Please please please do not go
October 23, 2007 5:21 PM   Subscribe

Where should my liberal South African friend move? My bias: I don't want her to go!

So my friend and her husband are facing the possibility of relocating to Atlanta (or the suburbs). The husband is a doctor and is about to be offered a plum job with the potential for more money. Problems: (1) She's really happy here. Moving to the states from SA was one of the most difficult things she's ever done and they've relocated a lot since coming here. She feels like she finally has her life under control and is satisfied with nearly every aspect of her life. (2a) Two of her three children have fairly severe ADHD and she's found really great doctors and would have to start from scratch (2b) and likewise with schools. Both boys are on intervention plans and starting over with a new district/principal/teachers is incredibly daunting to her. (3) While we live in a red state, we're in a moderately liberal area. She's worried that Atlanta would be a huge step backward in terms of political leanings. (4) Moving from SA to the US was a culture shock, moving from the East Coast to this red state was a culture shock, and she's not sure if she's up to moving South. (5) She is very apprehensive about uprooting the kids. The three of them are very well-adjusted here.

Pros: (1) The potential for a huge job satisfaction shift for her husband. She wants to be supportive, of course, but not necessarily at the expense of the happiness of the family unit. (2) The potential for more money. She doesn't so much care about stuff, but he isn't really making what he's worth right now.

Need: Advice on liberal-leaning, foreigner-accepting areas in or around Atlanta that have great public schools, lots of ADHD support (good doctors, I suppose), and very few social-climbing people who all have to have the "right" cars, homes, clothes, etc.

I don't want them to move. I really like the family as a whole (as do my husband and kids) and it's hard enough to find like-minded people here; it sucks when they move away. However, I'm trying to be a good friend. Help me, hivemind!
posted by cooker girl to Grab Bag (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, there are a lot of questions buried in here, and opinions are going to vary widely.

First: Atlanta's a great place. While the state at large is very conservative, and there are several pockets of conservatism in Atlanta, it's important to say that there are a lot of people who live in Atlanta who aren't from Atlanta. It is a really excellent, cosmopolitan city with a lot to do and a number of very important subcultures. There is definitely a thriving community of libertarians (and liberal democrats), but I don't think we'll have much hope of doing anything politically meaningful in the state any time soon. Individual districts are another story.

Okay, so liberal-leaning areas with great public schools is pretty hard to achieve in my opinion. We live in Alpharetta, which is I guess about a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of expense and class boundaries, but the schools are really excellent. There's an influx of young professionals into this area, some of whom are liberal.

The majority of the really "liberal" folks in Atlanta based on what and who I know tend to live in Little Five Points or the Grant Park area. Neither are known for exceptional schools but from a cultural perspective they definitely win. One thing you'll find in Atlanta is that people and suburbs while being very spread out are all still basically "Atlanta". For example I don't think much of driving 30-45 minutes to visit friends, because Atlanta is a huge sprawl. It isn't like the culture i've seen for instance on the west coast where it's a big deal for some people to drive from San Francisco to San Jose.

Atlanta has a huge variety of doctors in a number of different areas. You will have to do a little shopping around. One of the more "popular" and "squeaky clean" medical systems in town is the Emory medical system, which i've had good luck with. Some people have had the opposite experience but i've found them very thorough. If you live in the L5P area or around North Druid Hills (very Jewish but great area), you can find good doctors very close to you. Also consider Decatur for a good dose of both culture and liberalism.

I'll be honest. Your friends going to have to do a lot of balancing here. I'd pick an area with good schools and do a little driving for the culture and political friends. You can get both but it will take some work.
posted by arimathea at 6:27 PM on October 23, 2007

i think atlanta will actually be a good place for special-needs kids. it is a large city with several respected universities, so finding a specialist will be no problem.

atlanta also has a large young, liberal population. she'll find friends.

the only real downside, i understand, is that the traffic is the worst in the nation, so she and her husband should really take into consideration the proximity of work and schools when deciding on where to live. otherwise it is not an exaggeration to say that it can take more than an hour each way.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:47 PM on October 23, 2007

Seconding Decatur (technically its own city on the east side but effectively swallowed by Atlanta). That's about as actively liberal an area as you'll find in Atlanta. City of Atlanta proper and most of Dekalb County are technically liberal in terms of voting but not as visibly and actively liberal as Decatur. The school system is apparently pretty decent too. Friends of mine just moved so they could be in that school system when their kids are old enough to start.

Little 5 Points is sort of a novelty area. Liberal yes, but once the Starbucks and boutiques moved in and the last few tie-dyes were packed away this former home of the nocturnal be-mohawked mosher scene got a little Disneyfied. Still a neat area, though.

The Druid Hills/Emory area just west and slightly north of Decatur is a great one. Hey what's wrong with Jews?! There's an Orthodox neighborhood there and it's nice to see them out walking on Friday nights and Saturdays. It's a nice dose of culture, just something non-neutral at least. Emory Hospital and Clinic are right there with the University, the CDC, and one of the Children's Health Care of Atlanta hospitals. I've had pretty good experience with that health system. It's very sought-after. I couldn't speak to their ADHD talent specifically but I'd be willing to bet it was pretty good just given all the rest of it. Decent schools. Perhaps due to academe, history, and proximity to Decatur, I'd say it's pretty liberal itself. There are some lovely old neighborhoods there especially right near Emory. And it's not far from the twin shopping Meccas of Lenox Square Mall and Phipps Plaza in the Buckhead area.

Just west of there you've got cute little areas called Virginia Highlands and Morningside, though their cuteness turned to trendiness turned to sky high prices, worse in Virginia Highlands. Still nice places. Politics are probably getting less liberal there what with all the BMWs and midmorning stroller-jogging milfs. There's a young party element in parts of it due to a handful of relatively genteel bars. Judging from the residents, I bet the schools are first rate, but I don't have any actual knowledge.

West of there and you're in the Piedmont Park/Midtown area. This is a much less homogeneous area. It's old semi-urban mixed with old nice neighborhoods mixed with young hip in semi-decayed parts interspersed with business cash. THE hot area these days, taking the nightlife crown from the dying-but-not-mourned Buckhead bar scene.

All along the south of this line we've taken from Decatur west to Midtown, south of Dekalb Avenue for the most part, we have the regentrification areas of Oakhurst, East Lake, Kirkwood, Edgewood, and Inman Park. These are the places where people have been flipping houses for a while. The pioneer gentry in that area are enjoying nice home value appreciation yet the area hasn't quite become postcard quality yet for the most part. A lot of young people are buying there because they can and it's a nice area to be in in my opinion, less so the further south, but overall not quite the stale, sterile, vanilla, 100% safe lawny suburb yet.

And actually just north of Kirkwood and Edgewood are two wonderful little areas, Candler Park and its tiny pal, Lake Claire. They are bordered by Ponce de Leon Ave to the north, Moreland Ave to the west, Dekalb Ave to the south, and Decatur butting up to the east. I would love to live in the area but the homes are too expensive for me while the apartments are subpar. Lake Claire somehow manages to mix suburbia with actual drum circles and communal gardening. Very interesting. They've got this community land trust. Check 'em out. The aforementioned Little 5 Points is just west of Candler Park, centered around an intersection on Moreland Ave.

South of the gentrifying areas it gets not so nice with the exception of an area called East Atlanta, which is the latest bohemian area to become trendy and then start to cut its hair and put on loafers. Still a little sketchy but prices are up up up. As my friend who lives there put it, "Well you don't hear about murders anymore, for example. It's really changed." Ahh, domestic bliss. Don't know about the schools, once again, but it's hard to imagine them being top notch. West of there I guess is one more sort of interesting area called Grant Park. Don't know much about it.

If we zip back to Decatur and take one step east for a moment, we're in Avondale Estates, a nice little area with a calm, settled, comfortable feel. The surrounding areas could use a bit of a polish and scrub but I think I'd enjoy living there.

North of there for a mile or more is kind of blah, yet with some interesting pockets of ethnic groups here and there such as Indians and various African groups, the latter more so if you hang a right and head outside the perimeter into the Clarkston area. But if you instead keep on north staying inside the perimeter and even heading a bit west out over the areas previously mentioned towards I-85 you get into some basic, average middle class areas, some of which are a little tired and others of which, such as Oak Grove, are kind of nice. Decent schools in that area. They produced yours truly, so hey. (Cough)

For the hardcore multicultural area look no further than the Buford Highway corridor extending northeast into Chamblee and Doraville, which is the sort of northern border of the middle class places I just mentioned. Every kind of South Asian, East Asian, and Latin American group you can think of is there. You can find some of the best hidden restaurant gems there, nice and authentic. The area is poorer as you'd expect a densely immigrant area to be so extrapolate from there in terms of the other search criteria.

If it was me and I was picking based on the criteria you mention, I'd look in any of those areas, with an emphasis on Decatur and Druid Hills/Emory. I think a South African liberal would feel perfectly welcome in any of those areas, would feel good about the schools, and would have plenty of healthcare options to choose from.

Go to Google Maps and have a look. Atlanta is a pie with I-285 as the outer ring, though the suburbs stretch for miles and miles beyond that. But once outside the perimeter except for in a few spots, you are heading firmly into Red State territory. Lots of people have had to move out there just to afford housing so it's still a mix, just a redder one - - Bass Pro Shops, Wal-Mart, etc. (especially to the north). I would look at the eastern slice of pie bordered by I-285 in the east, Buford Highway or even I-85 slanting down from the northeast towards the center, the conjoined I-85/I-75 in the center of the city as the western border, and let's say Memorial Drive as the southern border.

The northern parts of the metro area inside the perimeter have always seemed sparser, quieter, and vanillaer to me. The area north and northwest of Buckhead heading up to the northern border of I-285 seems more homogenous and less distinctive in that way but does have many "nice" neighborhoods. I wouldn't be unhappy there just maybe a bit bored. I've lived here for most of my life and have almost never had cause to go west of I-75 whether in the north, center, or south. Honestly I'm not even sure what's over there. Hey maybe it's the rich people, at least in the north. The river is over there so that'd be nice property. I bet that's it. Think of Buckhead as the cradle of money and status, spreading out west and north from there into Brookhaven and the Chastain area and westward still. Nice, but not for your friend. Lastly, I-20 is almost Atlanta's horizontal bisector, if a bit low. Except for the airport, there isn't much to draw you south of there.

They aren't kidding about the traffic. We're up there with the big boys. It can be pretty bad. The trick is to find a place you can afford which is close to where you work. Not so easy. So many people have had to move so far out to afford the house and have to fight their way in and out each day. If you can get near a MARTA line, such as in those regentrifying neighborhoods I mentioned heading into downtown from Decatur along Dekalb Avenue, you could avert a good bit of that stress even if you're not so far out. Free parking at the train stations and then a quick zip into the heart of downtown. My own commute is actually not all that bad usually. I'm about 7 miles from downtown and can usually get to the center in maybe 20-25 minutes, though often longer coming back home at night.

Good luck to your friend.
posted by Askr at 9:45 PM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'll be giving her all this information. You've all been very helpful.
posted by cooker girl at 7:32 AM on October 24, 2007

While the state at large is very conservative, and there are several pockets of conservatism in Atlanta, it's important to say that there are a lot of people who live in Atlanta who aren't from Atlanta.

For the record, there are also a lot of very nice people who live in Atlanta who are from Atlanta and are very welcoming of more liberal people from all over the world.

I thought of Decatur and Buford Highway, too. I definitely would not recommend the outer suburbs. Many of the people there are not from Atlanta and would not be welcoming.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:25 PM on October 24, 2007

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