Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Ideal City: Biking, Dogs, Arts, and Friendly Folks

Today, as we stare out the windows at our smoke-filled city/region,  Sam and I have been discussing our future, and where exactly that future might take place. Now that I've completed my degree, there is nothing in particular to keep us where we are, except for Sam's job, which could fairly easily be replaced in most cities. While I absolutely think this little city of ours is adorable and full of turn-of-the-century charm, it is lacking in areas for two not ready to retire and no small children in tow folks.
*Image source here
What we do love about our city is that there are lots of wide lane roads, bike lanes/people out on bicycles, historic old houses/mature neighborhoods, it's fairly dog-friendly, it's close to the mountains but not in the mountains, there are reservoirs close by, the weather is fairly mild, even in the winter, and the ease with which we can get around {at least in town}. The things we don't enjoy so much are the lack of reliable and well thought out public transportation options, especially to outlying areas, lack of things to do locally, lack of good shopping stops {e.g. shops closing very early, and/or not open on Sunday's, and quality of merchandise is sub-par}, residents who are unappreciative of the positive things that are available, lack of 30- to 40-somethings who want to participate in activities outside of changing diapers or little league {we have no issue with people having children, but it would be nice to find some folks who aren't solely wrapped up in kiddo activities}, and the city's rather out of the way location.

We both like it here, however, there seems to be a variety of areas that could be improved upon, and while we believe the city recognizes this, changes seem to be decades in the making, and we have to decide if we love it enough to stick it out in hopes of contributing to and waiting out the changes, or simply finding a spot where we are more comfortable living the life that we think is best for us.

Sam is an Information Technology Manager {professionally} and a ceramicist/bike mechanic {on more of a part-time/hobby-ish level}, and I am an emerging artist {painter, primarily}. The benefit is that as long as Sam can find work, I can do my job anywhere. We would prefer an area that has at least a small interest in the arts, and a dog-friendly area would be nice, too. While we don't trudge around with our dogs everywhere we go, it would be nice to know that there would be areas to take them and/or be able to find housing that would allow them {if we were to rent}. It's also important that there are somewhat affordable housing options {at least in comparison to salaries in the area}, and prefer that it be a city that has a variety of people from different backgrounds. Of course, bike-friendly is at the top of the list as well. I would love to have beaches nearby as I miss them greatly, but any sort of water in the area could substitute nicely.
*Image source here
As for the size of the city, I think we're fairly open. I'm not sure either of us are ready to commit to NYC, but I don't think we want to live on a farm with miles between us and the next neighbor either. We enjoy larger cities, but I think we're more comfortable with cities such as Denver, Milwaukee, San Francisco, etc... those that feel easier to navigate around/manageable. We're open to smaller areas as well. We loved most of Wisconsin when we visited a couple of summers past, but I'm not sure we're ones to deal with the winter months, but perhaps this is something we would adapt to? We both like interesting architecture as well {though I realize this is somewhat limited here in the states}, so it would definitely be a bonus to live in a place with lots of fun buildings/houses. We're open to any part of the country, so there aren't any geographical barriers...We're open to west coast, east coast, or somewhere in between.

Although I realize no one can make a decision for us {nor would we want anyone to}, and no city will fulfill every wish-list item, there are many people who happen by this space that are bikey-type people, so I was hoping maybe you all might have suggestions based on our desires for a possible future home. Do you love your city, or know of a place that might fit the bill? We'd love to hear what you think. If you could live anywhere, where would you live, and why?


  1. I love my own city of Portland, OR. I think it would meet all of your requirements, except that housing isn't exactly cheap. Don't know how it compares to Denver in that respect. But, I love it.

    1. Portland is definitely on the list of possibilities, CJ. I have yet to visit the city, but from what I've read, it could be a strong contender. I think my biggest concern about Portland is the seemingly constant cloudy/rainy skies. I don't know how well I would adjust to that, but again, some things just take time. I am anxious to visit the city though as it's been on my list for many years.

      Thanks for the suggestion. :O)

  2. The metro DC area fills a lot of the requirements on your list, including a fairly vibrant tech industry for Sam. Housing is slightly less than the SF Bay area but some good deals can be found. The diversity and cultural offerings can't be beat, and it's kind of groovy that the local news is the national news. I'm given to understand that public transportation options are better in the Maryland suburbs, but Virginia is catching up as the suburbs beyond Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax counties realize that there is a demand for rail and/or bus into the District. The mountains are about 30 minutes from where I live and the beach is a couple of hours away (4.5-ish hours if you'd prefer the warmer waters of the Outer Banks). We don't (usually) get as much snow as you're probably accustomed to, but we do get four distinct seasons and very little in the way of forest fires.

    Are y'all out of the danger zone, by the way? I've been meaning to ask...

    That being said, I personally am feeling wanderlust and want to pull up stakes and see what else is out there. I'm tempted to move back to Memphis -- where my family lives -- but the job market and cultural offerings are pretty slim.

    If I could live anywhere I would choose either Melbourne, Copenhagen, or Amsterdam. My engineers in Sydney tell me that if I visited their fair city I wouldn't give Melbourne a second thought, but Melbourne gets a better variety in seasonal changes than Sydney. Plus, the bicycle infrastructure is supposed to be pretty good and citizens are fairly active in the city's green spaces. An additional enticement is that both Scott's and my employers have offices in the city, and my Melbourne engineer says he's got an empty office close to his that could be mine. ;) My stepdad's from a small town in Queensland and is absolutely thrilled that I have Australia on my list.

    Scott is familiar with Copenhagen and Amsterdam as he visited those cities during holidays as a child. The upside of Amsterdam, for me anyway, is that my company has an office there as well. Every time "House Hunters International" is set in either of those cities, we're glued to the TV. :)

    1. I have to admit, I enjoy watching the House Hunters Int'l show as well. I have the same international cities on the list... or at least to visit to see if they could be a place we could live. My brother is currently working in Australia (nowhere exciting - right in the middle of the continent), but I keep telling him he should just stay there if he can remain employed and on a work visa. As much as I miss him, I think he is probably better off there at this time. I would love to go and visit before he returns here (which would be any time between the end of the year and 3 years from now). I don't know how likely it would be for us to live in another country, but it's nice to dream about.

      We had discussed the possibility of the Virginia area as well. I know my brother had mentioned when/if he returns to the states, he is considering that area because of the probability of finding a tech job (Yep, he's a techie too... I'm surrounded by them! :O) ). There are so many areas of our own country that I feel we need to visit. Who knows what sort of gems are out there?

      I haven't been to Memphis, although I did travel through Chattanooga and Nashville at one point several years ago and thought it was a beautiful area. I realize they aren't very close together, but when I think of Tennessee, I automatically picture the Chattanooga area and how beautifully green it was.

      I have actually heard that Louisville, KY is a great place, but I haven't really investigated that area either.

      Our blaze raging is quite a mess. Weather is in to the mid-90s today, and the fire is closing in on 47,000 acres this morning. Never have I wished for it to rain in the summer so much, but we could really use it. Yesterday was so smokey I wasn't sure I even wanted to go outdoors at all. It was covering areas all the way down into Denver (about 30 miles south of us). We're about 40ish miles from the heart of the fire (to the north), so we're not in danger, but the small amount of containment at the moment is a bit scary, especially as it seems to be growing very quickly. It's easy to feel the smoke in our lungs though, so hopefully the firefighters will get reinforcements to help out - and soon.

      Thanks for your thoughts on areas to consider. I think my biggest concerns with the Virginia area is the cost of housing (which is very much my concern with SF - as much as I love it there), but I also think there can be options anywhere, if we are willing to make compromises on space and/or with the finishes on a space. We don't live in a big space as it is, so I don't think a smaller space would be an issue, but it's deciding whether or not we want to pay 3-5 times as much for the same small space. :O)

    2. Agreed that the real estate costs can be shocking. I pick up homes for sale magazines when we visit my family and am shocked that we could get what's essentially an antebellum plantation (land and renovated house) in Mississippi for what we paid for our 1300 sqft townhouse/condo. We could absolutely purchase a 5br/3ba brick home with 2-car garage and pool and big yard in my folks' neighborhood for less than our condo (not that we need or necessarily want that much space). And if wanted to get an adorable Craftsman bungalow (my dream house) in the trendy mid-town area, it'd cost about half of our mortgage. It's mind-boggling! Of course, as I said above there's little in the way of well-paying jobs down there.

    3. I think that is a huge piece of the puzzle - if the housing is inexpensive there generally aren't jobs to support living in the area, and if there are jobs, then the housing skyrockets. I think finding the happy balance is what many of us look for (and don't necessarily always find).

      When I realize that we do get to live in a bungalow from the 1930s where we are, and it's affordable, well... that makes the thought of moving even more difficult. There is always a give and take and I think we just have to figure out what we are willing to give on.

  3. Probably a larger city is what you're looking for. Parents with small kids usually clear out to the suburbs before the kids reach kindergarten age, which ensures that a new flow of younger folks is always incoming. Portland is nice but I dunno, weeks straight of everyday rain/gray skies in the winter is tough mentally, especially if you're not used to it. Washington DC, well, again a reasonable place but cost of living is sky high there due to the federal economy and the low unemployment. If do you decide on DC, avoid the suburbs at all costs! Traffic is a b*tch out there and they were not designed for bicycling. Deep South cities are inexpensive but cycling there is challenging not because of the swampy extreme humidity but also because of a cultural dependency on cars and the bike-unfriendly roads that come with that.

    Oh, remember the old saying commonly heard in the Army and among IBM'ers who have moved a lot: "the best place is the one you've just moved from or the one you're moving to".

    1. "The grass is always greener." Definitely understand that thought as well. :O)

      I think we are fortunate to have some really great places to bike... it would make it very difficult to leave, certainly. At this point, I think it's more curiosity of what could be out there, not necessarily that we have to or need to be somewhere else. There will be a down side to any location, and I think it's interesting to hear about other possibilities - if nothing else.


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