Five Cities for a Fresh Start: Introduction
There’s never been a better time to start over somewhere else.
It’s easy to see why. The world has never seemed smaller to any generation. It’s only getting cheaper and easier to move around. The amount of stuff we need—and the amount of space it takes, and the amount it costs—is only getting smaller over time.
To put all of this very concretely: it’s possible now to sell all of your possessions on Craigslist for cash (including your car), book a flight to your city of choice, check two bags, find accommodations, get transportation, select and buy furniture, and even find jobs and apartments in the span of a single day. Even better: a motivated 22-year-old could do all of that from a smartphone.
We know all of this is possible because we did it. And we’re far from alone.
Five Cities for a Fresh Start
For the next five weeks, we’ll be showing you five of the best cities in America for up-and-coming people thinking about moving. We’ll feature one city per week and dissect its culture, living conditions and costs, and potential over the next 10-20 years.
This week is our introduction; we’ll give our guidelines for picking the right city, then tell you how we narrowed down our featured five. At the conclusion of the series, we’ll have some feature posts giving specific tips for setting up that move—and saving yourself time, money, and hassle as you go.
Picking the Right City for You
One: wherever you move should have opportunity. It’s tempting to move somewhere with one big perk—like somewhere dirt-cheap (Detroit) or gorgeous (Aruba) or where all your friends live. But a place with perks is different from a place with opportunity. You might love paying $300 a month for rent or waking up to the sound of the ocean every morning—but with dead-end work, those just become prettier dead ends. Live somewhere things happen, even if it’s just in one industry. No one works in true isolation who needs to be paid; what if you go somewhere for one opportunity (as many people taking a job do) and it falls through at some point? Without a network, without some opportunity nearby, you’d be stuck; even if you succeeded, you could only grow so far.
Two: you should move somewhere you will enjoy living. At Code&Quill, and on this blog, our work is important to us—hence, the importance of opportunity. But life isn’t all about work; when you’re done with work for the day, what’s left for you? If you detest the climate or culture of the place you live, you’ll never feel at home no matter how well things go in your work. Don’t move to Chicago if you hate cold weather and big cities; don’t move to San Diego if you want to go pheasant hunting. And so on.
Three: you should NOT pick somewhere prohibitively expensive. What’s “prohibitively expensive” depends on your needs. San Francisco and New York are notoriously expensive, but there are ways to live there happily—if your standards are flexible enough, or if your income is high enough. The latter—the usefulness of a bigger, steadier paycheck—seems so obvious, but that’s precisely the point: it’s a daily reality that just existing in certain places is a big drain on your resources. If you can sustain your own opportunity and lifestyle in a place like New York or San Fran, more power to you. But if you know that it will be a struggle and a risk just to live somewhere, think twice before moving there.
Four: wherever you move, you should not wind up there alone. It’s a bit more personal, we’ll admit, but this is a rule we’ve added from our own experiences—our separate experiences living completely alone before Code&Quill began. The condensed version is this: living alone can play some ugly tricks on your mind, whether you’re introverted or extroverted, whether you’re experiencing success in certain areas or not. The problem isn’t having a place to yourself (anyone could understand that need); the problem is living in isolation, away from a support system and away from consistent friendly contact. Isolation is demoralizing; it distorts your sense of accomplishment; without other people to pull you up, you spend your time feeling underwater, like everything is slow and empty and just a little too quiet.
Your choice of where to live determines who’s in the world outside your door. Even if you move somewhere by yourself, get tapped in quickly. Making friends can have fits and starts, and it’s not equally fun for everyone—but pick a place where you’d be willing to take the first step. The rest gets easier as you go.
How We Selected Our Five Cities
The general idea: we selected the cities that would satisfy the above criteria for as many of our audience members as possible. You are welcome to differ, of course, but our audience is generally youngish (between 25 and 40), tech-forward, creative, and upwardly-mobile (read: motivated). Therefore, we skewed our choices in the following ways:
We preferred cities of some size. Bigger isn’t always better, but population is a good metric for how much activity (and opportunity) an area might have. Areas with a low population (or lots of sprawl) are less likely to be bustling centers of anything. There’s no hard-and-fast number, but a metro area of 1-2 million people seems like a reasonable medium—too much larger or smaller and it’ll need to be justified.
Cities, by their nature, also have certain tendencies that naturally fit our people, at least in broad strokes. For example, cities are more likely to have thriving arts and music scenes; cities are more likely to house a diverse collection of people; cities are more likely to wind up blue than red, politically. Cities are also more likely to house the sorts of industries in which we work: tech, creative services, business, and so on.
We preferred cities with a more reasonable cost of living. Simply put, younger people don’t have or make as much money. While there may be factors that swing in favor of bigger and more expensive cities, we’re aware they’re harder sells or downright impossible for many people. We’re not going for the places that are hottest or most popular; those are perks, not features.
We preferred cities near other interesting cities. Spoiler alert, it didn’t make the list—Minneapolis might be a wonderful city, but it’s too far from too much. When the only cities within a day’s drive are Milwaukee and Chicago—and Denver, at 13 hours away—you’re a bit isolated for our taste. You've gotta like where you are, but having other places within reach definitely counts.
What We’ll Cover For Each City
Our Biases—How we approach the city as we write
Population & Demographic Data—How many people there and how they break down
Cost of Living—What it costs to live there as an up-and-coming person
Food & Culture—What’s tasty, fun, and colorful there
Work & Business—What people do for a living and how they choose to do it
Creative Life—What kinds of creativity you find there
Odds & Ends—How are the drivers there? Is anything open past 10pm? How do people feel about beards and bicycles?
America is indeed a land of opportunity—in some places. Starting next week, we'll find out where the best places are—and how to get ourselves there.
Thanks for reading Ampersand, a Code&Quill blog. Next week, we'll be covering City #1 in our series "Five Cities for a Fresh Start," which began with this post. If you’d like highlights from the blog, plus brand-new info about upcoming products and promotions, feel free to join our email newsletter here.