Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Where’s the Best Place in North America to Live an Edited Life?

An article in Curbed yesterday gave a construction update of My Micro NY, the celebrated winner of the adAPT NYC micro-apartment pilot program competition that will be ready this summer. Make no mistake, My Micro is a significant step in the right direction for giving more housing options to New Yorkers. It also might be providing evidence for why the city should lift its absurd 400 sq ft building code minimum size requirement. But as I mentioned a couple months ago, My Micro has a total of 55 units–22 of which will be set aside for formerly homeless Veterans and low-and middle-income families (I imagine it’s gonna be a tight fit for the families). The rest of the 260-360 sq ft, unfurnished units will be market rate, which in NYC means $2-3K rent–a lot of dough for a tiny apartment. The fact is its immediate impact in providing affordable housing for New Yorkers is, charitably speaking, insignificant.

The problem isn’t the My Micro developers or architects or the micro-apartment concept–it’s the city itself. The average price of a studio in Manhattan is around $2500. Want to save money in Brooklyn? Fuggedaboutit. You’ll pay $2100. And both of these numbers factor in many outer-borough neighborhoods, where prices are considerably cheaper than average. The more central, walkable neighborhoods frequently exceed these averages by large sums. To illustrate how out of control NYC housing has become, an affordable housing development in Williamsburg, Brooklyn had a lottery for its 38 available units. 70,000 application were received.

The reason I bring up New York is because in many ways it should be the ideal city to live an edited life. It is one of the most experience and relationship-rich cities in the world–who needs stuff with all these interesting folks and culture around? There are countless public spaces to augment small personal spaces. It is one of the most walkable cities in the world. It has a peerless public transit system and an increasingly awesome network of bike lanes. But in reality, it can be a brutal place to exist (an Onion article explains it well). If you have to work 60 hours a week just to afford a place to live, it’s tough to live a sane, edited life.

Lest I unfairly single New York out, it should be said that many of the most walkable, culturally diverse cities in North America have become, or are quickly becoming, out of reach to all but a select few. New York, San Francisco and Vancouver are the most obvious places where this is happening, but other cities like Boston, DC, Seattle and Toronto are seeing similar housing costs explosions.

Many proponents of space travel believe that we have a better chance of colonizing Mars than we do repairing earth. In much the same way, might it be easier to evacuate the New Yorks and San Franciscos than it is to expect things to get better?

Obviously, the aforementioned cities aren’t the end all be all in terms of places to live. Walkscore.com published an interesting list last year of affordable, walkable cities. The list errs on the chilly side, with Buffalo, Rochester and Chicago making up three of the four top spots. But the 12 cities do give some not-so-obvious suggestions for interesting place to set up camp. In fact, Buffalo was the subject of a recent Gothamist article called “Millennials are Moving to Buffalo and Living Like Kings,” giving further credence to Walkscore’s number one designation.

But we thought we’d reach out to our readers to ask them where they think the best place to live an edited life is. Here are the general characteristics that this place might possess:

  • Easy to live without a car. Walkable, bikeable, public-transportable. Few things save money and simplify life like ditching the car, but in many places, that’s just not feasible.
  • Stable economy. Places with decent job prospects.
  • Affordable. This does not mean cheap. It means that the housing costs are relatively low in relationship to median incomes. Detroit might have dirt cheap housing, but median household income is half the national’s.
  • Rich public life. Parks, events, street life. The things that make a city great.
  • Bonus points: decent weather (no endless subzero winters nor sweltering summers) and resilient (ideally places not in the middle of an epic drought, not being ravaged by forest fires or lava flows, etc).

What do you think? If you were to create an edited life, where would be the ideal place you’d do it? Is it where you live? Why? Is it someplace else? Why? Let us know your thoughts in our comments section.

Image credit Bokstaz / Shutterstock.com

  • Gulliver

    I had a socially conservative dog sitter (I now have a progressive dog sitter instead.)

    She read about Santa Fe having a car-free area and said “Now they are trying to take our cars as well!”. So one of my requirements of a great place to live is that it accepts progressive values. I am part native american, so maybe I can say this. The europeans put native americans on reservations because they could not assimilate Enlightenment culture. They could not assimilate (although technically speaking the europeans were the ones who should have been assimilating.) I think the equivalent will be with the socially conservative and progressives. “reservations” with their own cultures. I do not predict who will own the mainland if reservations are outlands. But i do say that this new lifestyle, where experience is more important than material possessions, and changes in roles (gender or otherwise) is welcomed, is fundamentally different from those my former dog sitter could accommodate.

    • Brian L Thomas

      Actually the Native americans that were first shoved onto reservations (aka trail of tears etc.) were relatively assimilated but along came the racist President Andrew Jackson (a lot like the esteemed progressive Woodrow Wilson) and the US government threw away the existing treaties and my indigenous ancestors were screwed!

  • Steve

    I think a lot of “second tier” cities meet these standards. I live in Indianapolis and can see a clear path to my edited life here. Similarly, I have met others doing similar things in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha, Louisville (one of my favorites), and others. They have older downtowns, pre WW2. There are jobs for people with a college degree. A Brooklyn life, walking/biking, local food, urban farms, the arts, etc., can all be had in these cities. Housing near the urban center is still pretty affordable. Mayors of these cities have worked to make biking a good option.

    • Amanda

      Absolutely agree with you. Building a bike friendly culture will be slower than putting in bike lanes, but for the brave its becoming a real commuting option in Cleveland.

    • Kathy

      Pittsburgh. I live downtown, without a car, and walk, bike, or take transit where I need to go. The ballpark, museums, opera, symphony, the Strip District, the rivers….all an easy hike. On average I use Zipcar less than once a month. It’d be nearly as easy to live car-free in one of the East End neighborhoods (Oakland, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, East Liberty) or along the “T” in the South Hills.

      • Steve

        We visited Pittsburgh last summer to begin a tour of the GAP/C&O trail. It was so much fun on our bikes. Great bikeways and local culture. We really loved it.

  • Eric Hays

    I live in the Oklahoma City metro area, probably one of the least walkable, least bike friendly cities in the country. Walkscore rates my address as a 52. We have no bike lanes or even sidewalks in much of the city.

    Having gone to school in Boulder, CO you can imagine how this pains me.

    Having said that, no matter how you slice it, there is no financially rational justification for living anywhere more expensive, particularly not any of the walkable cities you’ve mentioned. Even if I had to pay $10.00/gallon for gasoline, I’d still be saving money living here.

    The argument I usually get is that there is nothing to do here. Well, that is BS. We have good restaurants, music and art festivals, big-name concerts, even an NBA team for god’s sake. It’s not very pretty here, and the seasons can be harsh, but I can take the $2,000/month I’m not spending on an apartment and have some pretty outlandish vacations if I choose.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for editing one’s life. I live in a 600 square foot home and try to live an “edited” lifestyle to the extent that I can. And, if money were no object, I’d be gone. But, it seems like one of the primary tenets of the life edited philosophy is that it saves money so that one can live a better life, free of financial burdens associated with a big house and lots of driving.

  • Amanda

    Putting in a plug for Cleveland. Housing costs are breathtakingly low, there’s an enormous food scene, a world class orchestra with $10 student tickets, and our phenomenal art museum is FREE to the public every day of the year. On the sporty side we have professional baseball, basketball, and football teams – plus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As for the architecture – they filmed the Avengers movie here and convinced plenty that it was shot in NYC. 🙂 Driving is still needed to access all that the city offers, but there are many neighborhoods where its not an essential. Winters are cold but not as snowy as Buffalo, and most apartments include heat in the cost of rent. Its been an incredible place to live as a 20-something graduate student, providing an opportunity to live well while saving money.

  • alarswilson

    Minneapolis/Saint Paul. Neighborhood feel like a small town for those who like that, but all the urban and cultural amenities of a very large city. For all the cold, it just ousted Portland as top city for bicycle commuting. 3.2% unemployment. Afordable. To be honest it’s pretty car centric, but the public transit is good and getting better, with more light rail going in. Walkscores mostly in the 70s and 80s within the city limits

    I’m currently spoiled living in Strasbourg France, pretty much an ideal low-impact city. But there are many cities in Europe that qualify. It’s much easier and faster to get pretty much anywhere by bike. We have neither owned nor regretted not owning a car for seven years. Car sharing is available. etc. etc.

    • I second the vote for Minneapolis/St. Paul. We live downtown St. Paul with an overall walk score of 91. With the skyway systems connecting buildings the weather is rarely a concern. Nice days we walk outside. Cold and rainy days inside. We love it, our kids love it.

    • Reeve

      I third Minneapolis/St. Paul. I live in the Minneapolis urban core and our current place has a walk-score of 86.

      There is a large variety of housing types here… posh condos, affordable lofts, efficiency studios, townhouses and single family homes. Prices range depending on the neighborhood but many are affordable.

      Quality Grocery, Restaurants, Community Elementary schools, Downtown Proper, NE Arts District, and the River District are all in walkable/bike-able distances for us.

  • Durham, NC. Very affordable. Lots of places to eat. Things to see. Great weather. Owning a car isn’t absolutely necessary, but you’d probably want one. They’re really not as expensive as the author is making them out to be, especially when you’re not paying $2,500/month in rent.

  • experiencedgrandmother

    small town, middle america. OK, so no public transportation to speak of, but for much of the year I could walk or bike to a grocery store if I wanted to and it’s affordable. An edited life is a matter of choice and can be lived anywhere. Your requirement for a rich public life is like beauty — it’s in the eye of the beholder. And surprise, surprise, a lot of intelligent, interesting and experience-rich people live there too.

  • Ani

    I’d like a place such as you describe with good weather; really sick of the cold and snow in the Northeast. And yes, as a commenter noted, with enough other like minded progressive sorts; so not smack in the middle of the bible-belt please!

  • Charles Boisseau

    Add Austin to the list of unreasonably priced locations. So you can stop coming now.

    • rumurphy

      Yeah Austin is busting at the seams. Lived there for 5 years and couldn’t handle the influx.

  • Steve Seaward

    Providence, RI meets almost all of the characteristics David lays out. The city proper, and the adjacent cities of Pawtucket, Cranston, and East Providence, are densely populated and walkable. The city has great restaurants, cultural institutions, and serviceable public transportation. There is a strong cycling community, and the city is adding bike lanes all the time. There are lots of outdoor festivals, and several neighborhoods have vibrant street life. There are beautiful parks and water views. The only real threat to its resiliency is hurricanes, but they’re not frequent.

    It is an affordable place to live, compared to Boston and NYC, though not as cheap as some places in the south or midwest. The only issues is the economy; RI has a higher than average unemployment rate, and it can be difficult to find a full time, well paying job.

    I lived there for two years, after eight years in Boston and before moving to NYC.

  • We moved out of our 3 bedroom house in Auckland New Zealand about 20 mths ago and into a 600 sqft one bedder in central Sydney, Australia. Since the move we started living an edited life and also have been car-less. Sydney has a reasonable public transport system (trains, busses, and ferries), and the good weather certainly encourages walking. There are lots of great place to eat and lots of things to do in Sydney. The property prices are on the increase but they haven’t reached anywhere like those of London/New York/San Fran (yet!).
    While the “edited-life” wasn’t really possible in Auckland due to it’s urban sprawl and lack of decent public transport network, I think there are other cities in New Zealand that would be good contenders for an “edited-life” like Wellington and Dunedin. They both offer good jobs for certain industries, have reasonable housing prices, very safe cities, while also having nice compact liveable CBDs.

  • Tania

    This article makes the assumption that an edited life means living without a car. I understand that the discussion on life edited does revolve on reducing amount of square footage and related resources occupied per person. However, it all depends on the perspective of what comprises an edited life for each individual. Living in a rural area in a simple home where meals are prepared at home with space for gardening and little need for any attire other than casual clothing that can be line dried can lead to an edited life. Also living in an area that a decent salary can be earned in a professional occupation without the employer/peer expectation of working 60+ hours a week (small town vs. big city) can also lead to an edited balanced life without changing professions. I’ve moved from an urban to a less populated area and the fact that I have to drive a car to pick up groceries or go to work did not take away from a drastic edit of my life. In fact, it caused me to change my habits to limit the number of errands I run. I’m also a homebody and appreciate the outdoors much more. The simple things in life now bring me joy. I’m also not as tempted to eat out and shop. You can also still live in a small home in a non-urban environment. My life is much simpler now that I’m out of the city. I do think I’ll eventually move back (urban is definitely more doable when you cannot drive as an older single person with no children) and I will definitely live simpler in the city than I used to. However, living away these past four years made the transition to simpler almost automatic which eventually led to intentional.

  • maggie crehan

    I recommend southwest washington if you can live simply and produce your own income. Some towns like aberdeen need to be revitalized. Climate is wet and windy in late fall and winter..ok and spring…lots of wind potential. Lots of detimbered land. No state taxes. Beautiful scenery. Great community college system. Economy varies by location.

  • Melbourne, Australia.
    Relatively great public transport. The economy is stable. Buying a house may be expensive here, but renting is affordable. Lots of free public events and parks. Weather is relatively good; no freezing winters but lots of rain and wind. No bug infestations like Sydney XD

  • Slappy san

    Of course Detroit is the city that gets the zinger. smh