Moving to the Big City
March 26, 2004 12:14 PM   Subscribe

I come from a small town and currently live in a town of roughly 30,000 people. If I were to move to a larger city (400,000 or even much more), what kind of advice can someone who's done the same thing in the past give for how to make that change without being scared shitless? One area I'm thinking about moving to in the future is Minneapolis, Minnesota.
posted by angry modem to Home & Garden (26 answers total)
Ho ho. I moved from a town of 6k to Minneapolis, and love it. You'll be freaked out at first, but it's fun.

Now's a good time to move to Minneapolis. Apartment vacancies are crazy, so finding a place will be easy. I'd strongly recommend living in the core city- I wasted a year living on the northern fringes of St. Paul and didn't really enjoy any of the benfits... spent most of my time at strip malls and such.

The main thing is to familarize yourself with the place so it doesn't seem so weird. Go for runs around the lakes. Walk around Uptown. Drive around and sort-of-intentionally get lost so that you can practice getting your bearings while getting unlost. Read Pulse and City Pages to get a feel for the cultural happenings, and read the Strib and Pi Press to get the feel for what's on the public mind.

Basically, if you treat your first year as a learning experience, you should enjoy it quite a bit. I suppose that goes for other cities; but I can say for sure it does for Mpls.
posted by COBRA! at 12:42 PM on March 26, 2004

I moved from Davis (50K) to San Francisco (~7mil) in 1996 and it was a head-ringer. My advice is to select your home very carefully, and try to make a smooth transition into it. I don't know much about where you're coming from, but for me, the things I was suddenly missing were: quiet, greenery, and several conveniences like easy parking and easy laundry, etc. I absolutely did not choose my landing place well. I landed in a 5-person crash pad apartment with only a tenuous claim on a room that wasn't even vacated yet. It was bad. But I was fresh out of college and had no options.

Anyway, my point is to feather your nest well before you make the jump, so at least you have a haven you can retreat to. If you have to pay for an overlapping month of rent, consider it a culture shock tax. It will make your transition easier.

And don't get confused by what's desireable to people already in the city. What's desireable to you might be the qualities that soften your impact the most, eg: living in the most remote, sparse neighborhood, not the trendy, dense, downtowny areas.
posted by scarabic at 12:42 PM on March 26, 2004

The one thing that scares me about Minneapolis is the cold, not the number of people, and I grew up in a cold climate in a town of 2,500 people. Some people in the Minneapolis area keep full suits of cold weather gear in their trunks in case they get trapped out in the cold. The outlets in parking stalls for block heaters always amused me. As for nervousness over the big city, I would try going there for a weekend and finding all of the fun things to do, restaurants, arts, etc. You may well find yourself entranced. When I moved to the NYC area the one thing that made me nervous was the traffic. I got over it; my wife says I now drive in the city like a cabby. Once you realize that all of the lane dividing lines on the Avenues are merely suggestions it becomes easier.
posted by caddis at 12:44 PM on March 26, 2004

It's not that tough. Others have done it. You're gonna make it after all, modem.
posted by Shane at 12:45 PM on March 26, 2004

I went from towns with an average population of 6,000 people each (in West Virginia) to a city with close to 400,000 (Pittsburgh), then on to DC that has over 750,000, so I can empathize with your scared shitlessness. Here's a few pointers, in no order:

First, explore the city before you move. Get to know the neighborhoods and find a couple that give you good vibe (and are within budget, etc). Read the local newspaper and the local free weekly paper online for a few months to get a feel for the various social scenes, current issues, areas you may want to avoid, and so on. Look at the arts sections, find out where the bands you like perform.

It helps if you know someone before you move, but this could easily become a crutch. I know many people here who fell in with other friends from college or "back home" and never expanded their social circle much. Force yourself to go out and meet people. Go to readings of authors you like, volunteer at something you enjoy...these are places where people with interests common to yours will be, and try to get to know them. Then try to meet people with interests and experiences not like yours; part of the joy of moving from a small town to a big city is the wonder at all the things you can do and all the interesting people you can meet that you couldn't back home. It can be intimidating being around all these "strange" people you know nothing about and who might not share any of your background (if you grew up in a crowded area you might not understand this), but if you don't force yourself to meet them you'll find yourself terribly isolated. I know from experience.

Change your MeFi zip code to one in the city of your choice, see what other MeFiers are in that city, and contact them. Call for a MeFi Meetup shortly after arriving.

And call your mother often. She'll worry about you.
posted by arco at 12:52 PM on March 26, 2004

bah. you'll be fine, but i'm going to second arco. know some friends who already live there, or make some, quick.

"the big city" can be an amazingly lonely place if you don't know anyone.
posted by fishfucker at 1:41 PM on March 26, 2004

I moved from my home town (Bear Lake, pop. 275 - and no, that's not a typo) to a foreign city with substantially more people (Brasilia, pop. 800K or so depending on how you count them) and back to the largest city in Canada (Toronto, pop. a few million).

Here are my suggestions:

Apartment hunt well in advance. Depending on what the vacancy rate is like in a city, most landlords will require a minimum of about 3 weeks to a month or two to get you checked out, leased up and moved in. Do not show up with your stuff and expect to find some place to move into. Do not do this from a distance, and never sign a lease on an apartment you haven't seen. Ask the rental agent about crime in the building and the area.

Ease into driving. One nice thing about big cities is that they tend to have good public transit. I found taking the bus gave me a good sense of major geography, since buses tend to cover major roads, as well as a chance to look around and set landmarks that you simply don't get while you're driving a car. Don't *not* drive, or you may make yourself too nervous to start up again, but also take some time to get to know things at a slower pace. One thing I often did when I first bought my car, was drive in the suburbs (which are still pretty busy) and then park and take the subway down into the main city. (I still do this, but only because I think $15-20 for parking is insane.)

If you're involved in any types of activities in your hometown, take them with you. By this, I mean, if you're in the church choir, or a member of Toastmasters or involved in Scouting, or an active participant in your local coven, seek those things out in your new city. It'll be somewhat new and different, but also somewhat familiar. It'll give you a sense of confidence, because you're doing something you're good at, while you get out and meet people.

Don't overwhelm yourself. When you're in a new city, it's tempting to play tourist to the point of exhausation. "And I want to go there! And see this! And eat that! And attend that!" Make a tourist list of the things in the city you'd like to see and do and do one or two a week. Any more than that and you'll get broke and tired in a hurry.

Buy a map book. A really good map book. Like a Perly's. One of those ones with highly detailed street maps. When you need to get somewhere new, start by thinking about the most likely route to get there, if you have any idea. Then check your maps to see if there's something better. By thinking about it yourself for a bit first, you reinforce the geography that you're learning. Also, at least until you get your sense of direction, opt for the simplest routes to places, even if they aren't the fastest. I like to mark the places I've looked up on the maps themselves. So if I went to SkyDome last week, and this week I need to go to the MetroConvention Centre, and I open the map book to the right page, I see the SkyDome mark there, and get a sense of geography relative to someplace I've already been.

Ask the most reasonable local you know questions about which areas are safe and which are not. You don't want racist screed about the hood, but honest advice about where you should fear for your safety, and where you should only need to maintain an appropriately high level of caution.

Carry money. Not a lot of money, but if you end up lost or stranded somewhere, that money may be your cab ride home. Carry quarters or phone cards for the same reason.

Have a lot of fun. Remember that tourist list? Mine had 400 things on it before I stopped keeping it up. I haven't done half of them, mind you, but there are tons and tons of things to do in the big city. Enjoy it.

I hope that helps.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:47 PM on March 26, 2004

Just on the Minneapols thing: I second COBRA!'s advice about living in the city. I live on the fringes now, and I really don't go out and experience the actualy city as much as I should. It's great, cultured city.

And on the cold: I moved to Minneapolis from the South, and I'm fine with the cold. I don't love it, but it rarely gets brain-numbingly freezing. The only thing that gets to me is the duration of the freeze, though Minneapolis is enjoying beautiful Spring weather today.
posted by Zosia Blue at 1:54 PM on March 26, 2004

Oh, yeah, I heartily third the notion of living in the city rather than near it. I spent two quasi-miserable years living in the (close) Virginia suburbs to DC, and after I while I realized that my non-work routine was depressingly mundane. All the things I was doing for "fun" I could have done in any other suburb or small town in North America, rather than taking advantage of the wonderful opportunities in the city. The suburbs will eat your soul.
posted by arco at 2:01 PM on March 26, 2004

Once you move (and if you're single), sign up for a few Single Volunteers events. They're one-off functions, usually, so you won't be committing yourself to an on-going project. The type of person who signs up for those is typically friendly and outgoing, so you'll meet nice folks and see interesting parts of the city.

I did that in DC, and met lots of nice people (and dated a few of them, too).
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:08 PM on March 26, 2004

Response by poster: I've actually been in Minneapolis the past couple of weekends, and did spend a lot of time carting around aimlessly--though I wasn't driving. I've yet to drive in anything really busy, so that's the main thing that bugs me, mostly. I do have a friend living there, so that's another plus for moving there. Thanks for the advice, COBRA!

I don't finish college until towards the end of this year, but definitely will start looking for jobs in field up there. Does anyone know how it looks for the tech industry in general in/around Minneapolis?
posted by angry modem at 2:10 PM on March 26, 2004

Does anyone know how it looks for the tech industry in general in/around Minneapolis?

Of all the people I know, the techies are the only group that hasn't really suffered any layoffs in the past few years, so I guess that's a good sign. Having Honeywell and 3M in town seems to help.
posted by COBRA! at 2:15 PM on March 26, 2004

Speaking of kicking it, check MetaTalk for a thread on organizing another Minneapolis meet-up.
posted by Zosia Blue at 3:42 PM on March 26, 2004

Just on the Minneapols thing: I second COBRA!'s advice about living in the city. I live on the fringes now, and I really don't go out and experience the actualy city as much as I should. It's great, cultured city.

I, for one, am glad that C.O.B.R.A. has branched out from sowing chaos and destruction and is now giving travel advice and helping new move-ins.
posted by mecran01 at 4:13 PM on March 26, 2004

The rap I've usually heard on Mpls./St. Paul from people who've moved here as adults is that it can be difficult to form friendships with the natives. Since this area has a relatively low transience level, this argument goes, a lot of people tend to hang with friends they've known a long time--since college or high school--and aren't as welcoming to newcomers.

There's a sidebar to this complaint that I've heard most often from Chicagoans who've moved here -- that Minnesotans use niceness/politeness to keep others at a distance and to keep social interactions as tepid and disengaged as possible.

As a native, I don't really know how true all this is (though I will say that Chicagoans sometimes disconcert me with their openness, bluntness, and willingness to engage with strangers).
posted by Kat Allison at 4:32 PM on March 26, 2004

There's a sidebar to this complaint that I've heard most often from Chicagoans who've moved here -- that Minnesotans use niceness/politeness to keep others at a distance and to keep social interactions as tepid and disengaged as possible.

I'm a native also, and I've heard the same thing from several people who moved here from out-of-town. I catch myself doing it all the time.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it might be more populated than you think. Minneapolis has around 400,000 people, St. Paul has around 300,000 and there's another couple million or so in the suburbs.

This town is pretty spread out, so I'd recommend getting a car, if at all possible. Especially if the transit strike hasn't been settled by the time you get here.
posted by hootch at 5:03 PM on March 26, 2004

I've moved between Utah County and Southern California a few times. The first time was the real shock, as Orem/Provo, my home town, was much smaller then (less than 50,000, I think), and I'd never lived anywhere else, but even when I've moved to a real metro area twice subsequently, I've had to make some adjustments.

I'm going to second jacquilynne's recommendations, especially buying a map, and taking your hobbies and community involvements with you. Especially if you're a programmer/webhead, it's essential you don't get there and decide to pour all your spare time into rewriting all your PHP code. You must leave the house and talk to people regularly. If at all possible, get a job that's at least semi-social.

I'd also recommend making the move with a semi-significant savings. Nervous transitions are that much easier if you do them with a month or two of extra cash and the price of a return ticket in your bank account (although I *will* say that if you know in your gut it's the right time to move and you don't have that reserve, do it anyway.)

When you do move, keep a line open to distant friends. But limit it somewhat, especially if it threatens to substitute time you'd spend developing new roots. Remember that can take more than a few months, unless you're really lucky.

Finally, I might also recommend spending a little more time by yourself in the weeks/months before you move, more than you usually would. It helps get you centered and settled and used to listening to and relying on yourself.

And hey -- I'm trying to decide if I should move to Iowa. Any advice? :)
posted by weston at 6:40 PM on March 26, 2004

Are you in SoCal or Provo right now? :-)
posted by quarantine at 8:06 PM on March 26, 2004

Grrr. Minneapolis is not cold. What, were you people all born in the tropics or something?

Kat Allison and hootch make good points about Minneapolis. This is a great city, but it's good to have friends here before you arrive. Many who grew up here decided to stick around, and so many still have the same friends they had in grade school. Over the eight years I've lived in the Twin Cities, almost all of the new friends I've made have been from outside the area. Many of the natives still seem to have their old cliques, and most are content sticking to them. As a result, there are actually organizations that have formed to help non-natives meet other non-natives, probably because outside of some work and school environments, non-natives won't be able to make friends with anyone else.

Regarding the technology market: I'm in a technology field and am currently looking to relocate to Chicago or Madison (to a large extent for the reason listed above). From the job hunt I've found the Twin Cities to be a much better market for those searching for high-tech jobs than other markets in the Midwest.
posted by mrbula at 10:42 PM on March 26, 2004

I moved from a town of 5,000 in west central MN to St. Paul and I didn't have much trouble driving. The thing that helped me the most was a compass, actually. I don't have a great sense of direction but I usually knew whether I needed to go north versus south, etc.

Coming from a small town where most driving was either on the main drag with its two stoplights or out on the rural highways, I found that I like to follow at a much greater distance than is possible on the highways in the cities. It took me a few months to feel comfortable with this, so for a while I really avoided driving during rush hour.
posted by Coffeemate at 8:10 AM on March 27, 2004

I grew up in a town of about 2500 people and moved to Seattle after college. Jacquilynne said most of the stuff I was going to say, so this is just the last few notes I have.

1. once you've decided where you're going, start getting a local paper from there for a few weeks or so before you move. Not only will it help you with stuff like getting an apartment, but you get to recognize the local names and places and businesses so that when you get there, stuff seems more familiar.

2. look for more neighborhood-y places to live when you find a place. It's easy to be anonymous and isolated in some big apartment building out on a highway, much less so if you live in a duplex or triplex with other folks. Minneapolis has lots of great places to live that are not borg-like hives. Just because it's the city doesn't mean you can't live in a house.

3. routine: get a local hangout, even if it's just when you first get there. have coffee at the same place, or grab lunch at the same place, a few times a week. Just having a person you recognize and who recognizes you can be good esp if you're feeling wiggy about living in the big city.

Lastly, Minneapolis Public is an excellent library system. Get a card and go hang out there. Big libraries aren't super different than smaller libraries so if you're a library user the routines there will feel familiar.
posted by jessamyn at 8:47 AM on March 27, 2004

I moved from a town of town of 1,700 eventually to NYC. The first few times I moved to bigger places I did horribly; part of it was that I didn't try very hard. I think I've seen every episode of Mad About You on reruns. Metafilter and the interworldwebnet do really help you make friends. A big city can be strangely easy. For example, if you moved to my small town who would you make friends with? Everyone there already has friends that they have known for decades. But in NYC there are thousands of new people moving here every day. There are thousands of people just like you, from small towns who are looking to meet people who are interested in doing whatever it is you are interested in doing.

So, in some ways it can be a lot easier. But get involved in activites that you might be interested in, even if its hard, eventually you will make friends as long as you keep trying.
posted by goneill at 9:23 AM on March 27, 2004

Are you in SoCal or Provo right now? :-)

Orem, Provo's sistersame city...
posted by weston at 8:19 PM on March 27, 2004

I'd move from Utah to Iowa but not Los Angeles to Iowa. But as a liberal atheist Californian who collects single malt scotch and likes to have a local outlet from which to buy it, I might not be the best person to ask.
posted by quarantine at 10:56 PM on March 27, 2004

Response by poster: Don't move anywhere to Iowa.

posted by angry modem at 12:42 AM on March 28, 2004

I moved to Minneapolis from ages 24-27 after living my entire life in various places in Wisconsin (Milwaukee, Hartford [small town], Madison). I will agree here with Kat Allison and hooch -- it was relatively difficult for me to make friends there. (The same goes for my then-on-again-off-again-girlfriend, who moved there from southeastern Minnesota.)

We worked in the non-profit and public sectors, went to rock shows, coffee shops, and bars, and did art-related stuff; she went to school. None of the friends we made there really stuck. Most of our favorite people there were the ones who weren't from there and some of them ended up moving away as well. However, I did have co-workers (when I worked for the state for two years) that, had I stayed, probably would have become good friends. It's not impossible; it just takes a while for people to warm to you (maybe there's a correlation with the weather).

I moved to Oakland, California a year and a half ago and have found it much easier to make friends here, despite the greater overall difficulty of moving to a place so vastly different from where I was. (I did already have 4 friends here, but 2 of them have actually moved back to Wisconsin, separately, and I didn't meet my best friends here now through them.)

In retrospect, overall, I think Minneapolis is a good place to live. Public transit leaves a little to be desired, and, after a big snowstorm, digging your car out for an hour before work can be tedious (not to mention landing in a ditch after a tangle with invisible road ice), but there's a lot to do there and a pretty wide variety of interesting places and people. I think the experience of moving to a new place can be very worthwhile, though of course your own experience is up to you.
posted by gohlkus at 2:04 AM on March 28, 2004

« Older What fate awaits the booger?   |   Can I Really Deal with Losing a Right-Click if I... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.