What do I need to know before moving out East?
April 2, 2007 9:01 PM   Subscribe

Potentially relocating to suburban NYC from flyover country.

I have a job prospect in Westchester County, NY. I've lived in the Midwest my whole life, both in rural settings and urban, but this time my wife & I are considering the biggest move yet. Your thoughts on a couple of questions:

1. Early 30s, married with one small child, single income a bit shy of $100k. Where might a family like mine typically live to have a manageable commute (by car, most likely) to the area (job is located near Rye, FWIW), and affordable living to boot? I realize it's an extremely broad question, but I'll settle for very general answers. Your creative ideas are welcome too, though. (1a. Are there any good books or resources on the communities outside NYC for folks in our situation, to supplement the millions of books on the City itself?)

2. Having visited NYC and the Northeast just a few times as a tourist, I only have the slightest idea of what it might be like to live there. Looking past the obvious things - it's expensive, the traffic is bad, East Coast people are generally different from Wisconsin people - what would be the major adjustments for someone coming from, say, Milwaukee? I'm thinking in terms of day-to-day life, human interaction, personal economics... and bonus points if you can speak from experience. Thanks...
posted by gazole to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Compared to the Midwest, people will seem unfriendly. It's not that people are unfriendly, but the culture relies heavily on minding one's business. As a result, there is much lower tolerance for harmless trespassing, and you probably won't get waved or nodded at when you are driving around.

I'm not a homeowner, but you most likely aren't going to be able to afford a house in lower Westchester. Luckily, though, there are a lot of highways and you can probably live farther up without having too long of a commute. Danbury, CT comes to mind, and the towns along 684 and 84.
posted by janell at 9:29 PM on April 2, 2007

I moved from Milwaukee to NYC two years ago. My impression is really pretty positive: people from here seem to have more interesting lives and a greater variety of experiences and backgrounds. They are a lot more exciting to meet, and have bigger aspirations.

On the other hand, I have noticed that New Yorkers are absolutely and incurably narcissistic. This becomes annoying after the novelty wears off, and unfortunately the only good adjustment mechanism seems to be becoming a narcissist yourself.

These things are true of the city, but they're probably not as true of Westchester, I don't know. If you're not firmly upper or at least upper middle class, you will probably have some trouble fitting into society there; the general rule for people who have left NYC is that you move to Jersey if you can't afford New York and you move to Westchester if you can afford it but prefer to live in a suburb. I would say Westchester is similar to a snootier suburban WI (if you're familiar with the suburbs of Milwaukee, I'd say it's like a classier and tonier Brookfield or Nicolet).
posted by nasreddin at 10:46 PM on April 2, 2007

Er, I mean Glendale.

One thing you might want to think about is your relationship to the city. Do you want to spend most of your weekends there, or more like an occasional Milwaukee-Chicago trip? Each alternative is worthwhile, but the former involves much larger expenditures while also being much more culturally rewarding. You may feel like New York is your adopted city very soon, or you may grow to hate it. This will probably depend on the kind of people you get to know wherever you settle down.

There are awesome historical places for recreation in Westchester, I find them a lot more colorful than the comparable sites in WI. For instance, Sleepy Hollow cemetery, which is very, very creepy at night. Also, if you plan on living in the area for any length of time, you and your kid will benefit from the highly convenient and relatively inexpensive MetroNorth train, which runs from Grand Central to upstate.
posted by nasreddin at 10:58 PM on April 2, 2007

There's probably tons of Westchester, places that are on the Metro-North, you could live in for 100K. It's not all Scarsdale and Chappaqua.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:10 PM on April 2, 2007

Look, within NY you will find every type of person. Don't let people mar your sense of NYers. Within NYC and the surrounding suburbs, there are plenty of good, intelligent, decent people. Sure there are the not so pleasant ones, but you will find that they are not as plentiful as people would like you to believe.

Yes NY and its surrounding suburbs are expensive, it is quite livable. I would suggest living closer to where I live, Northern Westchester. A quieter lifestyle, a lot of outdoor recreation, good schools, wonderful daytrips literally surrounding you in every direction, beautiful scenic hudson valley, the benefits are abundant.

If you are more interested in learning the good aspects of this area from an actual resident as opposed to the stereotypes, feel free to contact me regarding this.

(early 30s, as close to being married as one can be, similar income, no kids)
posted by wile e at 4:35 AM on April 3, 2007

I have a bunch of friends with a diverse range of familial incomes that grew up in Larchmont-Mamaroneck, just south of Rye. It's definitely do-able.

Also, having lived in NYC, it gets a bad rap. People are far friendlier than they are commonly portrayed. And living in Westchester definitely gives you a great opportunity to explore NYC, which is something that is very worth doing. Don't let it scare you off with subways and things. After a few weekend visits, you'll be on steady ground.
posted by The Michael The at 4:48 AM on April 3, 2007

The wife and I lived in Sleepy Hollow (one block from the famous cemetary) for three years on about $100K (dual-income, no kids until the very end of our stay) and were just fine. I walked to Metro North to commute to my job in NYC everyday. The wife worked a 4-minute drive away. I didn't care much for living there but this was because I truly wanted to stay in the city.

There are some great things to do in Westchester, however.

We left just over a year ago. Here are the places/things I miss just a bit:

Stone Barns at Bue Hill

Walter's Hot Dogs

Anna Shea Chocolates

If you don't mind renting an apartment, you'll be fine. If you need to own a home or need a yard, you'll be miserable because these things are likely out of your price range. Rye is one of the wealthiest towns in the US. Westchester in general is rich, rich, rich and expensive. Even the ugliest house in town, covered with gang tags and in need of desperate repair, can sell for $450,000.

The positive? Well there are some great schools in WC. Something like 10 of the nation's best 100 public schools are there. Also, the river towns are quite charming.
posted by mds35 at 5:55 AM on April 3, 2007

As for resources, the wikipedia entry for Westchester, as well as those for its various towns and villages, looks pretty accurate to me.
posted by mds35 at 6:06 AM on April 3, 2007

Best answer: The most affordable Westchester towns are those with a large proportion of people of color, which seems to go hand in hand with having more light industrial areas. These include Yonkers (where I live), New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, Port Chester, Elmsford, and White Plains.

In all these cities there are nice neighborhoods and not-so-nice ones. Basically, if you're looking for a house, anything that costs less than about $400,000 is likely to be in a crummy area or have some major drawback. There are plenty of condos and apartment complexes but not all are much cheaper than houses, believe it or not.

The I-95 corridor, in my opinion, is among the least pleasant in Westchester. I-95 parallels Route 1, a/k/a the Post Road, which is heavily commercial. These factors combine to make the whole area EXTREMELY congested. Adding to the traffic woe is that fact that, due to topography (sizable ridges that run north and south), it's difficult to go west-to-east and vice versa. There are only a few major routes, and this is one of them. I myself would not want to live in eastern-southern Westchester.

Northern Westchester is quite nice, though expensive. It's less congested and (in my assessment) has bigger, older homes. So are Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Tarrytown and Irvington, the "River Towns," which have a nice small-town feel and an "artsy" reputation. Commuting to Rye from here might be a drag, though.

Hope this helps, and good luck in house-hunting.
posted by scratch at 6:36 AM on April 3, 2007

Compared to the Midwest, people will seem unfriendly. It's not that people are unfriendly, but the culture relies heavily on minding one's business.

Please ignore this ridiculous pablum. As someone who grew up in Dutchess County, lives in Brooklyn and went to school in Michigan, I can attest that there are just as many wankers in the Midwest as there are here, and there are just as many nice, friendly, wave at you people who will bring you pie when you move in.

Now, Rye is on the NY/CT border on the east side of the state, which means if you are going to look at any of the really pleasant and affordable Hudson river towns like Ossining, Peekskill, Cold Spring, etc, you are going to have a horrid commute across the state. Greenwhich, CT, for obvious reasons, is out. But NY towns along 684 might be a nice option, like Mt. Kisco, Somers, Brewster or even Carmel or Pawling. To remain affordable you're probably going to have accept an hour to hour and a half commute each way.

In terms of adjustment - much faster pace of life, much more diverse community and all of the problems that come with diverse communities thrown together, probably higher taxes. You will certainly find better pizza and a broader range of authentic ethnic food to indulge in if you invest in the time to find it. Also, we have the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean. I know, land of a thousand lakes and all, but I've lived on both coasts and in land locked places like Colorado and I will take being a two hour drive from a beach over having to fly to the ocean any day of the week.
posted by spicynuts at 7:12 AM on April 3, 2007

scratch has great advice, in my opinion. When I saw you'll be working in Rye, my first thought for you, living-wise, was Port Chester. It's right next door, there's an up-and-coming feel to it, but it's still (relatively) affordable.
Elmsford or Valhalla might work well too, and are a tolerable commuting distance.
White Plains is generally a bit more city-ish, but also a reasonable commute.
My mother grew up in New Rochelle, and it seems to have gone way downhill.
Mt. Kisco is too far for a comfortable commute to Rye, and it's getting expensive. However, the school district is terrific.
I think Pleasantville is looking like a nice town these days, but I'm not sure about what the commute would be like, and it might be pricey.

I think the most important change from wherever you're moving from is that you're just going to be able to get much, much less for your money when it comes to housing. Be ready for that.

Oh, also, in Westchester and Fairfield (CT) counties, people have taken to driving like they are the most important person on the road. Expect rude driving. I think it's because everyone is the vice-president of something or other, so they think they're more important than everyone else. Whenever I visit my parents, I'm appalled at the rudeness of the drivers around town - it wasn't always like that.
...And this from someone who now lives in Massachusetts.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 9:05 AM on April 3, 2007

I went to an (expensive) northeastern college after growing up in the midwest. What struck me:
* The sheer amount of pavement. Just street, sidewalk, building. No grass. (Though from what I hear, Westchester has open space and lawns.)
* The buildings were tall. My first spring break, it was amazing to me how much sky there was back home. At college I had to sit on top of buildings to get some sky. (This sounds romanticized but is true.)
* People seemed very rich. The raincoat they wore to get from the car to the building was a NorthFace one I wanted for actual backpacking trips but hadn't been able to afford.
* People noticed markers of status that went right over my head for a long time. My Westchester roommate knew which boarding school all of our classmates went to -- I had no mental structures set up to store attendance at X boarding school vs. Y boarding school.

Of course, this is all partially because of the college, and of course, neither the midwest nor the northeast is socially or spatially homogenous. Living in the northeast wasn't the cultural shock I had when I lived in the south for a year, but there was still a noticeable cultural difference.
posted by salvia at 10:12 AM on April 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the great comments so far, everyone. This is exactly the kind of info I'm looking for.
posted by gazole at 10:21 AM on April 3, 2007

Just a few very general comments here, from someone who grew up in central CT (very middle class), then lived in Stamford, CT for 2 years (just a few exits up 95 from Rye) and now lives in NYC for going on 2 years.

Echoing what salvia said, there was definitely some culture shock for me in going from very middle-class areas to areas that are definitely mostly upper-class. I'm sure some people will argue against this, but there is definitely an upper-class vibe in the NYC suburbs that you may or may not be comfortable with at first.

Also, a lot of the suburbs (I'm thinking of Stamford here) have all the drawbacks of the city - little parking, congested, traffic, expensive homes, small yards - without many of the benefits - lots of culture, lots of things to do, easy to get around on foot. Try to go as suburban as you can while still remaining affordable and commutable to Rye.
posted by rachelv at 10:49 AM on April 3, 2007

This is a consideration for waaay down the line, but:
The educational situation for your kid/s will be quite different than it would be in the midwest, most especially if you are still in Westchester when the kids are in high school, looking at colleges. There are a lot of really good schools, and a lot of money/parental investment in the public schools, but there's correspondingly much anxiety about which high school you go to and which college you go to -- and because there are so many qualified students coming from this area of the country, it can be harder to get into selective colleges because they don't want to fill up their incoming class with 80% people from Westchester.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:13 AM on April 3, 2007

You really, really need to think about what is going to pass for an "acceptable commute" for you -- and what you want the most from the move as a whole. For a lot of people in this part of the country, that's a lawn, a house, a charming quiet little town, good schools (though LobsterMitten's caveats are valid).

If you think that's what you'll want most and your funds are at all constrained, be prepared to make what may seem to you like large sacrifices in the form of commute time and quality. For what it's worth, my flyover friends and family are generally pretty horrified by what passes for urban/suburban/exurban commutes around here...
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:49 AM on April 3, 2007

I think a lot of people are confusing a job in Westchester with a job in NYC, commuting from Westchester. (N.B. I live in Manhattan but have lived in Putnam county.)

The thing to keep in mind is, you're living in the suburbs. Wealthy suburbs, yes, but they are not that different than the suburbs anywhere else in the U.S. You have the same big box stores and traffic snarls, but there are a few more upscale stores at the malls.

There are many, many people who live their whole lives in the area you're considering without ever regularly going to NYC -- I even met a few who'd never made the hour-long trip. You have access to the resources of the city, without the expense or crowding, and that can be a very nice tradeoff.

I also agree with a lot of the assessments above -- lots of these places will seem unaffordably expensive. That doesn't mean there aren't lots of good options, though. Just don't let people's impressions of New York City color your judgment about where you're actually going to live.
posted by anildash at 12:54 PM on April 3, 2007

Pepsi is the big company in Rye, no?
posted by spicynuts at 8:17 PM on April 3, 2007

spicynuts, I think that you're unfairly maligning my earlier comment. I grew up in Stamford, CT, and am back living here again after being in the Midwest (MO) for college and the west coast for grad school.

I was never asserting that people from (the Midwest | Westchester) are actually (friendlier | unfriendlier) than the other group. I was simply suggesting, as the OP asked, that there were some differences in the general style of interpersonal interaction. I remember being shocked at all the "friendliness"/"intrusiveness" of the people in the small midwest town where I went to college. People stopped over to visit without calling first, for example. In my experience of the east coast, that is simply not done, but in Missouri, it was both routine and acceptable. At the same time, my childhood neighborhood was a very friendly place with much over-the-fence and standing-in-the-street chatting among both kids and grownups. Other comments in this thread have addressed similar issues of narcissism in the suburbs of NYC, but I was actually trying to be neutral.
posted by janell at 8:40 PM on April 3, 2007

Having grown up in Texas, lived in NYC for 9 years, and lived in Westchester for 3, I think janell's assessment is spot on. Truth be old, I liked the people in NYC best.
posted by mds35 at 8:37 AM on April 4, 2007

I grew up in Fairfield County, CT but now live on the West Coast. I have never lived in the Midwest so I do not know first hand how it differs from the East Coast. I can say that I truly miss the East Coast after having lived out West for a while. I love the history and culture you find in the East and I miss the changing seasons. Being close to NYC is fabulous and a short drive to the beach is really great too. Obviously, there are more affordable towns in CT (and NY I assume) the further you are from the city so it all depends upon how long a commute you are willing to make. I agree with a previous poster's suggestion to look along the Metro North Line. I think taking the train can take a lot of stress out of a commute - and you can read something on the way!
posted by ultramarine at 11:15 AM on October 16, 2007

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