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Thread: Obstacles in relocating to a major metropolitan area

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    Cyburbian PrahaSMC's avatar
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    Obstacles in relocating to a major metropolitan area

    Over the last several months, I've been contemplating some major life changes. For the last three years, I've been relegated to a couple of non-descript suburban communities, living off a very low fixed income (first as a grad student, now as an AmeriCorps volunteer). I've come to the realization that I can't do it any more.

    For a long time, I've considered moving to a major city, for no specific purpose other than to just "live." I realize it might be short-sighted to give up on the career search, but for all of my twenties I've focused on making what I believed to be responsible choices (grad school, AmeriCorps, other volunteer work) and the results have been entirely fruitless: I'm broke, tired, scared, and increasingly pessimistic... which is a radical departure from the person I was when I finished college a few years ago. On the plus side, I have very light student loan debt and virtually nothing holding me back. Recently, the SO and I have discussed just dropping everything and moving to a big city-- an admittedly naive, possibly hair-brained plan. But, the more and more I think about it, the more and more plausible it seems. Why not?

    Based on the following criteria-- Top-25 US Metro Area, East Coast, accessible public transit-- we've narrowed it down to NYC and Philadelphia... both places that I've spent several days visiting in the past. So, beyond all the random noise I hear about how it would be too radical of a change (I've moved around A LOT, I feel like I know what I'd be getting myself into), I've idenitifed the following obstacles:

    START-UP COST: When I finish my AmeriCorps year, I'll be literally broke. However, I have the opportunity to extend my current lease month-to-month and work construction to kill time. This should allow me to save enough for moving expenses, a large security deposit, and any potential lag in employment.

    COST OF LIVING: I've worked two jobs just about all of my adult life... this experience wouldn't be any different. I know that I'll be spending upwards of 60% of my income on housing if I chose NYC (even an outer borough). Having lived off tiny stipends that last two years, I've developed very inexpensive tastes... I don't need/expect much in the way of clothing, entertainment, or other non-essentials.

    TRANSPORTATION: I have a crappy car, that I'd love to unload. It would be a burden to have to keep it and park in a major urban area. Ultimately, I view this as a plus. Public transit, at least in New York, is pretty awesome.

    EMPLOYMENT: Where am I going to work? Well, that would be a major concern even if I wasn't relocating. If anything, moving to a major metropolitan area should make finding work easier, not harder. I'm not talking about a career-level position, I know that I won't be able to find one of those. Really, I think I'd be able to adapt to restaurant work, construction, or just about any other McJob.

    So these are the things I have identified as possible challenges. Having said that, I have probably glossed over a million other things that people who live in big cities deal with on a day-to-day basis. I'd also like a little encouragement, if at all possible. Just about everyone I bounce this idea off of thinks it's crazy... "You can't move to New York, it's too expensive!" Well, I'm relatively certain that more people live in New York than any other place in North America; there must be a way. Same goes for Philly, Boston, Los Angeles, or any other city for that matter. So, how does one go about making a fresh start in one of these big cities?
    Last edited by PrahaSMC; 19 Oct 2009 at 12:12 PM.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    If I were you, I would also consider Washington, DC and Chicago. The economies and job opportunities in those places (at least currently) are outpacing most of the other old guard urban cities in the eastern U.S.

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    Cyburbian Plus Salmissra's avatar
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    Why only Philly and NYC? Chicago is a great option, and it seems like you prefer the colder weather. I say go for it. You know how to live on a shoestring budget, you want public transit, and you know that getting a job (versus a career position) will require some work on your part. If you and the GF are both ready, willing, and able to go (once your contract is up), then load up the U-Haul and head out.
    "We do not need any other Tutankhamun's tomb with all its treasures. We need context. We need understanding. We need knowledge of historical events to tie them together. We don't know much. Of course we know a lot, but it is context that's missing, not treasures." - Werner Herzog, in Archaeology, March/April 2011

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    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    If I were you, I would also consider Washington, DC and Chicago. The economies and job opportunities in those places (at least currently) are outpacing most of the other old guard urban cities in the eastern U.S.
    I will second what TexOkie has said. Given your experience you should be able to find a job in DC or at very least an internship. If you live in DC or one of the inner beltway cities you can get by without a car. Dc has tons of group homes so you can live cheap. I am biased towards DC since I lived there but it is a great city to be young. Plenty of young and smart people who are mostly new to the area so you will make friends quick. DC is also not as dangerous as advertised and the quirks will create for some great experiences down the road. Plus you can visit Philly and NYC with ease.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

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    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Not going to suggest my favorite city, just echo the "go for it" sentiments.

    I grew up in the 'burbs of Detroit. Moving to Ann Arbor (for undergrad) was amazing. Sidewalks! Bus line! You can get places! There is a there there!

    Decades passed, and I ended up back in those 'burbs for work. And after some life events (no longer the "designated daughter") I decided to move. Did lots of homework, site visits, subscribed to the city magazine, studied the Sunday paper, joined the on-line forums for my special interest groups. And five years ago (July) I loaded up the U-Haul and moved here. No job, no extra savings as a safety net. Just did it.

    So far it's worked out very well. I am happy here, involved in the community, pretty much doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. When the new owners of my old job told me, "you're moving back to the D," I declined.

    One sister did something similar. Her soon-to-be former husband had wanted to move to a snow-free climate, but she was finding the location to not be as good a fit for just herself. So she did some climate research, looked up a branch of her church's denomination, found herself an open-ended place to stay and some built-in friends.

    Living is more than working at a job in a place you'd rather not be. Do it.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    While Chicago is nowhere as affordable as it was when I got out of grad school it is still a relative bargain compared to NYC. As far as having "inexpensive tastes" Chicago again will provide far more opportunities to indulge in low-cost entertainment. I'll also point out that the real estate collapse has created a far more realistic housing cost situation both for owners and renters.

    I lived in NYC as a low paid planner for about three years... Having to deal with some of the downsides such as inordinate commute times from one outer borough to another or manhattan for work and recrearion kind of took the bloom of the rose.

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    Cyburbian PrahaSMC's avatar
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    Many thanks for all the replies so far. The only reason I haven't seriously considered Chicago or DC is because I have never been to either. Certainly, I'd like to visit many, many places, but right now I don't have a budget for travel. I am, however, open to all suggestions for other places to consider.

    As far as work opportunities go, I am going to make a decision irrespective of the career opportunities that are available. I am simply not a competitive applicant for career-level positions in any field right now-- this fact is very clear to me. One of the primary reasons behind making this move would be to get beyond the constant state of anxiety and stress of pursuing highly competitive jobs/internships. I'm burnt out; I just want a basic job (preferrably two) that will pay me a small wage for my labor. The end goal is to live somewhere busy and fast-paced and try to enjoy it.

    Quote Originally posted by Veloise View post
    Living is more than working at a job in a place you'd rather not be.
    That's pretty much what I'm hoping to discover.

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    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by der Bebauungsplan View post
    While Chicago is nowhere as affordable as it was when I got out of grad school it is still a relative bargain compared to NYC. As far as having "inexpensive tastes" Chicago again will provide far more opportunities to indulge in low-cost entertainment. I'll also point out that the real estate collapse has created a far more realistic housing cost situation both for owners and renters.
    ...
    And you-know-where is only a couple hours away on a weekend.

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    NYC has a very high "start-up cost", regardless of rents. To rent an apartment, you usually have to pay a deposit of two months rent, along with a bribe key money to the landlord. An apartment that may rent for $2,000 a month will have a $8,000 to $10,000 startup cost: $4,000 deposit, $2,000 first month rent, and $2,000 to $4,000 key money.

    Rents in some of the otherwise more expensive cities, like Los Angeles and Chicago, is really quite reasonable, given the high cost of ownership housing.
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    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    I have some friends in Jersey City, which you should also consider as part of the NYC option. There are still areas that are cheap relative to Manhattan. A lot of artists who were priced out of the city live there and you get some real urban grit while being a short PATH ride away from Manhattan.

    Philly also has some very reasonable neighborhoods populated with just-out-of-college types. I have a bunch of friends that lived on the edge of what they call "The Badlands", several blocks north of the Art Museum area, for several years. There were occasionally car break-ins and vandalism, but nothing worse. I regret not moving there at that time as I would have had a much more active social life.

    DC is another city I wish I had lived in. It has some really interesting areas, and of course, a coterie of free museums and the nat'l zoo.
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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I have known people who did as you are contemplating. They have ended up living in cramped housing and working one or two jobs that are not rewarding (satisfaction or pay). They tend to have little money to enjoy the things that were the reason they moved to the city, and still do not have money to travel, etc. After a few years most of them have gone back to doing what they did before. I am not saying that what you are considering is bound to turn out badly, but I would suggest you think it through. Is being poor and underemployed in a big city going to be better than what you have now, or holding out for something better?
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    Cyburbian PrahaSMC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I have known people who did as you are contemplating. They have ended up living in cramped housing and working one or two jobs that are not rewarding (satisfaction or pay). They tend to have little money to enjoy the things that were the reason they moved to the city, and still do not have money to travel, etc. After a few years most of them have gone back to doing what they did before. I am not saying that what you are considering is bound to turn out badly, but I would suggest you think it through. Is being poor and underemployed in a big city going to be better than what you have now, or holding out for something better?
    I'm perfectly aware that moving to a major city wouldn't lead to a glamorous lifestyle; I have no illusions of spending my weekends museum hopping or attending Broadway plays. It will be a huge challenge and a lot of hard work. But, whether or not I chose to make the move, I will still be poor, underemployed, and living in cramped housing for the forseeable future, anyway... it's just a question of where. The way I see it, there is very little risk and a huge potential reward. What I am trying to figure out, is how to make this idea feasible.

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    Cyburbian Rygor's avatar
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    I would also look into DC or Chicago. Both have plenty of free or low cost things to do, all the great dining and entertainment options, and a lot lower cost of living than NYC. Spend any reasonable time in Chicago and I'm sure you would find you love it. The cold winters are the only downside but that doesn't seem to be an issue for you. DC is a bit milder climate if it were a concern.
    "When life gives you lemons, just say 'No thanks'." - Henry Rollins

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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Sounds like you are asking the right questions. In terms of relocating and making it work, if I were to be relocating I'd probably make sure I'd done some networking ahead of time to grease the wheels a bit. Going to grad school in a city is probably the easiest way to make it work, but you can also make a lot of phone calls and have informational interviews.

    The biggest problem is going to be paying for rent while you're still underemployed. Is living "at home" for six months or so to save up some cash an option? Alternatively, living way out in the exurbs can be a cheap way to start out, but then you have a hard time networking and getting to know the city.

    Finally, I'd factor in the local economy as part of your equation. Planning jobs are scarce everywhere but I think they are scarcer some places than others. Boston has been hit by the recession, but not as bad as some other places. Unfortunately for those relocating on a tight budget, that also means that rents haven't gone down as much as they have in other places.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    I say go ahead and do it.
    I've been contemplating this too as I'm stuck in a town of 10,000 people and it SUCKS. I have no life outside of work, I feel like i'm wasting my youth away. I've been thinking of moving to LA or NYC but my problem is that I'm not an American citizen. If I were an American, I'd move to LA in a heartbeat.
    Take advantage of your situation because there are a lot of non-Americans that have to go through a lot more barriers. You also don't have much to lose...if you don't, you'll probably regret not taking the risk later in life.

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