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Search factors: schools, income, weather, recreation, cultural opportunities, job market, devotion

Old 05-24-2007, 07:22 AM
Status: "I'm an Unmherkun puppy-kicking Socialist" (set 17 days ago)
Location: Dallas, TX
4,032 posts, read 2,116,476 times
Reputation: 3778


As we all know, many factors determine which city is the “right one” in which to live. The usual factors include schools, income, weather, recreation, cultural opportunities, and too many others to list in this space.

Each area of the nation has well-established reputations in regard for many factors: The Northeast, the West Coasts, and (to a degree) the urban Upper Midwest have reputations for being openminded and tolerant. The South, Texas, and Utah are know for their strong devotion to conservative social values. Likewise, most places with mountains and/or ocean shores will be reknown for their scenery and recreation opportunities; while flat inland areas are known for farming, ranching, and logging.

Yet, it’s easy to paint with too broad a brush in these cases. As my professor in college was fond of saying “Any time you deal with averages, you obscure the details”. Put more simply, “That’s the problem with generalizations, they’re just so general.” In terms of this forum, this means focusing on “general rules” means you can easily overlook the proverbial diamonds in the rough. Here’s an example from a big emphasis of mine: the social and political climate of an area (highly important to not only me, but to most people with highly controversial and unpopular viewpoints and beliefs).

Finding Diamonds in the Coal Mine

For this, you need subcounty level data. Often, county level figures dilute the neighborhood figures to the point that misleads casual observers. You would especially want this if you have to move to a part of the country not known for supporting your most deeply cherished viewpoints (e.g., conservatives moving to the SF Bay Area, or liberals moving to the Deep South). This is how I found surprisingly liberal (my orientation) neighborhoods in the most unlikely places - Shreveport, La.; Jackson, Miss.; Baton Rouge.

The data of choice for me were three of the following:

1) Precinct Level Election Data for Ralph Nader for Nov. 7, 2000 (available at www.ourcampaigns.com or the website of each state’s Secretary of State or Election Board).

2) Census Tract Level Data. Avaliable at American Factfinder, a subsite of the US Census Bureau ( factfinder.census.gov )

2a) Unmarried Partner Households By Sex of Partners (Also includes the entry All Other Households)

2b.) Education Attainment (my personal choice is those who completed at least one bachelors degree)

Explaining exactly how to find specific information for a specific neighborhood would take about two posts. For now, it’s enough to say that in addition to the above, you’ll need to be very familiar with mapquest, google earth, or some other mapping program that lets you pinpoint the precise location of a street address. Furthermore, you’ll probably have to buy a calling card to finance your phone calls to the county election commission to find the street address of the polling place which generated those voting tallies for that precinct (I found that you often can’t count on prompt responses via e-mail).

If you have no desire to go to all this trouble, I’ll just give you some general observations based on my real-life experience and my data and map manipulations:

1) Differences within a metro area are ultimately more important than differences between larger-scale areas (multi-state regions, individual states, and even individual counties within even small metro areas). For example, Long Island likely has more in common with suburban Atlanta than with Manhattan. Likewise even Jackson Miss., as conservative as a whole as it is, has a neighborhood more in common with Arlington, Va than it does with suburban Jackson.

2) For practically every metropolitan area with at least one-third of a million people, certain areas will have more in common with areas of OTHER metro areas than with the rest of its home metro. Again, older urban middle class neighborhoods have more in common with their counterparts in other cities than with their suburbs, or even their “outer central city” areas.

3) All other things being equal, the closer your neighborhood is to downtown, the more likely it is to be the following, especially relative to suburbs (not to speak of bonafide small towns):

a) be the most liberal section of the metropolitan area

b) be the center of metro area’s the cultural life (even opera, ballet, etc in addition to the “street level” culture)

c) have more diversity (ideological and religious diversity, sometimes racial as well although the latter can’t be absolutely counted on)

d) be “funkier”, artsier, or more bohemian in general.

To my satisfaction, this goes a long way to proving that complaints about such-and-such a city on the basis of its values and attitudes have limited value at best: Every metro with at least 1/3 of a million people (and some even less than that) is likely to offer at least a little something for everyone, even if not quite to the New York scale. This holds true even for the most conservative metropolitan areas. This tells me that saying such-and-such metro is a conservative metro applies more to middle-to-upper-middle class suburbs than to the metro as a whole (for example, Long Island and Orange County are certainly more progressive than Cobb Co. GA or Collin Co. TX).

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not trying to say that Jackson, Miss’s (or any other ‘conservative areas’) funky neighborhood rivals San Francisco’s Castro, or even SoMa in liberalism. All I’m saying is that there’s a whole lot more to an area than meets the eye. In short, I’d say any metro area in these size categories (especially ones with more than one million residents) can be a winner for you if you make the effort to look at all the things the city has to offer and know where to look for it. In doing so, I hope this posts does a little to help new residents to a metro be content with their current place of residence.
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Old 05-24-2007, 04:34 PM
Location: Austin, TX
1,231 posts, read 3,445,891 times
Reputation: 396
What a brilliant concept this is, Phil7! I just wanted the honor of being the first to respond, but will need to give more thought to posting something more substantial because you've given us a lot to chew on.

My initial response is that I've lived in many places and I fully agree with everything you said.

Los Angeles
(where I've never lived but have spent many months visiting) is a classic example of what you've outlined. That city has just about every type of community imaginable in its sprawling tentacles. Most people say they hate LA, it's quite a popular sentiment. But are they talking about Van Nuys or South Pasadena? Are they talking about Torrance or Manhattan Beach? Pomona or Silverlake?

You see where I'm coming from. Los Angeles has not only a near-infinite number of choices of social and cultural environments, it also has extremely varied weather depending on proximity to mountains and ocean and the quirks of how the air flows around the region. It's truly a magnificent place, both hideous and beautiful at the same time. You can love it and hate it and everyone will understand that you embrace the extremes of reaction to it because it evokes those extremes.

I find a wee bit of that in Austin, my current home. I'm madly in love with this city but there are MANY times when I've cursed the place. It's like I'm in love with a woman who drives me crazy, but my infatuation with her overwhelms my sensibilities so I cannot break up with her. I simply LOVE AUSTIN but what I love about it is very specific and largely missing from the vast majority of the land mass that comprises the Greater Austin SMSA. I love little neighborhoods, certain roads, that tree over there and this trail down to the creek and that spot where I go swimming and the guy on the radio with his hilarious takes on local politics --- a location is very much like a person IF you experience it that way.

But many people would not understand this, they're more concerned with generic qualities such as school test scores, housing prices and taxes, job opportunities and whether they can find a Neiman Marcus or Nordstroms within 30 minutes of their suburban home. For those people, choices are simpler. There is no need to consider the personality of the place, just look at the objective measurements and the weather stats and then make an offer on a house in the "best subdivision." I have no comprehension of such a mentality but it is what comprises most of America, I fear.

And if I sound like an elitist, it's only because I'm an elitist.
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Old 06-12-2007, 07:09 AM
Status: "I'm an Unmherkun puppy-kicking Socialist" (set 17 days ago)
Location: Dallas, TX
4,032 posts, read 2,116,476 times
Reputation: 3778
Thanks for your kind words, Harvester. As you probably figured out by now, it all depends on how well you know what you want out of life...and where to find it. In the end, I've concluded the future of a small-to-medium city's (and even small town's) vitality is having a small but dedicated core of people open to new, unorthodox ideas - especially those who are "boat rockers". The more attention they get, the more likely it'll attract a critical mass of people who can supply the community with one more broad (read: different) set of life's options. Finding it ultimately means looking hard and looking smart-and-informed.
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Old 06-14-2007, 10:36 AM
Location: Austin, TX
1,231 posts, read 3,445,891 times
Reputation: 396
Sorry to see that this thread hasn't gone anywhere. There are a lot of members of this forum who would have brilliant comments to contribute but I guess they've not seen the thread, or perhaps we're too verbose to hold their attention.

By the way, I agree with your comments above in your short post. Critical mass of unorthodox ideas, I like that...
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Old 06-14-2007, 11:09 AM
1,008 posts, read 3,730,762 times
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I appreciate what you had to say. It certainly makes a lot of sense and makes you stop to question your assessment process. There is much data out there that compares and contrasts cities but I'm sure a good percentage of neighborhoods are omitted from the survey. It's best to correspond with locals prior to making a move and keep in mind that their views are also subjective in nature.
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Old 07-04-2009, 10:54 AM
57 posts, read 177,980 times
Reputation: 44
Great thread. Can we resurrect it?
I'm a political conservative who prefers to live in urban, liberal neighborhoods - i.e., older houses, walkable downtowns, close to a large metro. Had it in Atlanta, in the neighborhood of Winnona Park in the city of Decatur, but seriously lack it in DFW. Yikes.
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Old 07-04-2009, 06:03 PM
5,682 posts, read 8,752,084 times
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Thanks for resurrecting the thread. The OP makes some excellent points. Most people are likely to find kindred souls in any city of a reasonable size.

Sometimes what I pick up on is a degree of exclusiveness. Someimes you see it in conservatives who don't want to be around liberals, but more often I notice it in liberals who don't want to be around conservatives. They cry out for "diversity" but if there are too many middle ordinary class/ working class folks around they find it boring. Wierd, isn't it? Liberals can be the worst snobs. I know, cause I hang around with them.
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Old 12-10-2009, 01:02 AM
Status: "I'm an Unmherkun puppy-kicking Socialist" (set 17 days ago)
Location: Dallas, TX
4,032 posts, read 2,116,476 times
Reputation: 3778
Heya Snoopy,

Thanks for the resurrection, even if I myself am 5 mths late back to the party (same to you, creek).

Snoopy, if you're talking about the DFW area, then Lower Greenville / "M Streets" area seems reasonable. Still, as you'd expect, these houses are a lot more expensive. As for walkability elsewhere that's at least somewhat reasoably priced, your best bet is Downtown Plano, and maybe downtown Garland (though I'm not familiar with the latter). Still, the DART Green Line will be open up to..Farmers Branch, I believe? in 2011 or 12. So that might work too.

For creeksitter,

I'm afraid that just goes with the territory. The best you'll get for true diversity is a block of precincts whose term-to-term general presidential election patterns closely mirror the nation as a whole. Those are "fifty-fifty" type places that should be "free" enough for you to not feel intimidated to express your views, if you don't mind a good friendly discussion with people who disagree with you. If both sides are free to exist, then they're inevitably free to challenge each other, after all. Having said that, I agree a lot of liberals are hypocritical about not accepting conservative types of diversity, just as a lot of conservatives are hypocritical about saying this is a free country yet socially shut out liberals just for being themselves. Hence my 50-50 remark.
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Old 12-21-2009, 04:41 PM
12 posts, read 45,216 times
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I have long been interested in these sort of census, electoral etc. statistics myself. Recently I set myself the task of looking for the place that best fits my set of criteria, though I did it on a WORLD basis, checking first which country was the best fit, then going into administrative divisions of whichever country was the best fit, and so on, then arriving at a town or city (and districts of it).

My criteria would probably be very complex to explain but I, too, have criteria that are sometimes controversial. Basically they are a combination of age structure, educational, political and religious criteria. The result was that Edinburgh, Scotland was the obvious winner. As it happens, I already live there.

As we're on the General US forum, that's getting a bit off-topic, but does emphasise the point that even having arrived at the best-fit town/city, even this is more than a little generalising. Edinburgh, like most anywhere, has wide variations between areas of the city in age structure, politics, education etc. All this very much reinforces the view that in any one local area there'll be an area that's a good fit for you, without the need to move hundreds or thousands of miles for a place that's a good fit.

What would be ideal is to have a GIS program like ArcGIS or GeoMedia or IDRISI etc. to help analyse data, when assessing suitability of neighbourhoods or areas on one's criteria.
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Old 12-21-2009, 11:28 PM
2,144 posts, read 6,348,691 times
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Insightful approach, Phil

Agree, macro-stats are often misleading and useless in analyzing economy and QOL of any major urban region

I tend to analyze any major urban region by its socio-economic geography, i.e., where are jobs located in one's industry (often in sprawling suburban corridors like SiliconValley, not in Luddite CBDs); where do people in specific industries at certain income levels choose to live when single vs if have kids; commutes/QOL for those scenarios, etc etc

Politics is always tricky....in my expce, most high economic and intellectual achievers are laissez-faire capitalists but fairly indifferent about social issues/politics....even cities like SF or PaloAlto are rather divergent in comparing PacificHts or Woodside where many SV capitalists and engineers reside, vs the commies who populate much of rest of SF (and who tend to view PacHts/Woodside sort of like how many in Dall's (more limited) commie zones view HP/PrestonHollow)

Irony is that in many allegedly sprawling regions like SiliconValley or Dallas or LA, many live within 20 mins of their office and spend their days/wkends in a tightly circumscribed part of an urban region and never have need/desire to visit other parts of region (e.g., many in Silicon Valley live/work nr PaloAlto and rarely visit SF except for an occasional business dinner...and less often venture into economically irrelevant East Bay or Marin)
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