As our year of COVID begins to wind down many people are considering long-term changes to their housing and work structure. For many men, this has already included leaving large cities and moving to a place where they can have a yard, freedom to spread out, and other perceived benefits of a suburban or even semi-rural lifestyle. Things aren't always greener on the other side of the fence though. As I've looked at how to leave my urban loft in San Diego, here are some things I'm being forced to consider. Depending on where you are, many of these issues will hold true as well.
One of the things that I find interesting about behavior and lifestyle changes that occurred this year is that most weren't actually caused by the pandemic. Instead, COVID revealed a lot of weaknesses in our existing communities. From racial unrest to people who simply didn't care about helping their neighbors this has been a tough year to go through. For myself, the attraction of living in an urban area with plenty of restaurants, cultural events, and dynamic personalities became almost a prison once we were forced to shelter inside small apartments. From talking with friends around the world, this sentiment holds true no matter where they are located - including big cities in the UK, Germany, even Australia and Japan. While everyone has had slightly different stories the same yearning for more space and more desire for increased self-determination holds true.
Frankly put, our modern urbanism has seemingly failed us.
I'm not going to turn this into an article about the death of cities though. Cities aren't going to die and a full-scale exodus to open lands in rural parts of the country isn't going to happen either. Here are some of the things to consider before making the decision to move from the city.
Housing and Cost Of Living:
While there is no debate that what you can buy in San Diego for $500,000 is radically less than what you can find in rural Idaho but that isn't the end of the story. Rent and mortgage is a major consideration but so are taxes, food, access to entertainment, and access to conveniences that you once took for granted. Some things such as how much you can afford will be easy to determine with a mortgage calculator like this (while it is set up for British pounds, the math works the same regardless of currency). However, few apps that I've found allow you to factor in things such as time spent traveling to different stores and other services vs the near-instant ability to visit those same places in a city.
Salary and Job Market:
Right now, many people who are considering moving from a city are doing so thinking that they will be able to take their high-paying salary with them. That simply isn't going to happen. As more companies transfer to a diverse workforce of people from lower cost of living places such as Desmoin, Iowa vs Pleasanton, California the folks in lower cost areas asking for lower amounts of compensation for the same job will be at a strategic advantage. While this is a trend that will cut both ways, the net result is that companies will almost always chose the best talent at the lowest prices for the vast majority of positions.
Furthermore, we are already seeing situations where folks are wanting to tax remote working benefits while other companies are expecting you to pay for your home office equipment instead of providing you with the standard office space.
I was almost set on moving to Florida as of the end of last year. I enjoy one of the best healthcare systems in the United States here in California. However, aside from "how to pay for it" I wasn't really that considered with Kaiser over some other unknown system. As the pandemic has progressed though, the clear difference between how states like California have handled healthcare vs less urbanized states has made me reconsider staying here. Sure, California is a lot more expensive but I know if something happens then I'm going to be taken care of. While I can move to more rural areas of California, the advantage of having excellent access to healthcare begins to evaporate even though you retain the public health benefits.
If you don't like to travel then maybe the thought of being away from it all is an advantage. For folks like myself that love to travel for business as well as pleasure, cities have a distinct advantage. We are looking at moving to a place such as South West Michigan but here the choice to travel somewhere leaves you with the option of regional airports featuring limited flights, extra legs, and less dependable service - or driving hours to a city. When it comes to things like personal mobility and ridesharing as well as charging infrastructure, cities also offer superior options to what you can find elsewhere.
Professional Networking and Social Clubs:
At the very core of this urban exodus is a concept that socialization and commerce is moving online. Because of this, you really don't need those social clubs and concentrations of wealth, brainpower and creativeity that traditionally leads to innovation found in urban areas. While there is some truth to that, unfortunately, this isn't the full story. For most of my life I have lived a highly mobile, highly connected lifestyle where most of my friends are online and that's how we've socialized. As I look forward though, I realize just how important it is to have real-life connections and gather people together for social functions.
The difference here is that while I can find a forum for digital marketers where we talk about tips and tricks related to digital marketing, it is unlikely that I'll be introduced to a random artist or investor in those conversations. However, this is something that happens regularly in social gatherings I enjoy in cities where a friend comes over to say high and joins our existing conversation.
It is true that small towns and rural communities have social networks too. However, the challenges are far greater and with less than a year of Zoom meetings, it is clear that this is NOT a long-term replacement for sitting around a table with a group of people working on a project together.
People Leaving The Cities Tend To Bring Old Habits To New Locations:
Finally, I want to leave the conversation with this one warning. While you might leave California for Texas or Idaho seeking to escape a life you no longer want to live in a city, people tend to bring both the good and the bad to their new home. For instance, places like Seattle, Portland, Boise are now just as expensive and just as broken as the San Francisco Bay Area. Texas, Arizona, and Nevada are facing this challenge too.
If you do decide to move from a city - any city - make sure to do so for the right reasons and not simply because you want to leave. Figure out what draws you to the new location and cherish it. Protect your new freedoms so that others can continue to enjoy it as well. Otherwise, maybe you should just plan to buy a cabin instead and simply escape there on weekends!