Cities with software industries like SF bay area but not so expensive?
January 27, 2008 11:40 PM   Subscribe

What US cities have a strong, diverse software industry, multicultural makeup, affordable housing, and walkable neighborhoods?

We love the San Francisco bay area, but just can't see our way to staying here long term with the housing prices (650k for 2bed in bad neighborhood). SO and I are both in the software industry, like to eat Asian food, and enjoy living in neighborhoods where the library/grocery store/restaurants are within a 15 minute walk. Bonus if it has a liberal slant and is not cold.

Portland sounds like our kind of city, but doesn't seem to have much of a software industry. Any ideas?
posted by bumpybear to Work & Money (29 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Well, the obvious answer would be Seattle. Microsoft + Amazon + Boeing + other surrounding software companies.

They have a huge asian population, nice sized downtown, liberal slant, etc.

The housing is still a bit expensive, but if you are willing to drive 30 minutes out of the city, it can be affordable.
posted by ceberon at 11:46 PM on January 27, 2008

Austin, TX might do it - there's software industry there (from what I've read at least), it's much cheaper than SF, loads of restaurants and clubs and a very liberal atmosphere. Not cold either.

But your question basically evokes the realization that the best (in terms of livability, liberal atmosphere, walkability and so on) cities in America tend to be the most expensive. Of course, it's sort of a bonus to come from SF than most other cities, since *every place* is cheaper (for the most part.)
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:47 PM on January 27, 2008

I don't think you're going to get closer to what you want than Seattle.
posted by Ryvar at 12:12 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was going to say Albuquerque until I saw that the diversity you want is Asian (and I was going to have to plead ignorance on the software question).
posted by salvia at 12:39 AM on January 28, 2008

Best answer: Other than not being a US city, Vancouver sounds almost exactly like what you're after. Microsoft is starting a new 300+ person campus here, there's a fair bit of web development and a large video games development industry, and there is a large Asian population. Also, generally quite liberal, and the city has been described as a "city of neighborhoods". It's eminently walkable, and nowhere near the downtown is ever far from a grocery store/restaurant. It's also one of the warmest places in Canada, with a climate very similar to Seattle (including the rain).

If you can get in on a skilled worker visa (that's what I did, I'm from the UK), you should be able to immigrate relatively quickly and easily, also - although there has been a bit of a backlog in the US hires where I work due to a spike in immigration, so it might take a few months at least.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:09 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Austin, TX
posted by randomstriker at 1:40 AM on January 28, 2008

You should be able to find the right spot in Austin.

The prices in Seattle are mad. See this for a comparison.

Or move to Adelaide, AU.
posted by sien at 3:17 AM on January 28, 2008

I'm going to go far afield of what you may have been thinking and suggest Durham, NC/Research Triangle Park. Besides Cisco and IBM and RedHat and Lucent we have lots of small internet and software companies. The price of living would be pretty shocking to someone coming from San Francisco. Our diversity is more of the traditional southern meets Latin American and African immigrants, so maybe lighter on the Asian community than some of the other cities named, but we have decent Thai food and sushi. Our weather is not at all cold and we're a bright blue spot in the middle of a red state.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:32 AM on January 28, 2008

Dehli/ Mumbai

Just throwing those in.
posted by Neonshock at 4:38 AM on January 28, 2008

If not for the "affordable housing" requirement, Seattle would be your place. I suppose it's cheaper than SF, though.
posted by litlnemo at 5:35 AM on January 28, 2008

Best answer: Toronto. Yeah, I know. But you can get landed immigrant status pretty easily. The software industy here is small but significant and as my wife often points out, "You only need one job" (per person). It's hard to compare it to San Francisco which is really the mecca of the technology industry. No other city will seem like it has a lot of software work in comparison.

But you can get a nice house for a lot less than the Bay Area and the best neighbourhoods are, IMO, even better than a lot of San Francisco neighbourhoods. And still affordable, relatively speaking. Areas like Roncesvalles, High Park, Bloor West and even the Danforth out east.

And do we have asian culture? You bet! You can even drive out to Markham to see Pacific Mall! But seriously, Toronto is very multi-ethnic.
posted by GuyZero at 5:46 AM on January 28, 2008

Oh and we have a very liberal slant by US standards and are not really that cold by Canadian standards.
posted by GuyZero at 5:47 AM on January 28, 2008

Just throwing it out there: There are some communities in Northern Virginia that are considered among the most walkable in the country (according to some recent study); NoVa has a huge Asian population (esp. Korean), is almost reasonable in terms of cost of living (at least compared to the bay area), and has a growing number of tech companies (AOL, Nextel, etc.).
posted by General Malaise at 6:25 AM on January 28, 2008

Best answer: On the other coast, Cambridge, MA has a sizable if not booming tech industry courtesy of MIT and Harvard's influence, as well as the financial district of Boston. We're maybe not as Asian as some cities on the West Coast, but the city reports a 12% Asian population, and there are plenty of restaurants and Asian food markets.

Cambridge is a little pricey, but compared to San Francisco, I think it'd still be a bargain. Of note though, there aren't too many 1-family houses around here. You'd either be finding a nice apartment to rent, or a condominium. If you want a real house, you'll either be paying a bit more, or looking more around Somerville and the like.

Cambridge is supremely walkable, and the subway system (MBTA, colloquially "The T") is very reliable in this part of the Greater Boston area. Cambridge is also considered the second most liberal city in the country (presumably with SF being #1?). It's definitely a younger town, due to university influence, but there are plenty of happy old-timers around here too, and if you were looking at Portland, then Cambridge seems right up your alley.

One caveat: Even as liberal as we are here, Yankee fans are still looked upon with scorn and contempt.
posted by explosion at 6:33 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I came here to suggest Vancouver as well. I've heard people say we have the best sushi in the world (I'm assuming some Japanese places might argue, however). It fits all of your requirements - with the exception of housing prices. For $650 you can get a decent 2bdrm condo (or maybe even a townhouse or half duplex) in a nice neighbourhood, but houses are all typically in the $1+ million range.

Software industry - check. (EA, Business Objects, others I'm forgetting, and about a million smaller shops.)
Multicultural - Double check.
Affordable housing - meh, ok, not so much, but better than SF.
Walkable neighbourhoods - in Vancouver proper, definitely. Check.
Asian food - it'll take you years to try it all. Double check.
posted by cgg at 6:51 AM on January 28, 2008

How bout Washington, DC? There is lots of technological opportunities here, very multicultural, great food...(and more affordable, though not CHEAP)

I'd nth Seattle too if you're looking to stay on the left coast
posted by CAnneDC at 7:01 AM on January 28, 2008

I'm guessing the software industry here is not strong or diverse particularly. May be non existent. Portland, Maine, has everything else you like though.
posted by sully75 at 7:27 AM on January 28, 2008

No real walkable neighborhoods but take a look at Huntsville Alabama.

posted by sandpine at 7:37 AM on January 28, 2008

Although Seattle housing prices aren't as bad as San Francisco, I don't think anyone would consider them affordable.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:54 AM on January 28, 2008


Ranked #3 in number of Fortune 500 companies with headquarters there (behind NY and Houston).
posted by indigo4963 at 9:09 AM on January 28, 2008

Best answer: Yeah, I would recommend taking a look at Atlanta. VERY Multicultural.
A little light on the walkable neighborhoods, but you can find them in town.

Lots of software and also other large companies who regularly hire software developers.

It's a buyers' market in Atlanta as far as housing is concerned.
posted by SallyHitMeOntheHead at 9:34 AM on January 28, 2008

Omaha, Nebraska has a very favorable employment market for those types of jobs. The real estate market is incredible - you can get a 3000 square foot home for right around 200k. The arts and entertainment scene is very vibrant (link goes to a NYT article). Omaha is becoming more diverse - South Omaha is home to a vibrant hispanic community. The average commute time is less than 20 minutes. Google is right across the river, and Paypal has a big presence. Omaha has more Fortune 500 companies than any other city its size.
posted by Ostara at 9:57 AM on January 28, 2008

Best answer: I am going to add a vote for Seattle, and a word of caution. The real estate prices here are crazy, but not quite SF-crazy. All other requirements are met with ease. But - in case you are not already aware of this - employment-wise "Seattle" consists of the city proper, and a conglomerate of suburbs where many of the companies are based (basically Redmond + Bellevue + a bit of Kirkland). E.g. Microsoft is not in Seattle per-se, with a couple of small exceptions, everyone in the area works out of large Redmond campus(es) or smaller Bellevue campus.

The important part is, Seattle the city is separated from the suburban area - referred to as "eastside" - by a large lake with two bridges across it. The bridges get incredibly congested with traffic, and I do not recommend commuting across them, although many (myself included) do. So if you do decide to set your sights on Seattle, you should try to live on the same side of the lake as you work. In my opinion (highly subjective), you will not find the type of living environment you seek on the east side, and so should try to live and work in the city proper. Luckily, there are plenty of high-tech companies on both sides of the lake, and many (like Microsoft) are starting to spread across the boundary to better attract the worker pool.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 10:05 AM on January 28, 2008

Des Moines, Iowa is pretty decent to.
posted by ducktape at 10:06 AM on January 28, 2008

Do you really need to own a house? I live in the bay area, and to me the benefits of this region beat the pants off of my lack of ability to own a house.
posted by MillMan at 1:40 PM on January 28, 2008

Louisville, Kentucky doesn't have much of a "software industry" per se but there is strong start up and entrepreneurial community here and a ton of companies in the healthcare sector that build/develop software for that industry. Housing is very affordable, the city has a liberal slant, very walkable neighborhoods and lots of cultural opportunities.
posted by mjones at 4:20 PM on January 28, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the suggestions! A huge Asian population is not a requirement, I just want enough for there to be a few decent restaurants (no general gao's) and a specialized grocery store or two. We'd like to buy because we enjoy gardening and woodworking and other hobbies that require some space/soundproofing. I think I'll probably have to give on the weather bit, but one can hope, right?

Explosion: Cambridge/Boston is definitely a walkable city with decent Asian food and a good software industry, but dang, the windchill hurts when you're walking around in January. This is probably my favorite out of the cities I've been in before though, besides where I am now.

Bcc et al: Seattle definitely has the bridge traffic issue, and the east side where all the big software companies are seems very condo/suburb-y to me. I'm also hesitant about the stories I've heard about the incessant rain and resulting depression issues (I've only been there in the summer when it's beautiful). But, it seems to be culturally interesting and has good Asian food as well.

Vancouver/Toronto seem promising, but potentially have same weather issues as Seattle/Cambridge? Austin I've heard of, but never considered Atlanta .. will go check it out.
posted by bumpybear at 11:38 PM on January 28, 2008

I was going to say Albuquerque until I saw that the diversity you want is Asian

Albuquerque has plenty of Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Indian food available, as well as several asian and "world market" grocery stores.
posted by yohko at 10:00 AM on January 29, 2008

650k for 2bed in bad neighborhood

While Seattle's housing prices aren't fabulous, they definitely beat that, as well as Cambridge. The bridge traffic can easily be defeated with express buses, and even the yuppie suburbs have a lot of Asian food/groceries. And the rainfall is on par with say NYC, and it almost never snows. I have a friend who bought a condo a block from his company and therefore never drives.
posted by herbaliser at 11:47 AM on January 29, 2008

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