Where to live

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My family is in the process of figuring out where it wants to live, and moving there. At the moment we are concentrating on Portland Oregon and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. We currently live on the western border of Decatur, Georgia in unincorporated DeKalb County, on the eastern edge of prestigious Druid Hills about a 1/4 mile from the border of the city of Atlanta. We have no family or friends in Pittsburgh or Portland - though we have family and friends with family and friends in either Pittsburgh or Portland. So we keep being asked - why move there, and in fact why move at all. Hopefully this will capture some of that.

Why not stay where we ended up

Staying put is easiest. But as a professional software engineer I can work in many places. So we don't have to be in Atlanta. And the IT jobs in Atlanta have migrated north up 400 - with an awful lot of them in Roswell and Alpharetta - places I don't want to move to. And we have a good chunk of equity in our house. And where the schools in our area (Fernbank Elementary School, Shamrock Middle School, Druid Hills High School) are good compared with others in the area, they are definitely not the best in the state - nor are Georgia schools necessarily on par with schools in other states.

Getting to Atlanta

I was born in the Bronx, raised in New Jersey and ended up in Albany, Georgia in the middle of my junior year in high school. I applied to a number of colleges (got accepted into Carnegie-Mellon for Psychology but turned down for Computer Science) and ended up going to the cheapest and closest of all, Georgia Tech - which also got me out of Albany. I've lived in the Atlanta area since 1983.

Phil was born in Albany, Georgia and left it at age 19 to join me in Atlanta. So she has lived in Georgia her entire life - something she'd like to change.

The kids were born at DeKalb Medical Center just outside Decatur, Georgia and have lived in the Atlanta area their whole lives.

The Good and the Bad of where we live

We like where we live. It is an urban forest filled with highly educated individuals, many connected to Emory University, and is about the most liberal place in the state. With the Friends down the road as a catalyst, the area filled with "War is not the answer signs", in response to the planned attack on Iraq. And with Kerry signs all throughout 2004 and bumper stickers still. Many families with different last names in the school. Same-Sex couples with families on our block and in the school. Old houses, the planetarium and nearby science museum. The cool nearby neighborhoods of Lake Claire, Candler Park, Little Five Points, Virginia-Highlands. The family oriented activities of Decatur square, just next door. And Decatur is experiencing a building boom which is creating even more shops under attractive 3-5 story condo buildings. Its got a bit of a parking problem during the day. But its an easy bike ride away and there is a bike path just outside our neighborhood that goes right into Decatur. In fact the bike path is currently something like 13 miles long stretching from Stone Mountain to downtown Atlanta. And there are plans to connect it to the Silver Comet trail which runs 40 miles from Smyrna to the Alabama border. And we are an easy walking distance from a Marta rail station.

The schools we are in are pretty good, which is why we moved there. The elementary school has especially strong parental involvement and support. But on a national scale the schools are not all that impressive. And the district itself, DeKalb County school system is huge and varied - mostly filled with schools you'd move away from to avoid. Decatur city schools next door are under extreme monetary pressure, which have cut into quality and have cut into people willing to use the schools.

And then there is everywhere else. Republican. Conservative. Religious. Churches literally everywhere. Anti-Abortion, Anti-Gay Rights, Anti-Rights period. Anti-intellectual.

So for us perfection would look like our neighborhood on a larger scale, but with great schools. And still close to museums (especially science, history, technology) and theatre. But with less religious focus. And with great book stores. And older well-build houses preferably in brick or stone but little or no subdivisions. Not flat, preferably keeping the rolling feel of Atlanta. And not that far from the sound of trains. And close to varied shopping, but not just malls. And cheap enough housing that our pretty solid equity stake could be used to lower our monthly payments and allow us to do a reasonable amount of renovating.

The Selection Process

For a first pass, I looked at cities that had universities with strong computer science departments using various lists , reports and so forth. And then I struck all cities in Red States according to the 2004 election, except for Boulder, Colorado. I looked at a book that suggested finding your place to live was a good idea. The author traveled North America checking out likely spots including: Santa Fe, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver.

I then went to the Cities Ranked and Rated 2004 book and started building spreadsheets. I first had to place each of the candidate cities in their proper metropolitan area.

I struck places with bad air or bad water or high crime or lousy schools or a bad health rating (all according to Places Rated).
I struck places with sprawl and low elevation seashore (global warming).
I struck all places that didn't have additional colleges to go along with the listed college.

I did not strike a place for having a difficult climate or for being expensive - figuring most places with these problems would be struck for other reasons.

The big surprise was Oregon. It just wouldn't go away.

Corvallis was struck down because it only had the one college. And Eugene and Corvallis had not enough software jobs listed on monster.

And that left Portland and Pittsburgh. And about 10 other places that were either colder or more expensive or less attractive in some fashion.

Why Pittsburgh?

I've been there once. It was beautiful. And housing is definitely cheaper.

Cities Ranked and Rated Profile:
  • Economic turnaround
  • Arts and culture
  • Cost of living
  • Recent unemployment
  • Clouds and rain
  • Commute time

Personal Pro/Con's:
  • Not all that far away from Atlanta, Dallas, New Jersey
  • Eastern timezone
  • Carnegie-Mellon, University of Pittsburgh
  • Cheap housing, certainly cheaper than Druid Hills
  • Mount Lebanon school district, apparently one of the best in the country.
  • Good Air
  • Most Literate
  • Cultural Bargain
  • Actual Seasons
  • Lots of nearby drivable destinations
  • Bridges, tunnels, ridges, rivers and its just plain beautiful
  • Old buildings
  • Shady Side, Squirrel Hill - which on paper look a lot like Druid Hills
  • Snow, but not tons and tons of snow
  • Third Best City for Business - Fortune Magazine
  • Ranked #1 Most Liveable City by Places Rated Almanac in 1985; in the 2000 edition Pittsburgh ranked 12th.
  • Pittsburgh International Airport Ranks # 1 in the United States by Plog Research and #4 in the world by Conde Naste Traveler.
  • Fifth best city to raise a family - Reader's Digest Magazine
  • One of the 13 hottest high-tech centers in the United States.
  • BIKE Magazine ranks Pittsburgh 5th best place to live and ride.
  • Quite a bit colder with more snow than Bergen County, NJ.
  • Quite a bit colder than in Georgia
  • Apparent lack of good schooling at the Elementary and Middle School level in Pittsburgh proper
  • Good neighborhoods are right next to bad neighborhoods (and next to good and bad in perpetuity)
  • Lots of software jobs moved north of Allegheny County - Alpharetta, GA and Cranberry,PA could be sister cities
  • A bit hard to get through the Mount Washington ridge, with definite amounts of traffic.
  • Lots of the ridges don't have houses on them apparently because the ice would make access difficult.

Why Portland?

Portland on paper seems to be like living in Decatur, but on a grand scale. See also moving to portland

Cities Ranked and Rated Profile:
  • Attractive downtown
  • Arts and culture
  • Nearby recreation
  • Recent unemployment
  • Cost of living
  • Clouds and rain

Personal Pro/Con's:
  • Powell's City of Books
  • Only 60 miles from the beach
  • Only 50 miles from huge mountains (which you can see from the city).
  • Bicycling magazine’s No. 1 cycling city
  • New Urbanism, well-planned-city, often cited in similar places to Seaside, Florida. Urban Service Area
  • Oregon Museum of Science and Industry - a top 10 science museum
  • Mothering Magazine - Great Place to raise children
  • Most Literate
  • ranked highly by many national publications in their lists of “The Most Livable City”, “The Friendliest City”, and ” The Best City to Raise a Family.”
  • 2nd Best City to Live Men's Journal
  • American Podiatric Medical Association ranked Portland #4 for walking out of 200 USA cities
  • Reader's Digest June 2005, Cleanest of the large cities
  • Far away
  • Rains a lot
  • Not anymore snow than Atlanta
  • Services rumored to be severely underfunded due to state taxation policies (rumor)
  • Job market may still be hurting pretty badly (rumor)
  • Schools not supposed to be all that good (rumor)

Why not ...

Remember of course that the selection process was arbitrary, but it was our process. and it is still in a state of flux - which is why we are taking trips to Portland and Pittsburgh and a side trip to Niagra Falls - and who knows where else...

Still plausible but less likely: Arbitrary
Ann Arbor, MICold
Boston, MAToo Expensive
Boulder, COArbitrary
Buffalo, NYCold
Eugene-Springfield, ORSoftware Jobs
Madison, WICold
Middlesex, NJArbitrary
Minneapolis, MNCold
Providence, RIArbitrary
Rochester, NYCold
Santa Barbara, CA

Very unlikely
Location Reason
Albany, NY
Atlanta, GARed State
Austin, TXRed State
Baltimore, MDCrime Rate, Urban Sprawl, Air Quality
Binghamton, NYIsolation, Climate, Quality of Life
Bloomington, INRed State
Champaign-Urbana, ILOnly one 4yr college
Charlottesville, VARed State
Chicago, ILHigh Violent Crime
Cleveland, OHRed State
Columbus, OHRed State
Concord, NHIsolation
Corvallis, OROnly one 4yr college
Des Moines, IARed State
Gainesville, FLRed State
Houston, TXRed State
Indianapolis, INRed State
Iowa City, IARed State
Knoxville, TNRed State
Lansing-East Lansing, MIClimate, Quality of Life
Nashville, TNRed State
Nassau-Suffix, NYSea Level
New Haven, CTCost of Living, Quality of Life
Los Angeles, CAAir Quality, High Violent Crime, Least Literate
New York, NYSprawl
Oakland, CACost of Living, Health, Transportation
Philadelphia, PABad Air
Raleigh-Durham, NCRed State
Roanoke, VARed State
Sacramento, CABad Air
Saint Louis, MORed State
Salt Lake City, UTRed State
San Diego, CACost of Living, Health
San Jose, CAJobs, Cost of Living, Health
Santa Cruz, CAJobs, Cost of Living, Health
Seattle, WASprawl
Springfield, MAViolent Crime
State College, PABad Air
Syracuse, NYClimate, Quality of Life
Trenton, NJBad Water
Tucson, AZRed State
Washington, DCSprawl
Wilmington-Newark, DEEducation, Quality of Life

Why not Canada?

On the surface Toronto and Vancouver both look pretty interesting. But if we have trouble with the distance to Portland and Seattle, and the climate of Pittsburgh - how could we possibly deal with moving further north and further away?

Perhaps after this move and after the kids get through high school, we'll feel differently. It would seem fairly easy to move from Portland to Vancouver or from Pittsburgh to Toronto...