How to Assess a New City?

Archived Q&A and Reviews



How to find where liberals live (within a city)?

April 2010

My husband and I are politically liberal, and facing the prospect of a move outside the Bay Area for job reasons. In particular we are looking at a couple of large cities that are in conservative parts of the country, but because they are urban, are more liberal and/or have more liberal pockets or neighborhoods. What I'm trying to do is find those pockets from afar to help guide our choices.

Does anyone know of a website (or other resources) that tracks things like election results or political-party membership by **zip code, neighborhood, or precinct**? I have found data at the city/county level, which is not specific enough since we are looking for a particular neighborhood to live in. I've also found campaign contributions by zip code, which is interesting, but greatly skewed by the wealthy of the zip code, since middle class and lower-income neighborhoods don't contribute to campaigns at all. It seems like this data has got to be available - I'm sure the campaigns know where to find it! - does anyone here know? Looking for blue islands in red seas

Your question hit a nerve with me and I wanted to let you know of my experience growing up in a famously 'liberal' city. While my hometown mostly votes the way I do, like most of the gay and lesbian kids I grew up with there, I fled and never returned. High school for me was an experience several steps beyond awful, and my bitterness returns every time I hear someone tell me what a liberal, forward-thinking town I'm from. I know that queer folks my age were certainly the canaries in the coal mine when we were teenagers about a community's real values, but throughout my life I have continued hearing about support shown to gay kids in religiously and politically more 'conservative' communities. Families and churches stepping up, neighbors extending real support and community-- these are examples that move me much more powerfully than seeing a color on a map. That said, you may want to further refine what you mean by liberal. Do you want access to churches that practice liberation theology? Less segregated public schools? Chinese/Cuban restaurants? Excellent food co-ops and farmer's markets? Long public library hours? Strong unions? High voter tunout rates? A low incidence of documented hate crimes? Sorry for ranting, but liberals didn't do much for me when I needed their help the most. I vote left, but don't ever call me a liberal

I always find the bulletin boards at health food stores to be very helpful in locating liberal folks in any city. Maybe if you did a search for health food stores and then call and speak to a real live liberal person who works in the store (assumption, yes, but most likely correct)you might get pointed in a direction--and maybe they can even direct you to a yahoo group or other cyber list that caters to the liberal in that city . . .good luck! Venus

How about just asking friends (or friends of friends)? Or using the web community (via blogs, message boards, etc. A friend of mine has friends all over the country from her posting on food and political websites.) Connecting with local clubs or local meetups is another good way to find like-minded people. The right realtor can also be a good starting point if you don't know anyone.

How to tell in 3 days if it's the right city?

Feb 2004

We're considering a couple job offers from out of the area employers; we'd be moving to states/cities where we know no one and have no prior experience. My spouse saw the areas on the interview visit and now the potential employers are willing to fly us for a 3-4 day visit to determine if _we_ like it. So my question is - how do you go about assessing the liveablility/likeableness of another place in 3-4 days? We shouldn't be ''tourists'' with our time really, so how do you ''interview'' a ''place'' to decide to uproot and move? Any tips from others who have relocated to new places without prior experience of the new place? Our only ''big'' moves were years ago for college when you move to a new place with thousands of other new students so everyone makes adjustments and discoveries together. This potential move seems so different. This book looks like it might help with some of our questions but it's out of print - anyone have a loaner copy? ''MAKING THE BIG MOVE -- the right way'' by Cathy Goodwin or another suggestions?
interviewing to uproot

My sister and her family had a similar experience where they were asked to assess a place on a short visit in order to make the decision to move. I can offer you a couple of tips from them, though one of their concerns was budget, and that might not be one of yours if you're moving from the Bay Area :) While they were there they went shopping for the items they would usually buy to feed the family, looked at haircutting places, checked out the shoe-store situation, etc. and estimated what their cost of living would be in comparison to where they lived at the time. Think about costs that run higher in a lot of other places such as property taxes (lower in actual $$ but higher in percentage) and heating and cooling costs (they can raise housing costs dramatically).

School districts and their ''scores'' can be googled on the web. If you are interested in public schools, you should figure out which districts would be best for you and then look at the housing market nearby.

Think about the services you use most frequently: public libraries, swimming pools, gyms, parks, etc. and look at your selected neighborhoods in the new town to see how the services stack up. Services you use often should be high quality, within your budget, and conveniently located (see below).

Commute/transporatation and driving. You should drive in the city while you're there, on the routes you are most likely to take to work/school/doctor/shopping, etc. at the times of day when you are most likely to take those routes. Traffic nightmare? Terrible drivers? (Again, moving from the Bay Area, maybe most places won't look so bad...) Are you thinking of using public transportation or biking? Experiment while you're there, and think about what it might be like in other seasons (bad weather?).

Outdoors and environment. Is it important for you to be able to walk in your neighborhood? To stores or entertainment? Many cities in the U.S. are not really walkable. You can try to choose a neighborhood that will accommodate walking. Is there required recycling? No possible recycling? To some people this may not seem important, but many Bay Area residents take it for granted that a community will have an environmental policy in place. Not so in lots of places.

Religion. Are you churchgoers or allergic to church? Or do you need a welcoming synagogue or Buddhist meditation center or other focus for spiritual life? It's easy to get stuck in an inappropriate neighborhood or even city if you have definite ideas pro or con regarding religion. Finding a convenient and appropriate ''church home'' for churchgoing families is important. Finding a community where all of the other kids' families are not avid churchgoers is important for secular families.

On a similar note, does the community provide social structure that would accommodate you and your interests: a parents' network/ publications, music, book clubs, or other things that you need to keep you connected and happy? You can look on the web to try to find some of those things out, or get hold of local papers. Good luck!
relocated many times...

We had the same issue a couple of years ago, looking at academic jobs around the country. I went traveling around the Eastern US to look at which places we might want to go to.

I found that there were a few things that would help me figure out if the place was ''my kind'' of place, and then I looked in the phone book for those things. I also went and checked them out to make sure they were the quality of things I was looking for.

My list included a natural grocery store, coffee houses, museums and independent bookstores. I also looked for gay bars, even though I'm not gay and don't go to bars, because it tells me something about the community. I looked at the kind of weekly newspapers they had and what kind of independent movie theaters, what if any live theater, opera, etc. and I looked at the weather patterns over the year (you can find some of this on the internet).

I also looked at how the downtown was laid out: is it pedestrian? Does everyone go to shopping malls and not go anywhere central at all? Is there a sense of community? Does the downtown looked kept up, like people hang out there? How about the neighborhoods? Does it look like people enjoy being in their houses? I don't mean well-kept: a well-kept neighborhood is not necessarily a friendly one (often just the opposite); I mean, does it look like people live in their houses, kids play there, people walk around and talk to each other?

So for example, with regard to weather, Brattleboro Vermont had all these things and I loved the town. But the weather was snow and more snow from November to May, and I just wasn't sure I could hack it. Let's face it, the SF Bay Area has more of these cultural comforts per square inch than practically any place on earth. You're not going to find all these things in such abundant supply. But they can help you get a gauge on what the place is like. If the place has none of these things, you may get an indication that it's not like anyplace you would want to live (if you like the Bay Area).

I had an amazing experience in Ashville, NC, where I was out walking around in the evening and I heard flamenco music coming from down an alley. I went down there and there was a wonderful bar, with tapas and interesting people hanging out, fantastic decor, and I spent the evening there, talking to people about the town, etc. We ended up staying here. But I did find places all over that I would want to live if I couldn't live here. Good luck, Heather

We are moving to Walnut Creek in a matter of months and went through the same thing you seem to be going through. We visited the East Bay this summer and only had a few days to decide where exactly we wanted to live which is not so simple when you also have to take into consideration children and schooling etc... The absolute best thing we did was a friend set us up with her realtor and she gave us the BEST tour. It was so helpful. She was able to show us what neighborhoods we could afford and really seemed to have the inside scoop on types of neighborhoods and communities, and most importantly which areas had good schools. It would have been impossible for us to get a feel for the area on our own the way we were able to with this realtor. I highly recommed doing this! Good luck CB

Hi - I had an opportunity to move across the country for a job and just a weekend to check out the place. My # 1 recommendation is that you spend some quality time with an experienced realtor. My offer would have included relocation, so Human Resources at the new company set me up with a realtor for a day. She drove me all over town, showed me some houses and gave me brief descriptions of what different neighborhoods were all about. Luckily, she was very honest with her assessment of the neighborhoods. That gave me enough information to pick a particular neighborhood I thought I'd end up in.

So on Sunday I spent the whole day in that area by myself. I walked around, visited grocery stores, went to some open houses, etc. I think I ended up really getting a feel for the place & felt I knew enough to make a decision to move there - lower housing prices being a big draw. If my kids had been with me, I think I would have tried to make a typical day for us in the neighborhood - walk around with the stroller, hang out at a park and try to chat up some other moms about things like safety, schools, etc.

Unfortunately, once I was really sold on the location, I didn't like the job offer! Best of luck to you. still here