Should I be a hog butcher of the world?
May 9, 2008 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Will I go crazy if I move from New York to Chicago?

Before any eagle-eyed MeFites start ringing the “repeat” bell, bear with me: Earlier I asked about leaving New York despite the inevitable blow to my magazine career, and most of you sensibly told me to stay put for five (!) or ten years (!!) and build up my portfolio. Thing is, I’m not all that stoked about living here, and staying in a city I’m only ‘meh’ about feels like a waste of time and youth. This question isn't about my job (I'm aware of the inherent professional risks of moving), but about my lifestyle.

I live in Brooklyn, work in Manhattan, but I long for a big city life with a more laid-back pace. I'm familiar with Chicago from growing up in the Midwest and visiting after college, but have never lived there. Maybe I’m pinning too many expectations on a city when I just want out of NYC, but I get the impression that Chicago is a home while New York is just a superconductor always shuttling me up one invisible ladder to the bottom rung of the next. But, of course, I've got my doubts: what if I move to Chicago and get… bored? No one can answer that question but me, but I’d like your input.

What I like about New York:

-affordable, reliable transportation: I don’t drive, probably never will again.

-culture: book readings, museums, public lectures, etc

-well-read, liberal people

-efficiency: I walk fast, talk fast, and act like I’m 5 minutes late to everything (that’s not New York, just me). However, I’d prefer a city that doesn’t encourage me to be a self-important ass who hustles you to the slow side of the stairs if you’re not walking fast enough.

-Brooklyn: love the neighborhoods, love the bike-friendliness, love the bars, parks, and the staggering diversity.

What I dislike about New York:

-high rents: I’d rather live in a tiny studio on my own than with two roommates with various quirky psychoses. I want very badly to have my own place, and I fear I’ll never be able to afford one here with the astronomic rents.

-I make the New York sacrifice of spending waaaay too much money on rent and time at my job to get the big, slobbery dog of my dreams. I want a dog the way other women want babies.

-obsession with money, beauty, and power: I really try not to care, but I am haunted by a paranoia of not being pretty enough, thin enough, successful enough (I haven’t published a book at 24!), etc. As a pretty, somewhat successful, educated, formerly ball-busting girl, this annoys me.

-the weather: New York had snow, like, twice, and once it melted off the sidewalks after 3 hours. My Welsh/Ohio blood craves the bitter cold, not the chilly rains, people!

-transience: my friends pick up and leave at the drop of a hat. No one is here for good, including me, apparently.

Am I taking New York's culture for granted, or underestimating Chicago? Insights from New Yorkers, Chicagoans, and anyone in between are very welcome.
posted by zoomorphic to Society & Culture (31 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I was born and raised in NYC and have lived in Chicago for the last 10 years. I could address your points in order, but you're underestimating Chicago. The culture is there if you want it, as are the neighborhoods and feel of "home". Out of your list the only thing I would caution you on is the transportation - Chicago has a reasonable public transportation system, but New York is in a different league entirely. If you pick a good neighborhood and are willing to rent an iGo or Zipcar once in a while you should be fine.

I love it here and would never move back, for most of the reasons you post. I'm sure you'll get a pileon of advice, but if you have specific questions or are looking for "I like X in NYC, what Y would I like in Chicago" feel free to mefi mail me.
posted by true at 8:30 AM on May 9, 2008

You are underestimating Chicago, completely. Chicago is cheap, cosmopolitan, diverse, and huge and has all the things you mention above. And the snow.

Really, it's the next best thing after New York City, if you're looking for all those things. It gets overlooked by a lot of people on the left and right coasts because of its location.

I've lived in Chicago for a year, DC for several, and NYC for some time as well, and I miss Chicago most of all. But DC is where I'll stay, for job/family reasons.
posted by waylaid at 8:31 AM on May 9, 2008

Sounds like Chicago has everything you like about New York (though in the more tourist areas the pace is a little slower with the rural tourists walking five abreast and blocking the sidewalk GRR! but I digress). Plus, it counters most of what you don't like.

I live in a good building within walking distance of the Loop and I pay $1400 a month for a very large one bedroom. My building allows dogs up to 25 lbs. I just went online and found that the studio I first lived in when I moved to the city is $1,095, so I think you can get something semi-affordable in a good area that allows a dog. That apartment (the studio) was a little on the small side, but it worked perfectly with a queen sized bed, two-seat sofa, entertainment center, dining table and dresser. It also had plentiful closets and a nice bath. Let me know if you are interested in the building.

That said, if you want to move a little further from the city center, there are certainly more affordable rents. I have a friend who rents a 3 bedroom in a walkup for $1,200 a month.

If you come to Chicago, call a meetup, we'd love to welcome you to the city.
posted by MeetMegan at 8:34 AM on May 9, 2008

I have lived in Boston, Chicago, DC, and Philadelphia, agree with the above, and Chicago has probably been my favorite for all the reasons you describe about NY (except for the weather, I would prefer Miami). I would also agree about the transportation. It's possible to not have a car, but it's not as easy as NY. I did not have a car in DC for years (I lived right in the middle of everything) but I did have a car in Chicago and it helped.

And people do seem to be much friendlier there. Not to knock NY, Philly, or Boston, they're great, too. DC, not as much.
posted by Pax at 8:43 AM on May 9, 2008

nthing the suggestion you're underestimating Chicago...

It has everything you love about New York, and lacks almost everything you hate.

Chicago is incredibly dog friendly, by the way. Restaurants often leave water bowls outside their doors in the summer, etc...

There's a bit of the money/power obsession in Chicago -- but it kind of sticks to localized areas you can just avoid (Lincoln Park... Gold Coast.. the Loop..)

This place is amazing, and I can't imagine living anywhere else. It's got every bit of culture New York or LA has, and while it has some amount of the bad things those cities have, it's not nearly as bad....
posted by twiggy at 8:49 AM on May 9, 2008

Best answer: I grew up in Brooklyn, have lived in Minneapolis, Boston, Miami and now (yawn) Phoenix.

I love Chicago a ridiculous amount. Wonderful neighborhoods, great food, beautiful open space (I love cities that demonstrate an understanding of their residents' need for outdoor space). The city has all the wonderful things New York does without the silly New York attitude or what I call the "$50 leave your house tax." It seems that in New York, you can leave to go buy a loaf of bread and still manage to spend $50 before you return home. You missed your bus so you took a cab, the bread went up, you got hungry for lunch and that cost you $12 ...on an on.
I have friends who live in Chicago now and one has a lovely studio in a great part of town and pays something like $700 a month ... and she thinks that's expensive.

I don't think you'll regret the move, especially since you're not happy in New York. And I don't blame you. I get a migrane every time I go back.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 8:56 AM on May 9, 2008

Ah, Chicago...the food, the architecture, the Lake!

I will agree with everyone here. I actually think Chicago has NYC beat in many areas. Lincoln Park, the Art Institute, the North Shore, Wrigley Field, endless rolling plains a mere day's drive away...the list could go on and on. I lived there for 2 years and I've alway wanted to go back.
posted by drinkcoffee at 9:12 AM on May 9, 2008

I agree with the previous posters mostly.

A city is what you make of it to get out of it. There's plenty of places as far from Manhattan as the Brooklyn area you mention that would be horrible to live in. Same is true for Chicago.

I'd suggest moving somewhere very near downtown for a year and get a sense of what neighborhood you really want to live in after that lease is up. For 900 - 1500/ month you can get a very nice one bedroom (possibly 2 bedroom, but less nice) apartment, depending on where you live. Like anywhere, you make sacrifices one way or another.

Also - right now and for the next year or so, there's major renovations happening to the El and subway system here, and it's making things slow, so transportation is bad, but will get better. The city is extremely clogged with traffic these days as well.

Also- IMO, Chicago gets a somewhat undeserved bum rap for its weather. Oh, we get horrible winters alright, (this last one was really bad) but I used to travel to NYC on an almost weekly basis for work, and the winters there seemed to suck on pretty much the same level. Maybe it averages out that Chicago is a little worse, but it seemed about the same to me. I think it's just an accepted meme that Chicago is particularly hellish.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:19 AM on May 9, 2008

Best answer: I was coming in to say that same as most of the people above. I have fought tooth and nail and sacrificed odd things to never live anywhere but Chicago ever again (having lived a number of other places, but not in Manhattan). It's underrated by people who have never lived here and the cold is overhyped.

The Joffrey is a world-class ballet; the Lyric is a world-class opera (we have a second opera company, too, which is quite good). I would venture to say that in the US, you cannot beat the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. The Goodman and the Steppenwolf (and other theatres) routinely vet and premier shows which move to Broadway. Food & Wine just called us the 8th best restaurant city in the world (I just ate at Tilth in Seattle--called one of the 10 best US restaurants by the NYTimes and it seemed to me just another top-tier Chicago restaurant) We're getting one of My Bloody Valentine's limited US appearances. That is the very small sampling of what I do for culture.

There are more dog parks (I live across the street from one of the dog beaches) than you can shake a stick at and many neighborhoods that remain affordable have small yards, so you don't have to walk your dog at 5:00 am at February. Many high rises have dog runs and some have rooftop dog walks. It's a pretty dog-happy city.

I will add a caveat: parts of Chicago are seriously underserved by the CTA--most particularly underserved by the L trains. They are working (albeit slowly and in some ways half-assedly) to change that. I find the casualness of dress boring, but you said you're trying to get away from that sort of attitude. Also, there is a big difference in the qualities of life, depending upon which neighborhood you live in. I would suggest living in more than one neighborhood-or at least acting as though you live in more than one neighborhood--before settling for one. I've lived in the Gold Coast, Hamlin Park, Bucktown and Lake View, and pretended I lived in River North and Wicker Park. I've made my home in Lake View. It suits me, although I can no longer walk to work, like I did when I lived in Gold Coast.

Also, we meet up all the time. We're pretty friendly around here.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:34 AM on May 9, 2008

Oh and in the 10+ years I've lived here as an adult, I have not owned a car. I don't miss it (although I budget for cabs and considered the distance to grocery as well as proximity to express bus routes carefully before buying). Zipcar and I-go are both in the city and most of the grocery, liquor and homegoods shops deliver.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:41 AM on May 9, 2008

Response by poster: Lord Almighty, these answers are great, and confirm my suspicions that I've been sleeping in the wrong city these past two years. Thank you so much, I especially love the little details that warm my shriveled heart. Another caveat: I am pretty poor, and that probably won't change no matter where I move, and I'd like to find a $750 studio in pretty fun part of town. That no longer exists in New York (maybe the outer territories of Queens); does such a thing exist in Chicago?
posted by zoomorphic at 9:56 AM on May 9, 2008

zoomorphic: it's my understanding that yes, $750 studios in fun parts of town still exist. They are usually a transfer-ride to downtown (that means you bus to the L or you bus from one route to another) which makes them less convenient and less (for lack of a better term) "yuppie"-friendly (or my sister would say, "less Lincoln Park Snob"-friendly). Oddly enough, many Chicagoans go out of their way to avoid taking the buses. Makes no sense to me; the bus routes are pretty good and for $75/month (although I think that is going up), you get unlimited rides and transfers.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:03 AM on May 9, 2008

(I say "my understanding" because I own and haven't rented in the city for several years and have never rented smaller than a one bedroom)
posted by crush-onastick at 10:05 AM on May 9, 2008

Zoomorphic, I can't resist being corny here: Chicago is definitely Your Kind of Town, for reasons already stated above.

And you can definitely find a studio for $750 or under in all but the poshest neighborhoods. In some neighborhoods, that'll get you a one-bedroom.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:06 AM on May 9, 2008

If I had to move tomorrow, I would move to Chicago.

Anersonville, specifically. A great, great little walking neighborhood.
posted by BobFrapples at 10:24 AM on May 9, 2008

AnDersonville, by the way
posted by BobFrapples at 10:24 AM on May 9, 2008

Best answer: Just to chime in with my personal experience: I moved from Brooklyn to Chicago a few years ago (and then from Chicago to central Illinois, but that's a different story) and I can say that it was one of the best decisions I've made in my (albeit short) life. Chicago is so much friendlier and cleaner than New York, and it's much cheaper, too.
Your thirst for cold will not go unquenched in Chicago. It is also very dog-friendly as far as cities go, but that's been covered above.
posted by k8lin at 10:32 AM on May 9, 2008

I agree that given what you posted above, you will probably like Chicago. Not sure where you lived in Brooklyn, but you might like Ukrainian Village or Logan Square. You can definitely find a studio or one-bedroom in those areas in your price range. I think Andersonville is way overhyped, but that's just me.
posted by smich at 10:50 AM on May 9, 2008

Once I took a road trip to some small Midwestern towns in Iowa. They had a one road main street. Sometimes Chicago feels like the one-road main street town that grew big. If your scene is small, say, the art world or dance or literary, you'll get to know everyone in a few months. It will feel a little airless. But if baseball and beer is your scene, you'll have an infinite amount of friends.

I lived in Chicago for 2 years without a car. Then, got a car, and have since discovered parts of Chicago I never knew existed. You'll want to have a car. With a car I'd recommend Andersonville.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 11:51 AM on May 9, 2008

Best answer: Born and raised (off and on, mostly summers) in NY. Have lived in Chicago for 20 years. Love it, love it, love it for all of the reasons that you mentioned in your post. SO dog-friendly, SO affordable, SO fun and full of culture. And, good Lord, it is SO much CLEANER than New York. Not squeaky clean, it is a city after all. But CLEANER. No stacks of garbage bags on the streets. It is possible to live here and not feel pressured to constantly be "working it" professionally and personally. It's much more relaxed.

Here are the only things NOT to like about Chicago (IMO). My list is short:

- The lack of variety in terrain. Chicago is flat. Fantastic for team sports, bike riding, running, etc. Also the lake and the rivers make sailing and urban kayaking fun. But if you live to ski or rock climb or do anything vertical that doesn't involve the Sears Tower, you will be a bit frustrated.
- Not as integrated (racially, ethnically) as NYC. There are neighborhoods that tend to be more diverse, but we are still pretty divided for such a cosmopolitan city.
- As mentioned above, the CTA could do more with EL and bus transportation than it does. That said, it is still relatively easy to live here without a car.
- If you have a car and need to commute in/out of the city for work in that car, you will be miserable. Chicago highway traffic sucks during rush hour especially in either direction.
- Not enough big media/magazine companies realize that being based out of Chicago is something that they should consider and that the rest of the world has something to offer beyond NYC. But that is really their problem and not ours.
posted by jeanmari at 11:53 AM on May 9, 2008

I moved from NYC to Chicago not quite four years ago. I still don't have a car, though I'm somewhat of an oddity among my friends (though another friend recently moved and ditched the car; gas prices may make this more common). It is very bike-friendly.

I like the art museums more here. & you can get free passes if you live here with a little effort. I miss the "downtown" of NYC sometimes; most of the life of the city is in neighborhoods, outside of the 9-5 pm day.

Rent is less, but be wary of "apartment-creep". You get used to the Chicago spaces and may end up spending about the same.

There's less pervasive obsession about money, power, etc. I sometimes miss the funky dress and get sick of seeing the "North Face" jackets/fleeces. Ancedotely, I've had heard conflicting opinions that Chicagoans are more work-aholic.

Socially, it seems easier to get to know people, and go out in groups, possibly harder for one-on-one (maybe because there's less transcience so more people that know people from college, a lot of big ten grads). Chicago likes to drink, possibly weather related.

Summer and winter are totally different feels in my book here. Summer makes winter worth it.

All the editorial folks I know are working for trade, travel, education or medical organizations.
posted by ejaned8 at 12:41 PM on May 9, 2008

I rent a studio in Logan Square for $660 a month right now, electricity included. That electricity is included is good, because the included radiant "heat" is bloody awful, so I bought an electric space heater which improved my quality of life immensely. The building is old, the unit can't support more than 1800 or 1900 watts at a time, it seems, and since I live on the top (4th) floor, the hot water pressure occasionally leaves something to be desired. The space is mostly adequate for my needs, though, and it's a pretty nice little neighborhood. I don't need to take a bus to get to downtown.

I do avoid buses as much as possible, and here's why: they run less frequently than trains, they bunch up (i.e. no bus for 25 minutes then suddenly three all together) WAY more often than trains, they're slower than trains (Chicago has a lot of car traffic), they're almost always significantly more crowded than trains, and they're less comfortable to ride. Blech. The $75 pass is a great deal, but whenever possible, I ride the train or walk. Oh, and the weather here really is abysmal, but I can't imagine New York is any better.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:01 PM on May 9, 2008

Best answer: yet another vote for Chicago. like you, I grew up in the Midwest and went out east for school and lived there (Boston and NJ, including a stint in Jersey City) for 12 years. I miss some things about the East Coast (mostly, being close to other cities), but I haven't yet regretted moving back to Chicago. ok, there were times during this last winter where I thought to myself, "why did it have to be THIS year of all years?" and you should definitely invest in a good winter coat and a good pair of boots, and probably long underwear if you plan on waiting around for the L on an above-ground platform at all, because you will be waiting a while. but frankly, the only thing I miss about being near NY is my friends, the variety of indie rock shows (we don't get as many here, especially between November and March) and the Met. I'm a cheapskate, and the cost of living here is significantly lower than on the East Coast for many things (RENT ESPECIALLY. my friend just visited me and was shocked that the rent on my enormous one bedroom apartment was less than half what she pays for a West Village studio). and yes, it's true, Chicago is cleaner, nicer, and much more spread out than New York. I find it very psychologically restful. and my dog loves it here, whereas he hated New York when I would bring him in.

a big part of living in Chicago is finding a neighborhood that suits your style. neighborhood identities are just a big a part of a Chicago lifestyle as they are in New York. earlier someone recommended living close the downtown and I think that's absolutely the wrong way to go about it. there's nothing to do down there and you'll be miserable and will never meet anyone. figuring out what neighborhood to move in is a whole separate question once you've decided if you're moving and what you'll be doing when you get here (previously: 1, 2).

and make sure heat is included in your rent! believe me, that stuff adds up.
posted by dropkick queen at 2:00 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just joining the Chicago lovefest here. The only thing on your New York list it doesn't have is "efficiency: I walk fast, talk fast, and act like I’m 5 minutes late to everything (that’s not New York, just me). However, I’d prefer a city that doesn’t encourage me to be a self-important ass who hustles you to the slow side of the stairs if you’re not walking fast enough."

Yeh. Slow down, take a midwestern moment to ask how the new dog is and then go be efficient at work. Also we like to elect our self-important asses to the mayor's office. Everybody else pretty much knows to chill (in a big city kinda way).
posted by nax at 3:07 PM on May 9, 2008

I moved to Chicago last June from DC (having previously lived in NYC and Philly) and the thing I miss most about the East Coast is having easy up-and-down Amtrak access along the corridor. When I lived in those places, I was able to get to most of my friends within an hour or two. And -- because I work in writing related things -- I was able to get to NYC and DC quickly.

I like Chicago and I think it's a great city. But think about where the majority of your friends are. The majority of mine -- 99% of mine -- are still on the East Coast, and I miss them a lot -- and it's hard to get to them. Plane prices are really high right now, and it's a lot different to have to get to Midway or O'Hare at 6:00 AM than going to Penn Station and zipping around, without more planning.

But if you're from here originally, most of your friends are probably in the Midwest. I like it here -- it's a great city and there's nothing here that isn't in NYC and vice-versa -- and I don't think it's a place where you get bored.
posted by melodykramer at 3:14 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Everyone has their own opinion about neighborhoods, but I do strongly disagree with dropkick queen. I have lived in River North, less than a mile away from my office near the Sears Tower, for more than 5 years now. I have met a number of interesting, amazing people, had some great local experiences, and never, ever lacked for "something to do". I don't feel isolated or that there's nothing to do - in fact, I am within walking distance of all those hotspots that everyone else in the city has to take the CTA to.

It is, of course, your own choice, and you should definitley research neighborhoods before picking one (see it both during the week and on the weekend - at night and during the day - before you commit, and if you are considering Wrigleyville go to at least one Cubs game and see what the neighborhood is like before signing). I love so many different neighborhoods in Chicago, for so many different reasons. I just felt I had to reply when I saw that there's nothing to do in my 'hood. It's emphatically the opposite.
posted by MeetMegan at 3:20 PM on May 9, 2008

MeetMegan - I don't disagree with your assessment of your neighborhood, but I don't really think of River North as "downtown". I tend to think of downtown as specifically the Loop.
posted by dropkick queen at 3:32 PM on May 9, 2008

the weather: New York had snow, like, twice, and once it melted off the sidewalks after 3 hours. My Welsh/Ohio blood craves the bitter cold, not the chilly rains, people!

One thing to note, as a NYer who's been here for a few years, please don't judge NYC winters by this past season. This is the first winter I've been here where there's essentially little to no snow accumulation on the sidewalks. A very, very mild winter in comparison to years past. We didn't even have one real blizzard! Global warming, perhaps.

Good luck in whatever decision you make.
posted by kathryn at 7:50 PM on May 9, 2008

If the Midwest is where you feel most content, then move to Chicago. When I was in grad school in Iowa, I'd come often to get a culture fix---though when I visited the city after living in NY for a while I really noticed the shorter weeknight hours.
posted by brujita at 11:30 PM on May 9, 2008

Born in Chicago- Vacations in Manhattan

summer, hot dogs, lake, architecture, expressways, greenspaces, live concert venues, Cubs & Bears, grid system.

subway stations, stuffed Pizza, parking fines, racist enclaves, White Sox & Fire (futbol)
GOP nazis in DuPage County, too many bike lanes, cigar smoking ban, Daley & Oprah.

pizza, florio's little italy, subway!, hells kitchen, central park, the purse whisperers in china town, pulse of the city, racial congruity (Manhattan so far) Bloomberg.

expressways, airports, cigar smoking ban, hotels with shared bathrooms, lack of affordable hotels period, no public restrooms!!
posted by stevejensen at 7:43 AM on May 14, 2008

Best answer: I was born and raised in the city here in Chicago. I lived in Manhattan for 7 years and have returned to Chicago. I miss NYC tons and try to get back as often as I can to visit friends. Having said that, I finally have accepted that I'm much happier here than I would be at this point in my life living in NYC.

There is so much to do here in Chicago - restaurants, music, art galleries. It feels a lot like Brooklyn in many ways. It is, as one poster said, less integrated. It's also feels less safe, in my opinion (but I think that may be just a feeling I have because of having fewer people around at all hours of the day).

Regarding the weather: the winter is miserable -- much more so than New York. Each year when February rolls around I wonder why I torture myself and start fantasizing about Austin. That never happened in NYC. I think it's a combination of how much worse the wind makes the cold feel and the bigger distances you have to go here in general to get places. It almost requires hibernation. But the summers are so much better than NYC - street fests are actually fun and interesting, not just a bunch of crappy food and trinket vendors. It gets hot, but you don't have that lingering garbage smell.

Oh...and I definitely packed on weight here. You have to seek out healthy eating options here, whereas they pretty much are all over the place in NYC. There are no real equivalents to the bodegas that NY has - there's a few corner stores but CVS or 7 eleven seem to dominate that sector and offer much less variety...and no fresh fruit/veggies or flowers. It's just one of the small ways that NY is more convenient than Chicago to someone without a car.

And one last comment about the people here. While there's a good mix in general, there are a TON of Big 10/Big 12 imports that flood the city after college. As a result, some areas of the city become pretty cookie cutter and stay that way. People also get married MUCH younger here, so a single woman at 35 is much more rare than in NY. When people get married, they seem to be expected to reproduce and move to the suburbs, so the married couple that lives in the city and goes out on weeknights is somewhat more rare (or at least that's what I've seen -- if you object, please give me and my husband a call and let us know where to meet you). Overall, I find that a larger proportion of the young adult population is conservative (by that I mean less inclined to welcome new experiences). For example, you're a lot more likely to run into someone here that hasn't tried sushi than in Brooklyn. But there's enough for all types here to do -- whether your idea of fun is watching performance art or playing cornhole.

Hope that helps!
posted by slo at 12:42 PM on May 14, 2008

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