hair out long and be everybody else!?"
As Hidalgo says, the mere fact that the leftist/progressive mind set dominates the consensus in a given area (e.g. Berkeley) doesn't mean it's "independent minded"; it only means that a different orthodoxy holds sway there.

I would think that the proper measure of "independent mindedness" is prevalent heterodoxy, and that's why I would nominate Atlanta. My ex-girlfriend's lesbian sister and her lover used to live there openly without problems, even though Atlanta is not a city we ordinarily think of as being "progressive" (like Berkeley). That suggests that the place is quite tolerant and that no single orthodoxy dominates.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:47 AM on June 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm with Hildago and justgary on this. Did you mean "where people think liberal thoughts" or did you mean "independent minded"? If you want the latter, any small town in New England will probably do. Find one with a college and art scene (maybe in Maine) and you've found that "liberal thoughts" community again. That's not a value judgement, but I don't see "independent minded" in that kind of community. Then again, maybe "community" and "independent minded" don't really go together.

Maybe just look for some place Bobby Bare Jr. plays and call it a day?
posted by yerfatma at 10:05 AM on June 23, 2006

On post: I'm not so much with SCDB as that seems more an answer to the question, "SDBC, what makes you so damned cool?"
posted by yerfatma at 10:06 AM on June 23, 2006

i definitely second nyc. i would argue that eugene and boulder aren't actually cities and have too many hippies. from what i've heard, austin and asheville are great, but if you want to move somewhere, go to portland. i am campaigning to get all my friends to move there/back there right now.
posted by snofoam at 10:49 AM on June 23, 2006

I would second Asheville, NC. Its small and isn't ashamed of that but it is proudly cosmopolitan at the same time. A very odd and contradictory sort of a place that leans to the progressive side in most of the right ways.
posted by anglophiliated at 11:12 AM on June 23, 2006

Austin sucks. Don't move here.
posted by donajo at 11:19 AM on June 23, 2006

I would think that the proper measure of "independent mindedness" is prevalent heterodoxy...

Yes, SCDB, that's exactly what I meant.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:52 AM on June 23, 2006

I lived in Austin for four years and I liked it a lot. It's a really nice place to live. That said, it's overhyped. It's cool, but it's not that cool.
posted by giantfist at 12:27 PM on June 23, 2006

I'd think about hobbies/groups/etc you'd like to join and scope out their prevelance in the area via the web.

meetup might be good for some quick queries for groups about "skeptical open debate". an area that attracts a lot of scientists perhaps? (I don't know anything about NC, but remember hearing "research triangle").

think about the history of an area, what people the industries attract, & opportunities there. examples of why friends are various places: austin - budding musicians, LA - progressive community building group, chicago - great balance, design/education/computers/etc w/out workaholic-aggravating (less "cutting edge exhaustion" mentioned earlier) + some good univs for grad school. nyc - publishing/law, strong orthodox jewish community.
posted by ejaned8 at 12:36 PM on June 23, 2006

Not here. Go away.
-Santa Fe
posted by pointilist at 1:47 PM on June 23, 2006

tagging on late, I'd just have to interject: I know nothing about the other communities / cities mentioned but for one, and I live here: Boulder.

I love the place dearly and I would never leave due to the vast circle of friends I have here, and the fact that the weather and demographics really cater to my active outdoorsy lifestyle.

however I have to say it absolutely fulfils to the letter what Hidalgo was talking about. Boulder is essentially overrun with a huge clique of the most narrow-minded liberals I've ever encountered. Don't eat vegan / smoke pot / vote green party, blah blah blah? too bad, you're just 'too normal' for us. o yes they'll smile and be ultra polite but afterwards they'll just avoid you and drift off to yoga class with like-minded individuals who 'don't give off such negative energy' if I hear that particular phrase one more time I will destroy something small cute and fluffy

add to that all the followers, sheeple, hangers-on, joiners, trustafarians and random assorted straphangers who've piled into the Boulder Valley since about the mid-1960's (yea, well, this includes me of course...) and it looks as though the Curse Of Chief Niwot is well on its way to being fulfilled.

...and of course, it's a trendy essential for all us non-natives to constantly bitch and moan about the overcrowding and the bureaucrasy and the hippies too. so... yea. But I ain't moving, either.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:13 PM on June 23, 2006

In Austin, everyone thinking for themselves and being skeptical is actually a bit of a problem. No one can come to any consensus about what Austin wants to be when it grows up. A lot of people are passionate and progressive, but everyone has different ideas about what progress is. Consequently, we argue and argue and argue and nothing ever happens.
posted by lunalaguna at 2:27 PM on June 23, 2006

Austin's demographics:

1.) Liberal yuppies who spend their money shopping for overpriced organic produce and sending their kids to Montossori school. They'll buy a painting by an indie artist but don't want "that element" in their neighborhood.

2.) College kids, either drunk and rowdy and always at a football game, or scenester kids who'll buy $200 pair of jeans to be hip.

3.) Dirty hippies.

4.) Brown people who live on the poor east side and are therefore unworthy of being taken into account when keeping Austin weird, though they were all here first. These are the folks the rich yuppies will buy eclectic Mexican pottery sculptures from, but won't want them as neighbors.

5.) Artists and creative types who are one or all of the above.

6.) Normal people.

7.) Me. I want to say I'm #6, but I look like a #4, act like the second half of #2 with a healthy dose of #5, and will grow up to probably be a #1.

But dear god it's better than any other (major) Texas city or town. The attitude is much more accepting and less conservative than any other place in Texas I've visited.
posted by lychee at 4:55 PM on June 23, 2006

On my first visit to Portland (OR), a local was taking me for a tour. It's an attractive place, but the cityscape seemed somewhat unusual in a way I couldn't pinpoint. She nodded and said, "It's the least-churched city in the least-churched state in the country."

"Take the least on faith," indeed.
posted by rob511 at 5:55 PM on June 23, 2006

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