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Geography Matters

I have been giving a lot of thought to geography lately.

Not hills and valleys, but where people live and how it affects their lives.  Penelope Trunk’s post on her family’s move from New York City to Madison, Wisconsin, raises a lot of important  ideas about how to decide where to live.  In the comments, though, some people argue that a truly happy person will “bloom where she’s planted,” so it really shouldn’t matter where we live.  I disagree.  I think it is possible to be a happy person and hate the place you live, and that a good match between a town and your needs can make life 100 times better.

As support, let’s take a look at the places I’ve lived.

Lewiston, Maine.  I loved my job and liked a lot about Maine, but living in a town without a social scene and far from an airport was hard.  The winter evenings were long and very, very quiet, and I rarely got to see my family and friends.  I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t happy enough to stay, either.

Swarthmore, PA.  My apartment was great, I walked to work, and the commuter rail station was 3 blocks away.  To get anywhere else, however, I had to drive – on clogged, poorly designed streets.  And the downtown closed by 5 p.m.  I moved after a year.

Philadelphia, PA.  Philly’s pretty awesome.  I had two great apartments in the city, walked to work or to the train, walked to meet friends (and walked home afterwards), shopped at grocery stores, fruit stands, and famers’ markets, and generally had a great day-to-day life.  After awhile though, Philly’s heavily female population meant I was making good friends and enjoying life…but rarely meeting anyone that I might want to date.

Charlottesville, VA.  Charlottesville has a great small town vibe.  It supports local business owners, has a fantastic farmers’ market, and has more restaurants than anyone could ever get to.  It’s downfall, at least for me, is that it is completely unwalkable and has limited public transportation.  That means that I can’t give up my car, I spend a lot of time fighting for spaces in parking lots, and I have to strictly limit my alcohol intake when I’m out with friends.  I’ve often wished I could push Charlottesville closer together so that cars didn’t have to be at the center of life; it’s the reason I’ll probably end up leaving.

Cambridge, UK. Cambridge’s bus system goes everywhere in town, every 10 minutes, almost all day long.  They have every store imaginable in the downtown shopping area, a daily famers’ and craft market, and an incredibly well-educated population.  The city supports a vibrant arts scene and tickets to national touring productions can be purchased for just 10 GBP.  There are a profusion of food options – from pubs to gourmet restaurants, and London (and therefore the rest of the world) is just 45 minutes away by train.  There is absolutely no need for a car – it is easier, in fact, to be a pedestrian or cyclist than a driver.  I was incredibly happy there and would move back in an instant.

So now I’m looking at new cities I could move to.  I’m pouring through surveys, studies, lists, census data, and blog entries.  I want to find a city with a low cost of living, a high population of single, well-educated people, more men than women, walkability, and great theatres.  Austin, TX, is coming often in my research, as is (quite surprisingly!) Milwaukee, WI.  Other suggestions are welcome.

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Categories: Cambridge, Location Tags: ,
  1. Hilary
    March 12, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Yes mom, this also took more than 10 minutes.

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