Raleigh or Iowa City?
February 15, 2007 4:52 AM   Subscribe

Where should we live? Raleigh, NC or Iowa City, IA?

My wife, an academic, has job offers in Raleigh (NC State) and Iowa City (U of Iowa). We don't know much about either. We currently live in Ann Arbor and like it just fine. But we lived in DC and liked it too. No kids yet, but there probably will be in the not too distant future. Looking to settle down. I'm a writer. So, what’s life like for young couples Raleigh and Iowa City?
posted by MarshallPoe to Home & Garden (24 answers total)
Raleigh is a great place to live. The whole area if fantastic, actually. I just graduated from there (though not from NC state) and the area's beautiful if you love wooded country-side type living.

There are a ton of young families like yours in the area, so I suppose you'll be at home. The school's in Raleigh are pretty good too.

I don't know too much about Iowa City, but I'd assume the cost of living is lower there. Houses will probably be a lot cheaper, but the weather will be colder.

Raleigh snows about once a year, and it's that fake snow that 's not really anything but closes everything down.

As for your wife, with Duke, UNC, and Wake Forest nearby, I'd assume she'd have more opportunities for advancement or collaboration or whatever professors do.

Whatever you decide, if you do decide to live in Raleigh, just don't move to Durham :-)

Good Luck!
posted by unexpected at 5:21 AM on February 15, 2007


You'll be driving distance from both the ocean and the mountains. In Iowa you will be driving distance from cows and corn.
posted by konolia at 5:46 AM on February 15, 2007

A hearty and obnoxious GUFFAW towards the fellow who says "whatever you decide ... just don't move to Durham." Of the three areas in the Triangle (Raleigh/NCSU, Chapel Hill/UNC and Durham/Duke), Durham is by leaps and bounds my favorite and many others agree. (I lived in CH for five years, worked in Raleigh for two and have been living in Durham for the last four.)

As for NC State vs. Iowa, I can only speak for the former as I know nothing about Iowa. The weather probably wins out over Iowa (unless you prefer bitter cold to sweltering heat). The job opportunities for a trailing spouse (if that's an issue) would be good. The cost of living isn't bad, the access to plenty of universities for collaboration/research facilities (as unexpected also mentions) is definitely there. Plus you've got the mountains and the beach within a 2-4 hour drive.
posted by 10ch at 5:48 AM on February 15, 2007

I grew up in Iowa City. I don't know anything about Raleigh.

I can't imagine Iowa City is a whole ton different from Ann Arbor. It's relatively cosmopolitan for a small place, probably like any liberal midwestern college town, but if you want big city excitement you'll be disappointed. The school system is fantastic and the town is renowned as a home for writers (and everyone likes to talk about how great Prairie Lights is).

What do you like to do for fun? The nightlife is sorta limited. There's hiking, but nothing very wildernessy. Lots of college sports and fun weather, hot muggy summers and cold windy winters. You can get a house in the country and still be fifteen minutes from work. Downtown parking is easy. There's a fantastic gourmet/natural/healthy food store. The city is right on Interstate 80, which makes it easy to give out of towners directions and/or escape to Chicago or something. There's a big reservoir and a pretty river. There's a top rated teaching hospital. So, it's a nice place and a good place to grow up. And all the presidental candidates visit. Iowa City is not overwhelmingly exciting, though.
posted by thirteenkiller at 5:49 AM on February 15, 2007

Iowa City is a pretty hip little town, for the classic reason -- "University Town."

Raleigh is less hip, because it is a city with a University, not a Unversity Town. There is one of those nearby, though, Chapel Hill (and UNC) as well as Duke (in Durham).

I get hives at the thought of NC, but that's me personally. NC is a lovely state, both the mountains and the Outer Banks are amazing.

Iowa is flat, except along the Mississippi river (Dubuque, IA is *anything but flat.*)

NC will have very long, ugly summers, punctuated by the occasional hurricane. Iowa will have rather long, ugly winters, and in the summer, you'll get the occasional tornado. RDU is a better airport than IOW (you can even get a non-stop to London.)

If you like city, the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) is a much better bet that Iowa City. If you hate the city, invert that. However, if your definition of city is "Brooklyn" or "Chicago", both are towns to you.

If you hate college basketball, you really don't want to be *anywhere* near the Triangle come March. Rivalries are intense --- it doesn't help that the UNC and NC State are fifty miles apart, but the real rivalry is UNC-Duke.

Both U of IA and NC State are good schools. The Triangle has two other good schools very close (UNC, Duke University) which may make it easier for academics to stay employed. U of IA is, I think, larger than any of them (but probably not all of them together -- none of them are small schools.)

If you're a cyclist, Iowa City has flats and hills, RDU is rollers.

Finally, the water of Iowa City is, well, "special" Plan on installing water filters. It won't hurt you, but to quote Berke Breathed "I won't miss the water. It tastes like Spic-&-Span."
posted by eriko at 5:51 AM on February 15, 2007

Oh geez, the water is fine.

posted by thirteenkiller at 5:54 AM on February 15, 2007

I lived in Greensboro for a couple of years and liked living in North Carolina a lot. It has a good mix of Southernness and cosmopolitinization. However, coming from up north, it may be a bit of a culture shock. D.C. it ain't. You also may wish to compare the relative strengths of the schools that your wife would work at. I have heard some bad things about N.C. State. Finally, Raleigh is only about forty-five minutes from one of the best concert venues in the southeast.
posted by ND¢ at 6:09 AM on February 15, 2007

Iowa City is a wonderful place, but it's lost something in recent years. A massive mall built just down the road in Coralville has sucked some of the life out the place. Specialty shops, toy stores and other small businesses simply weren't able to compete and have had to leave.

Locals in the surrounding communities have very little reason to visit anymore. As a result, there are many more bars (always a good business in a college town) than there were when I left in 1999.

Still, it's a beautiful town with wonderful people and great schools. The other day, I ran into a good friend from my University days - he's got a three year old - and he said he was giving serious thought to moving back. It's a great place for kids.

I'm quite biased, of course, but I vote for Iowa City. Even now, I miss the place. And as you're only up in Ann Arbor, you may as well head down and visit for a couple of days before making any final decisions.
posted by aladfar at 6:11 AM on February 15, 2007

I have never been to Iowa City - in fact, Ann Arbor has been my first foray into living in the Midwest (I too will be facing a problem similar to yours in a couple of years, that of moving for an academic position with a trailing spouse). That said, I did a stint in Chapel Hill some time back.

Considering Raleigh in isolation is not the right way to evaluate living in the area. As others have pointed out, Raleigh is considered part of the Triangle along with Durham and Chapel Hill, throwing in Research Triangle Park/Cary in the mix if one feels like it. So Raleigh is not a city like Chicago or NYC, but it's not a city like Ann Arbor or Charlottesville, VA, either. Because of the proximity of several relatively large population centers, the area has great amenities (especially restaurants!) that would not be there if there was only one city in isolation. Getting from one point to another in the Triangle is a breeze compared to most commutes involving suburbs/large cities, such as in the Detroit or D.C. area. The trailing spouse issue would make me pick Raleigh - it's part of a large urban area, with plenty of companies, universities, and research institutes. I just feel there would be more opportunities even compared to Ann Arbor.

If you visit the Triangle area pay a visit to A Southern Season and see how it compares to Zingerman's! Also take a look at The Independent, the free weekly for the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area.
posted by needled at 6:39 AM on February 15, 2007

10ch...I lived in Durham for the last 4 years too, and by that I meant I went to Duke! Duke was fantastic, but living in Durham was hell.

I think the highlight of my experiences in Durham was last year, when one of my friends got beat up at cookout for being white a week after the LAX scandal broke.

This in general highlights my relationship to the city. I have never seen a city hate its University as much as Durham hates Duke.

posted by unexpected at 7:35 AM on February 15, 2007

I grew up in Iowa, went to college near Iowa City, and lived in Ames for several years after college. Three years ago we moved to NC.

Iowa City is a great town, at least it was when I was driving there to see bands play, and it's similar to Ann Arbor in my limited opinion (been to AA only once). Public schools in Iowa are top-notch.

For me, the things about NC that rule over Iowa are: warmer winters (my daffodils have been in bloom since early January), less snow, great restaurants and specialty stores, more nightlife (e.g. music scene), gorgeous natural beauty, major sports teams (go 'Canes!), quick drive to the ocean, proximity to mountains, driving distance to DC, ~1hr flight to NYC. People complain about the hot, humid summers here, but to me they're not much different from Iowa summers.

The Triangle is great and it's booming right now. A lot of the suburbs south of Raleigh are growing very fast, but in my humble opinion those towns are a bit sterile, with nothing but big houses and big-box stores. Chapel Hill is a great bohemian town, but houses are crazy-expensive there. We ended up choosing Durham and it's fantastic. And um, at least in my neighborhood, Durham loves Duke quite a bit.
posted by statolith at 7:55 AM on February 15, 2007

Seconding the fact that working in Raleigh means you could live in or avail yourself of Durham, Chapel Hill, and a few other suburbs. You could even live out in the forest if you wanted and still be driving distance from NCSU. FWIW, the Triangle has 4 good hospitals. I don't know about Iowa City or Ann Arbor, but not having a car in the Triangle isn't much of an option. That's about the only drawback I can think of, if it matters at all. Otherwise, the Triangle is going to have more options for everything.
posted by Martin E. at 8:10 AM on February 15, 2007

reasons to move to raleigh:

1: awesome music scene
2: relatively warm weather
3: close to beach
4: close to mountains
5: great schools
6: lots of smart people
7: down to earth
8: north carolina bbq
9: cool accents.
10 i could list for days.

i miss raleigh, lived there for 3 years.

have fun with you move and email me if you have any questions about the area!
posted by kneelconqueso at 8:13 AM on February 15, 2007

Since you are a writer, it's worth noting that U of Iowa's Writer's workshop is extremely well known and respected. Check out the visiting writers that have been in residence there.

I like Iowa City. I grew up in Ames (Iowa State), and Iowa City is head and shoulders above it as a place to live, IMO (although IC's water really does suck). I went to Madison for college, and since then I've frequently referred to IC as "mini-Madison". It's a nice place.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:21 AM on February 15, 2007

I grew up in Ames (Iowa State), and Iowa City is head and shoulders above it as a place to live, IMO.

Heh. Opinions -- mostly outside of Iowa City -- really do vary on that matter. ... But on to the topic at hand:

Iowa City is a great town with great people, but it's not nearly as enlightened and cosmopolitan as it likes to imagine itself as being. If you're relocating from a big East Coast city like Washington, I suspect you'll be in for a bit of a culture shock if you end up in Iowa City. But as a writer, you'll surely appreciate IC's literary scene and its nationally known writers' workshop, which draws in prominent writers from around the globe.

Iowa City is also about three hours from Chicago, which is surely a bonus. And Iowa in general would be a great place to settle down if you're looking to escape the frantic big city pace.

Oh, and I know nothing about North Carolina.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 9:20 AM on February 15, 2007

nth-ing Raleigh and the Triangle. I've lived here 10+ years and it really does have a lot going for it. The restaurants are great, and many of the best are tucked away in strip malls dotted around the area (that took a little getting used to). I've lived in all three of the major areas, Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill/Carrboro, and I've loved them all. Durham gets an unjust bad rap in my opinion.
posted by malaprohibita at 9:44 AM on February 15, 2007

NC has lots to offer lit-wise as well. For example, UNC's writer-in-residence last year was Joan Didion. While Iowa City has the excellent Prairie Lights bookstore, Raleigh has Quail Ridge and Durham has the Regulator. Both places offer an impressive schedule of writers giving readings.

Plus, if you're a film fan, check out the Carolina Theatre in Durham. They've got a great bunch of festivals all year long, including Retrofantasma, the Nevermore horror fest, and the highly respected Full Frame documentary film fest.
posted by statolith at 10:41 AM on February 15, 2007

As others have said, the university defines Iowa City (and to a certain extent, the UI Hospital defines the University, at least from an administrative angle). There are a lot more grown-ups here than there are in most college towns though. There are tons of writers in Iowa City, many who are not teaching or taking the MFA, but locate here for the history/community and the hospital employs thousands of doctors, nurses, etc. The town is as liberal/progressive as any place in the US, coasts included, but still retains the "Iowa community" feel. It's got Big Ten sports and all that that entails. Lots of restaurants of various ethnicities, and more "nice" places than you would think for a college town. There are no mountains or beaches but there is a big reservoir lake for boating if you're in to that, a true pedestrian-friendly downtown, great public transportation, schools, and library. There are lots of good music venues and a big variety of genres, mostly indie but also a strong showing from roots, jazz, international, etc. Lots of serious theatre and access to independent films via the Bijou theatre.

It's more expensive to live here than in any other part of Iowa, but still cheaper than a lot of non-Iowa places and you can move to the country (for cheap) and still have a 15-20 minute commute. Also, lots of Chicagoland kids in BMWs and Hollister shirts.

Iowa City has had recent work (like in the last 2 or 3 years) on its water and it is fine now. Coralville on the other hand...

You can email me for any more specifics. I'm a new dad in a graduate program. Email's in profile.
posted by jaysus chris at 10:57 AM on February 15, 2007

Raleigh = high humidity in the summer.

Then again, the first and only firefly I've ever seen im my life I saw in Raleigh.
posted by DandyRandy at 11:07 AM on February 15, 2007

Iowa City is great. It is a lot like Ann Arbor, that is to say, midwest college town. The academics are likely better, depending on the discipline. Full teaching hospital, small town feel, 4 hours from Chicago.

They have tons of fireflies there too.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:15 AM on February 15, 2007

The Iowa Writers Workshop would be a fabulous resource.
posted by theora55 at 1:08 PM on February 15, 2007

My overwhelming impression of the Triangle area (from one very brief visit) was that it was suburbia as far as the eye could see. Nice, lots of stuff within a 40 minute drive, but very car-focused. From what I know of IC, there would be less stuff there in absolute terms, but pedestrian-friendly and more united feeling.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:36 PM on February 15, 2007

I just did a lot of research myself in order to figure out where to move. I knew I didn't want to stay in Boston. I was looking for a place with a nice 4-season climate, universities (I have a Ph.D. and love teaching), reasonable cost of living, as well as a good cultural and artistic community. I've been here since Thanksgiving, and I just LOVE it!

Someone mentioned the suburban aspect of Raleigh. I will say that it all really depends on where you live. When I was looking for a place to rent (I am single without kids), I was looking in Historic Oakwood and in the other intown neighborhoods, but I eventually settled on a complex by Lake Johnson Nature Park. I'm right on the lake, and I have a huge porch.

I have friends who live closer to downtown and who walk most places. Where I am, I'm an easy drive to downtown (about 8 minutes) AND I'm close to all the commerce in Cary, which is much more generic suburbian stuff, but it's handy when you need to buy something.

Anyway, this is just one person's opinion. There is a messageboard that you should DEFINITELY check out. It helped me a lot when I was trying to decide. They actually have many threads which compare two cities to one another. Check it out:


If the thread isn't there yet, join and start one. There are so many varied opinions and active participants that you get REALLY helpful answers.
posted by abbyladybug at 8:24 AM on February 16, 2007

Hot off the presses: Raleigh, N.C. best U.S. city for jobs: Forbes
posted by 10ch at 4:18 PM on February 16, 2007

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