Monday, July 12, 2010

"Best" Places to Live?

This CNN Money list of "Best Places to Live" intrigues me. Of course, nobody will ever agree about these things. My New York City friends will have a conniption fit that these small towns and cities fill the top ten, and people in Montana will be pretty peeved to have been left off the list entirely. As someone whose grad student career could have taken me to either New York or Montana, I found that location was a critical deciding factor...but only after I had applied.

Because it took me awhile to come to this realization, my applications literally spanned the country. Major initial limitations were 1) could my boyfriend move there/visit regularly with reasonably low costs and annoyances, and 2) is there a good chance that I won't go absolutely insane living there (a little nuts was OK). Beyond that, I wanted to go to the best school possible. I'd love to believe that the fact that I ended up living in my favorite area of the country was simple coincidence, but that would be a lie big enough to set some pants on fire.

The best advice I got once in the thick of it was to choose the 3-5 most important things about location and see how the potential choices stacked up. Here's what I picked:

Proximity to People
After ten months of living in the south, I realized I wanted to be closer to most of my family and friends while I still had the choice of location. Even though I had wonderful cohort-friends in Va. and I miss them now, there were serious problems with the distance: it was impossible to get away for holidays, my nearest "emergency contact" was 6+ hours away, and I missed a lot of social events, including seeing a close friend visiting from another country who I won't be able to see again for a few years. Things just go more smoothly for me when I'm not two plane rides away from the majority of people close to me.

The Right Feel
I've been pretty spoiled: both my college and graduate school towns were very fun, adorable places to live that were fairly convenient for day-to-day life. I don't want to drive 30 minutes to the grocery, I like to have a pharmacy in town, and I don't want my domicile to be described as a "secluded homestead". The flip-side of the coin is that I don't want to live in a dangerous place, nor a place that is so bustling with activity that I'll never get any work done (or sleep, because I need quiet!). It also couldn't cost a bazillion dollars to live there. I like to go to the movies from time to time and I need to buy things like granola and toilet paper on a regular basis and not run through my stipend by January. So I devised this list of obvious questions and just started asking random locals and students:

1. What transportation, in town and out of town, is available? How will people get here to visit?
2. What is the cost of an apartment and utilities? Are necessary things expensive here?
3. What is there to do in the town for fun? How late are places open?
4. What types of stores (grocery, convenience, gas stations) does the town support?
5. Is this area safe? Has the town had crime problems or natural disasters in the past?

Climatic Compatibility
I don't do rain. I will contend with blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, hail, wind shears, and Nor'easters but not perpetual rain. Oddly enough, though, I don't much like deserts either. So while friends desperately applied to southern schools to escape the northern cold, I ran screaming from much of the west, as well as any place that had every experienced a landslide, which is too scary for me at the current time.

The moral of the story is this (ooh, a teachable moment!): do as I say and not as I do, and try to think about these things way, way ahead of time. I'll admit that I didn't visit all of the potential places, because once you get that letter you often have a matter of weeks or potentially days to decide. I should have visited as many places ahead of time as possible instead of applying to some places that never would have worked out. As it is, I'm glad that things worked out in spite of my inability to consider basic geography, but for each person like me there's a Texan shivering in their parka in Madison, and I'm not sure what the Wisconsinite is doing about the Texas heat. Also, if this list motivates anyone to move to Fishers, Ind., I'd sure love to hear it.

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