Once you choose a region of the country, the next step is to choose your city.
I stress the world "city" rather than small town, farm, or cabin in the woods because, in most cases, your life can be far simpler in a city. A city's density leads to efficiencies in meeting your needs. Cities serve as a site for the exchange of labor, money, entertainment, culture, and are transit hubs. You can live in a city with less stuff than in the country, more efficient use of resources, and your life can be richer through easy access to other people and culture. If you think life on a farm is simple, go spend a day or two or a week with a farmer.
TIP: Love your city.
TACTIC: List the potential cities where you'd like to live in your region.
The best choice, of course, is the city that matches your needs and dreams best.
In trying to figure out which city is your match, here are some ideas:
- If your interests within a region are spread out among a variety of cities and locations, you might consider living in a centrally-located city. With good transit connections, you could place yourself right in the middle of what you want.
- If your interests are in cultural and business opportunities, in most cases, larger cities offer these in most abundance.
- Think how you can locate yourself to best serve all your interests. For example, if you dream of working on your art, there may be artists' village near a larger city. Being in the village may be key to your work, but also consider the greater diversity of life possible in the nearby city. With a quick transit connection, you may be able to get to the village when you need, and not be dependent on it for all your needs.
- Consider in advance how a city supports walkability. The most efficient and best-performing cities support walking and bicycling. Look for cities that have established complete streets, bike paths, and support for pedestrians. (You can use walkscore.com to find walkable cities.)
- Every city will have good and bad features. Your goals for lifestyle will determine what features will tip your preference for one city over another.
Once you have a list of dream cities, the next step is to gather more information--make some visits (you may have already done this while visiting the region).
TACTIC: Stay at least a week in a city where you consider moving.
Visit the specific attractions that interest you in that city as well as a variety of neighborhoods where you might live. Read the local newspapers and if possible even set up appointments with people at the schools, cultural centers, or other institutions which will be part of your life there.
Here are some ideas to consider when visiting a city:
- How walkable are the neighborhoods? Is the "city" just a collection of unconnected gated communities and bedroom suburbs? Is there any of your desired features there?
- Do neighborhoods in the city support a diversity of commerce and services? Or are all the businesses only big "box" stores along the interstate?
- What are the transportation options? What is the metropolitan transit system like? How about connections to long-distance transit? Are there long-term plans to deal with transit needs? Could you live car-free or car-lite?
- Where are the centers of your interest? What are the neighborhoods around them like? Are these centers of interest connected in some way by transit?
TACTIC: After gathering information and some visits, list the pros and cons of living in the dream cities on your list.
Weigh most heavily your personal factors, but also include factors such as taxes, living expenses, and crime. Get the facts from recent almanacs or official reports. Ignore stereotypes. Due to reductions in crime over the period of the late 1990's, crime in cities is decreasing. You'd be surprised how many people have lived in New York City for decades and have never been mugged nor have mugged anyone else. But you might be surprised at the amount of gang activity in suburban midwestern cities.
TACTIC: After careful consideration, choose your dream city finalist.
Don't ignore your "gut" feeling--the whole point about choosing a dream city is that it motivates you in your life. Your dream city should drive your passion and work. Therefore, do not be afraid to state your heart's desire.
Once you've identified your dream city, if you are not already there, you need to ask: should I go there?
Well, if you've taken everything into consideration, yes. Using a free-thinking process of analysis, you have identified it as the best place for you.
But there is something to be said about familiarity. You may already be in a place where you are comfortable and have a network of family, friends, and acquaintances. Do not disregard this support.
Is such support available in your dream city or nearby? Do you have relatives, friends, and colleagues that can help you? Are you prepared for a big change? Are you ready to start a new personal network?
Your final decision will have to depend on your personal preferences and abilities. If you don't move to your dream city, there might be some way to seek your desired features where you live now. In this way, even identifying your dream city is a helpful process--it reveals something about your true interests.
TACTIC: Establish resources before moving to a new city.
If you do decide to move, here are some things to secure before going:
- Identify a source of income. It is risky to move to a city without having a way to support yourself. Unless you have considerable savings or outside income, arrange at least for a temporary job before moving.
- Formulate a plan for moving your stuff. First, cut down drastically on the stuff you have (see "Rule Your Stuff"). Then figure out how you are going to get what you have to your new place. Are you going to take it all with you? Are you going to store it in your old place, then send for it? Are you going to place it in an intermediate place, like a storage locker or with a friend or relative and then retrieve it?
- Make reservations for a place to stay when you arrive and while you are searching for a home in the city. Avoid staying with friends or relatives for more than three nights--otherwise you will get on their nerves and have a bad experience during this exciting time.
- Establish a few nearby contacts in your new city during your preliminary visits such as relatives, friends, colleagues, or business contacts. Have their names and telephone numbers written down.
- Gather information about the city. Get a detailed map and a guidebook. You could even subscribe to the local paper by postal mail during the time before you move there.