Make Your Own “Best Place To Live” List
Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend about her friend. You see, the friend-of-a-friend wants to move to the Big Apple. She’s tired of living in the political town that is Washington, D.C. but not because of politics, or culture, or a new job. She wants to move because over her weekend in Manhattan, more men paid attention to her there than they did here.
Of course, this sent me reeling into a self-righteous rant over shipping out for some guy. Well, not even a guy but the hope of a guy. Had this woman never watched Sex in the City?
This started a conversation about those websites and magazines that list the top places to live for [insert demographic here]. It got me thinking about what these rags base their lists on, and why certain criteria should be more important to some people than others.
Forbes is famous for its lists, like this one on the best places to live for young professionals. Their criteria is buried in paragraphs, so I’ve bulleted it for you:
- Cities with more than 1 million people
- Cities where Moody’s Economy.com predicts job growth will be positive
- Unemployment rate
- Average salary of college grads
- Cost of living index
- Rank based on number of 200 largest U.S. public companies call that city home
- Prevalence of grads from top six universities (Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Rice and Northwestern)
And big surprise everyone, Houston tops the list!
Wait, what? Oh right, “Fourteen of the country’s largest companies (as measured by market capitalization) are based” in Houston. I guess if you want to work for our corporate overlords that’s great. The same goes for other places like Atlanta (Coca Cola), Seattle (Microsoft), and Minneapolis (Travelers Co., US Bancorp, Medtronic).
Sounds fetching, eh? If all you’re basing your decision on is a large corporate presence and an influx of finance grads, then you probably won’t mind epic pollution and the possibility of a mugging in the fair city of Houston.
Well, I beg to differ. Having lived around the world and on both coasts, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea about what factors should inform any individual making a decision to move on — unless you have children, in which case you should something in there about good schools.
Next page: The top 8 criteria for packing and shipping out:
So here are my top eight criteria for packing up and shipping out:
If there’s any lesson we’ve learned from Detroit and Las Vegas, it’s that one-trick pony towns bubble and burst. When looking for new digs, check out the number of co-ops, local restaurants, and small businesses. The more diverse the economy, the healthier it will be in the long run.
Sure, the Boston area is home to thousands of universities (I exaggerate), but the gap between blue collar and white collar workers is substantial. It’s becoming harder and harder to find that balance now though, with belt tightening in the middle class and belt-gold-plating in the wealthy two percent. When you get a healthy mix, then you’ve made it to the promised land. Don’t tell anyone else!
As with diversity in classes, a good city should have a good mix of what this country is best know for — its melting pot. It might be difficult in some areas and you may envision a small beach cottage in Cabot Cove, Maine. But generally, the more homogenous an area, the more tetchy they are about “outsiders.” And as a minority, how people perceive me is really important.
As a self-proclaimed arty-farty, it’s obvious for me that a good arts scene is essential. Even if you aren’t into classical music, there has to be something in the way of artistic expression that tickles your schmancy pants. So look into the number of theater groups, music groups, offbeat art collectives and mainstream entertainment venues like performing arts centers. The more the merrier. Also, the more the diverse the merrier.
Many battles have been lost to gentrification. Sure, sticking a McDonald’s or Chik-Fil-A sounds like you’re bringing progress to the ‘hood, but the reality is that luxury condos and chain restaurants usually spell the end of cultural and artistic diversity. It also spells sky-high rents and the marginalization of minorities. It’s a tough battle between wanting to clean-up a neighborhood and maintaining its uniqueness. My tip is to look for neighborhoods in cities that are actually investing in the locals rather than pushing them out. It’s very hard to find, but it could mean great progress and a better future for folks in the area.
6. Good food
I seriously make most of my decisions on where to live based on food in the area. If I can’t get to a decent hole-in-the-wall restaurant, I’m moving. And that has to be walking distance. You are what you eat, right? Then look for a place that has a decent local restaurant scene and grocery joints. If the rest of the area is lackluster, at least you aren’t starving.
Ain’t nothing going on but the rent. As singles and professionals this is probably the single determining factor of moving to an area — how much is the rent and how many people will have pile into this tiny space in order to make this decision financially fungible? But you have to take a look at your salary and its ratio to the rent. A good rule of thumb is to never pay more than 30% of your net monthly paycheck. If you’re living within those margins, you’re golden.
8. Bussing it
I will freely admit that I hate cars. That’s why a solid public transportation system is essential, and directly tied to that is walkability. Especially when living in an urban area, a well-connected public transit system and walkable neighborhoods can make or break the whole experience. How often do we complain about traffic? Always! Imagine not having to. Do you feel relaxed already? Thought so.