Thursday, October 21, 2010

Where Do You Want to Live? And Why?

Where do you live?  Why do you live there?  Have you even thought about it?

Most people don't give much thought to where they live, or why.  It is not a topic that comes up in conversation or in their own minds.  They live where they live, well, because they do, is all.  If you are an American, you have a choice of 50 States to live in, many fine cities, towns, and countryside.  And you can even live overseas.  And yet many people live in depressed, impoverished places where there are no jobs or the taxes are high.  Or they live in ugly, soul-searing places where the buildings are blighted and crime is rampant.

Why do people live in less-than-optimal places?  There are a number of reasons, I think:
1.  It's Where My Parents Lived:  Many folks never move more than 50 miles from the home they were brought up in.  Many never even leave that home.  "Home" is comfort food - you know the neighbors, your friends are there, and you even know all the streets, the shortcuts, and how the traffic lights are timed.  You also (you think) know where the best bargains and deals are.  So it is comforting to stick around "the old stomping grounds" even if it means perpetual unemployment.

2.  It's Where My Job Is:  Many people move to an area for a job and then never leave.  Washington, DC and its environs are like this.  People move there for a job, and then stay.  They never stop to think that once they are successful in their field, they could move wherever they wanted to.  Or once they retire, they could live somewhere other than a polluted, crowded city.  Stasis sets in, and people never give where they are a second thought.

3.  I Like Living in the Country:  Many self-styled "country folk" will drive 100 miles each way to work, so they can "live in the country" - usually in the worst sort of squalor.  They squander thousands of dollars a year on commuting, so they can live in a double-wide on 2 acres and "hunt" deer every fall.  They argue the schools are "better" but often the teen pregnancy rates are though the roof and test scores through the floor. 
4.  I Like the City Life:  Just as many folks endure living in poor neighborhoods in bad parts of the city, as they claim to like "city life" - again enduring bad schools plus high crime rates.
5.  It's Where I Went to College:  Believe it or not, many people go to college and never leave.  Ithaca, New York, is that way, and Cornell University turns out more minimum-wage college graduates than any other school.  Everyone from the guy fixing your Volvo to the Barista pouring your designer coffee, is someone who graduated from Cornell, and then somehow forgot to leave.   And many other college towns are the same way! 
6.  It's Cheap!  There are many areas of the country where you can buy a house for far less than the cost of construction.  Housing prices are determined largely by the ability of people to pay - in terms of monthly payment.  A structurally sound, livable home, in Central New York can be had for $150,000 or less - often far less.  But with high taxes, they may still not be "affordable" and with no jobs around to pay the mortgage, they are being foreclosed upon, even at these prices.  Cheap places to live can be good retirement destinations - provided they meet other criterion.  But living somewhere just because it is "cheap" is not reason enough.
Of course, many people use a combination of these reasons, and a few others as well.  But few seriously think, "Gee, if I could live anywhere I wanted to, where would I?"

Because, in many instances, not only CAN you live wherever you want to, you would be far better off moving to such a place.

I left Central New York when I was 25, after graduating from Engineering School.  The idea of leaving the area was alien to me, although it was snowy, rainy, and muddy half the year, the area was (and is) permanently economically depressed, the taxes are sky-high, the regulations stifling, there are no jobs to speak of, and the cities, by and large, are poorly planned and ugly as sin.

Looking back I have to wonder why I stayed as long as I did.  It was a comfort food.  It was where my parents lived. Where my job was.  And I liked living in the "country" such as it was.

Once I left the area, I realized that people elsewhere live entirely different lives.  Not only do their cars not rust in half in five years, they have money, jobs, nicer houses, better government, and attractive towns and cities to live in.  There was OPPORTUNITY elsewhere.

And once I was successful in my field, I asked myself, why I would want to STAY in a crowded and expensive city.  Eventually, I would want to retire - to somewhere warmer, cheaper, and more beautiful.

And yet, I meet so many people who "hang around" where they grew up, for reasons that elude them.  They take whatever few jobs are offered them, often for very low pay.  Having a career is usually out of the question - having a string of jobs is more like it.  You ask them why they don't leave - and they give you a blank stare.

Or, if they live in a crowded welfare ghetto of a city, like Flint, Michigan, they just stare into the camera and wonder when the government is going to "bring all the jobs back".  It is pathetic.  Just leave Flint!  There is no "there" there and won't be - in our lifetime!

If you are young and starting out, think about where you want to live - pick a place where there are jobs - many jobs to choose from.  If you don't like one, you can take another.  And pick a place with some cultural outlets as well.  Larger cities are going to have all this.  And the opportunity to meet new people and find a mate will be higher as well.

If you are older, think about where you want to live as well - pick a place where prices are cheap and taxes are low, so you can retire with dignity.  And find a place that has good medical care - within a reasonable distance.

But think about where you want to live.  Staying in the same place your whole life is not necessarily some sort of accomplishment - although many people act like it is.

You can live anywhere you want to - or in a number of places.  We are fortunate, as Americans, to be allowed to roam a significant portion of the planet, at will, without the need for passports, visas, or special permission from the government.  Very few people on this planet are so lucky.

And yet few Americans take advantage of this!