Cities No More

American cities are rapidly changing. A few, like New York City, are playgrounds for Successful Creatives and Oxford Shirt Professionals. But even more are home to meth labs and tattoo parlors and dwindling resources. The cops and teachers collect their pensions out in the suburbs. Money only flows out of these cities.

Some cities will simply not exist in another decade or two. Wiped clean off the map with bulldozers. Urban farmers will grow toxic tomatoes on questionable soil.


Other cities sell off their homes at Costco prices to urban pioneers.


But most cities are simply rotting.

We drove around a lot this summer. We spent a few days in Cleveland visiting Steve’s extended family. Cleveland is trying to survive with the urban pioneers and toxic tomato growers, but it’s a losing battle. There is simply too much to demo and not enough urban pioneers.

Smaller cities in America are even more sad. On the way home, we pulled off the highway into a former city in Pennsylvania for lunch. I suppose it was once considered a city, but it was too empty to really call it a city anymore. We decided to skip the fast food at the mall off the highway and went to the downtown area for something local. That was a mistake. There were no coffee shops or pubs there. The dirty store fronts were empty. We walked down the street looking for life and were overwhelmed by the smell of mold. The buildings were rotting around us.

A few weeks later, we drove to Maine for a vacation at Acadia National Park. Because we hadn’t been to Maine before, I set up an overly ambitious vacation with lots of stops along the way. I like to explore. One night in Portsmouth, NH, another night in Portland, and several day trip to smaller cities in Maine. The coastline was brimming with activity and great restaurants. Once we ventured inland, Maine was a different place – depressing, vacant, and alarmingly old and white. The entire state has the population that equals one borough of Manhattan.

After our three days in the woods at Acadia, we took a day trip to Bangor, Maine. I was thinking about writing an article about author stalking. Stephen King’s house in Bangor is a huge tourist attraction. We easily found his address on google and I made Jonah stand in front of the house for a photo. It was a rainy day; he wasn’t that happy about getting out of the car for one of mom’s weird projects.


Steven King’s house is a loving restoration of a home from Bangor’s glory days. It was probably built by a wealthy industrialist 120 years ago. A few other houses on his block were also well maintained, but just 100 yards away, things weren’t so pretty.  The large homes had been divided up into rental apartments. Other apartment buildings sagged on their foundations. We found a microbrew pub that served students and professors at the local college, but there wasn’t much else to see there.

We hit a couple of other smaller cities on our long drive home and saw more of the same. One bar had enlarged old black and white photographs of the paper mills that had sustained the city for many years. Smiling industrialists posed next to shiny cars. Bands marched down Main Street. One sign under the photographs said “[Place That I Can’t Remember] In the Golden Years.” When I went to the bathroom, water bubbled up from toilet.

In Empire Falls, Richard Russo talks a lot about Maine’s decaying cities. (If you are interesting in author stalking, he lives in Camden, Maine.)

I’m not sure there is anyway to save these cities, especially the smaller ones, that have seen the loss of factories and industry. They can’t support the population on government benefits and colleges alone. Maybe we have accept these cities will disappear and not be so sentimental about the past.

50 thoughts on “Cities No More

  1. I spent most of last week in Detroit and got to see the blight firsthand. What struck me was how large of an area the city covers and how widespread the dilapidation is. It’s not just one or two or even five neighborhoods that need major razing it’s was pretty much every neighborhood. The scale of the problem is so great and the resources to address it so few that it seems an intractable situation.

    Gentrification has its drawbacks but I couldn’t help thinking that what Detroit needs are more Whole Foods, bespoke millineries and artisanal cheese shops*. None of the 20-somethings I met live in the city or even in the first ring suburbs and the city won’t reach stabilization until young people decided to stay there. The mid-sized cities that have done well or thrived over the last few decades have traded industry for appealing to young people in knowledge-based lines of work.

    *You know, after they address the issue of crushing poverty and overall despair.


    1. Cleveland is my home town. I grew up in one of the inner ring blue collar suburbs. Now that city is a blighted mess. The house in which I grew up has been vacant for 4 years as the family that purchased it from my mother in 2001 lost it to foreclosure. Thank goodness she moved or we would never have been able to sell it when she passed away last year.
      What strikes me about the way the Cleveland area has changed is how much it reflects the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor. Today you have to live in a suburb with doctors and lawyers to get the kind of education that my city, a mostly blue collar place, was able to provide in the 70s and 80s. Yet that suburb’s schools have not been that badly hit by reduced funding.
      There is a lot of discussion around how education can lift people out of poverty but not enough talk about how poverty itself interferes with the educational process. It requires an enormous leap of faith for a child to forego immediate gratification and work hard at school when they rarely see hard work rewarded with anything other than more hard work. Or unemployment. The people that I know who teach there tell me that the level of motivation among the students has diminished. Parents who want their children to succeed just don’t know how to help or are exhausted. I have no idea what the solution could be.


  2. When we were in Albuquerque this summer our #2 dragged our butts to a number of addresses which featured in Breaking Bad and got photos just like that one. He put them up on Facebook and was a hero to his friends.


  3. FWIW, the tomatoes grown on lots where houses once stood are much less likely to be contaminated than those grown on abandoned manufacturing sites. I think growing vegetables in the city is a great use of time and space.

    My daughter goes to college in Cleveland, and blocks from her campus (too close for my comfort) are the neighborhoods with falling down, scavanged, and abandoned houses. It’s hard to believe there is architecture detail worth saving in these places; many of these houses all around the U.S. were built cheaply. After living in an old (rural) house myself and spending way too much to fix it up, including making it energy efficient, I no longer believe that most old houses should be saved/restored out of some historical preservation mission. And as a postscript to the Cleveland story, for a campus filled largely with students from families with plenty of money, I think the students should be spending hours each week helping to physically rehab the neighborhood.


  4. Random author fact: Richard Russo is really short. And also very nice (but that’s not as interesting as his (lack of) height.) His memoir about his relationship with his mother, Elsewhere, is also about the demise of Gloversvill, N.Y., which was once dominated by glove-making factories.


  5. What is keeping the Maine seacoast going, despite the inland decay? Is it that they are still functioning ports (presumably shipping raw lumber, since the paper mills are mostly shut)? Is it creative and financial work, like New York? Is it tourism?

    Ironically, if the whole state decays, there might be a possibility for rejuvenation, based on the Texas model of low cost land, low taxes, and low regulation. When you have high income coastal cities, as New York and California do, the inland or upstate areas decay, because they can’t support the taxes and regulation that NYC or SF residents vote for.


    1. This week, James Fallows is publishing a good set of stories on exactly what’s driving prosperity in some parts of coastal Maine.


  6. Tourism, I think.

    Upstate NY’s problems have nothing to do with taxes. The shoe factories in Binghamton went to Brasil. Kodak in Rochester went bankrupt. Buffalo is no longer a shipping capital.


  7. Husband and I went to UMaine, absolutely gorgeous campus, Orono, cute college town. There were 2 places to do fancy “date” nights in college in Bangor, otherwise it was turning into the Mall and Walmart territory. I remember when Walmart opened and literally all the small shops were gone in a heartbeat. We’ve not been back in 17 years. Beside Stephen King’s house, which looked exactly the same 20 years ago, whats the point? You can easily by-pass it for a trip to Acadia. Southern Maine will always be a place people love and honestly most of my friends who are still there are either teachers or work for big jobs remotely and fly in and out of Boston.


  8. Laura, I think that’s a sort of yes, and no. Shoes and film cameras and the Erie Canal, not so good. On the other hand, huge amounts of the Silicon Valley stuff which it is too expensive to do in Calif has gone to Utah and Texas and Idaho. Coulda gone to Binghamton, didn’t. Rick Perry’s been currying favor with his home state voters by baiting Calif and NY about their bad business climate, and come on over to Texas. It’s been working.

    Jane Jacobs was quite pungent about how Hamburg protected everybody and was in stasis, and Houston protected nobody and was far more resilient. I’m sold.


  9. Isn’t the Texas model oil?

    I do think that Maine’s economy is mostly based on tourism (and second homes), with a smattering of military shipbuilding, LL Bean, colleges thrown in. When we were in Maine we stayed only in the coastal areas. They were pretty. But, being pretty meant low density, well-kept, older houses, preserved old cemeteries. A friend immediately wondered about what everyone did in the winter, and guessed that the SNAP usage would be high in Maine (and it is, among the top five, I think).

    I’m pretty sure that the Texas model would be incompatible with tourism (tourists go to Maine because it is pretty, digging, building, cutting down trees would mean pretty no more). Could inland Maine exploit its natural resources while Coastal Maine kept itself pretty?

    All the towns I’ve lived in (Columbus, OH, LA area, DC Area, Chicago, Seattle) are thriving, more populous, hipper, cleaner, prettier, and less dangerous than when I lived in them. My kiddo has fallen in love with DC from her visits there, a phenomenon I find hard to understand, still, because in my mind, DC is still a bit of a scary city, where you had to be very careful to stay on the marked trails.


    1. “A friend immediately wondered about what everyone did in the winter”

      Sat around miserable and cold. Oh wait, that was my 3 winters in Maine. I hated that state.

      There is tourism in inland Maine, in the lakes areas in the western part of the state and the ski areas. But Portland is one depressing city, I tell you. And that’s where we went to cheer ourselves up.


      1. Wow, that is so not the current state of things. Portland is totally vibrant – excellent restaurants, great art scene, lots of young people. I’ve lived here for 15 years and it’s been that way all along, and gotten better.

        Tourism *is* big on the coast and specific points inland, but Maine also has a pretty thriving small biz/entrepreneurship economy. Financial services is fairly big here, as are call centers, oddly. Natural resources based stuff has changed a lot over the last 30 years, but there is still logging, paper mills (now doing a lot of specialty papers, rather than the printer paper that can get pumped out much more economically in China), fishing, etc. I worked at a business newspaper covering the state for several years, and we had tons to write about.


      2. I lived there from 2000-2003, and my mood was affected by any number of things, including but not limited to job-hunting woes, having a toddler and getting pregnant and having PPD, 9/11, and the worst March in terms of snowfall in years, so I may not be the best judge. 🙂


  10. We visited the Maine Maritime Museum, in Bath, Maine. One of their sites is a sculpture that shows the dimensions of the last? first? 7 masted wooden ship built in Bath. It’s enormous and the models showing how the building of those boats worked amazing. But, they learned to build those ships, huge, wooden boats just about the time people discovered engines, and trains. So, outdated technology nearly as soon as it was designed.


  11. Which businesses has Perry attracted from NY & CA? What I’ve noted is that there’s a ranking of states people would be willing to move from here for the right job. Arkansas, an actual example, is not on the list, so, if one gets a fabulous job for an Arkansas company, you commute while the family stays here, and wait until they agree to open an office here, or in SF, or somewhere else the family is willing to live.

    SF people move to. Atlanta & North Carolina are on the list, as well, of places people will actually live. Texas? somewhere in the middle, Austin, maybe, but Houston & Dallas are tough sells.

    I’m talking about a pretty specific population (surgeons, lawyers, who get offers to start up departments/be general counsel, be CFO & CEO of major companies, creative workers in the tech industry, . . . .).


    1. Well, J.P. Morgan’s executive office support is in Texas, for one. Jamie Dimon himself is in New York, but most of his executive assistants are in Texas.

      Ask yourself, if you were opening a financial services back office, would it be in Texas or New York? I don’t mean, where would your star trader with a million dollar guarantee prefer to live, but where would it be easier to recruit middle managers who can supervise a staff of sixteen mortgage servicers? Texas wins pretty handily. New York, and most blue states, are hollowed out in the middle: Jamie Dimon, a bunch of lawyers, and the immigrants who drive the cabs and clean the houses.


    2. I wrote a longer answer to this, but the comment system ate it.

      The short version is is that there are enormous numbers of corporate headquarters in Dallas. Also, Austin seems pretty good for tech. They make Toyota’s Tundras around San Antonio and there is a lot of stuff going on in Texas beyond oil.


  12. Grew up in upstate New York. There are no jobs where I grew up. We were a company town for General Electric, and GE sent all the work overseas to China. It makes me sad that none of my high school friends still live there, and that they couldn’t even if they wanted to. I’m thinking of running for city council where I now live and I”m thinking that my platform will consist largely of “Making the sort of town that our kids actually return to because there are opportunities there.” I don’t want to be a lonely old lady whose kids live far away. I’m thinking there might be other voters who feel the same way.


  13. Yup, Schenectady. (If you saw ‘the place beyond the pines’, Schenectady was apparently some sort of metaphor for urban blight and the decimated town gone to seed that time forgot. I recognized every single street in the movie.)

    My siblings and I live in NC, TN and VA.


    1. So what’s your plan for persuading JP Morgan to move some back office functions to Schenectady? Having the Attorney General launch an investigation of their mortgage lending practices? That’ll work. Maybe a new regulation requiring every single person in their office to sign a certification, to be filed with the New York State Department of Labor every year, that they understand the amount of their salary? (As a law firm partner, I have to sign such a certification every year. Alas, I also have to pay for the three days it takes an HR assistant to go around collecting all the certifications.) Who would be stupid enough to open an office in Schenectady, unless it was an office of professionals whose earnings were so high that the salary of the HR assistant was inconsequential?


    2. How will Texas be able to compete for the back office, by undercutting services and taxes when the competition is India, and the Philippines, and China? But perhaps I don’t understand where the Texans are willing to go.


      1. Yeah, it’s funny. Here in China across the board everyone talks about wanting to move up on the manufacturing totem pole, raise wages, educate its workforce, and become a Germany or Korea or Japan. The goal is to move towards a developed nation status and lifestyle. Americans seem to enjoy talking about competing with China or India, or soon Bangladesh or Cambodia.* We seem to be an (as of yet) developed nation yearning to become a developing nation. China may have many problems, but at least everyone seems to agree on what direction they want to move towards.

        *You can cut taxes and minimum wage all you want, but we’re never going to compete with 25 cents an hour unless we actually pay our workers that. We could instead compete on the basis of a well-trained, productive workforce, but that doesn’t fit the neoliberal narrative.


      2. BI,

        The US can compete with those countries by having transparent political processes and being strong against cronyism, corruption, favoritism, and red tape, but that’s kind of the opposite direction we’ve been going of late.


  14. Maybe we have accept these cities will disappear and not be so sentimental about the past.

    And the people who live in these cities? Where do you think we’re going? Because you need to get used to the fact that what happens to us is going to also affect you. All these cultural creatives of either/any political stripe that were/are copasectic about what happened to the rust belt are now dealing with the same sort of downsizing we blue collar folks did. And now you’re anxious about your own prospects for employment if the chips fall the wrong way, and super-anxious about the prospects for your children, especially since the price of admission for them to enter the non-dilapidated world is getting too high. Can’t have it both ways. Those cities aren’t gently going into that good night, because the people in them never do.

    What’s it gonna be? What do you want? A police state? Favelas bumped up against your city on the hill?


    1. I want middle class jobs and housing. The New York City model doesn’t deliver them. So it’s time to try a different model, not complain about forces beyond prediction or control.


    2. “Those cities aren’t gently going into that good night, because the people in them never do.”

      Maybe it’s a sign of our dysfunction that they don’t. Maybe our government should not be encouraging people to stay in places that don’t work anymore. Heck, if our current social programs were in place in the 1930s, the Okies would have mostly stayed in Oklahoma.


      1. For the record, I’m also opposed to Laura’s clap-your-hands-for-Tinkerbell vision of how cities prosper. 1) If you’ve got a lot of money in a city (like NYC), there’s also a lot of money for better-than-basic consumer goods. 2) If you have a city on a main drag (my hometown is small, but is on Highway 101, which makes all the difference) or in a popular scenic location (like those coastal towns in Maine) there’s oxygen for boutique-y businesses. 3) However, if your city is neither intrinsically rich, not on a major route and not a popular, scenic destination, all those artisanal pickle makers are doomed, doomed, doomed. Without the oxygen that wealth and good location provide, it’s not possible to save a city just by saving downtown or by starting with cute, funky businesses. (I’m looking at you, Mr. Florida.)

        I’m expecting that in the next 5-10 years, there are going to be some very interesting and bitter memoirs by former organic farmers and craftspeople and boutique business owners–basically anybody whose business model depends on people being willing to spend twice as much for something as they need to.

        A couple years ago, we had an adorable little baby and kids’ boutique in town–they had Melissa and Doug stuff, a few high end baby items, a cute play area, a mother’s lounge and they hosted toddler music classes. The second time I went there was their going-out-of-business sale. I kept hearing people with their arms full of discounted stuff say at the cash register, “I didn’t know you were here.” But their other problem was Amazon. It would have been very tempting to use their store as a showroom and then just order off of Amazon for substantially less.


      2. I don’t know about pickle makers, but the artisanal brewers and bakers in Pittsburgh have had a great deal of success. Especially the brewers. But twee little bakeries that sell $3.00 cupcakes opened here. One is still going very strong and the other expanded too much and died after five years or so. On Forbes in Squirrel Hill (I think where the florist used to be), you can now buy (for $2.50) a macaroon from a guy who sounds so French you’d think you were in movie. I don’t know if it will last, but something that calls itself a “cakery” has lasted on Murray for a couple of years now.


      3. “basically anybody whose business model depends on people being willing to spend twice as much for something as they need to.”

        I’ll agree on certain things like the $3 cupcake. I get that many, if not most, families are trying to stretch their food dollars. But when it comes to food we underpay for cheap food and I think as the price of shipping produce around the globe rises and certain subsidies come under more scrutiny, not to mention the price of antibiotic resistant salmonella, we’ll find the local organic or quasi-organic farm produce looks like a better deal. I totally recommend Marion Nestle’s food politics blog.


  15. The crumbling of cities is a bunch of different problems. Cities that existed for one industry or because of some historical contingency, will probably fade away if the whole region is experiencing depopulation. I think maybe upstate New York fits into that model. If there are no jobs, it will be very difficult to bring jobs back.

    But cases like Detroit and Cleveland are different. They are in regions that still have tremendous amounts of wealth and jobs. The populations of the metro areas are only slightly down. The core cities were allowed to crumble as a deliberate political choice while suburbs were getting all sorts of financial advantages (roads paid for with mostly federal dollars, federal mortgage programs, school districts with no legacy costs). It’s probably not a much easier problem to solve, because politics, but we shouldn’t pretend it wasn’t a deliberate choice.


    1. Whew and interesting. I had ignorantly tagged Detroit & Cleveland as dying cities that died with their industries, but yes, I can see what you mean now. I’d always wondered why Detroit and Cleveland continued to exist, but, I guess it’s because though no one is in Detroit, they are in the Detroit Metropolitan Area.

      I’m watching Columbus (not metropolitan Columbus, OH) continue to grow in population and realize that aggressive annexation played a significant role.


  16. Yeah, lubiddu. Sometimes I think that people preparing for the zombie apocalypse aren’t really crazy after all.

    Let’s talk about upstate NY. Upstate NY isn’t crumbling because of tax policies. Newburgh, NY – just an hour out of the city – is another example of an older city with extremely cheap, but amazing homes that are just being given away. Why aren’t the hipsters running up there to scoop up amazing loft spaces? A few have. I know a couple of artists who were priced out of the city and ended up there, but for the most part, people adjusted and stayed in Brooklyn.

    A friend went up to Ithaca about twenty years back with her husband. He went to Cornell, so he knew the place. He wanted to start his tech company there. They lasted nine months and then decamped to Seattle. They couldn’t take the isolation, the dark, and the cold winters. There weren’t enough people like them up there.

    Meanwhile, NYC with its taxes and extremely expensive real estate is thriving. When we went to Williamsburg last week, the place was vibrant. We passed coffee shop after coffee shop where every seat was taken by someone working on a laptop. Tech companies, which didn’t arise naturally like in the Stanford area, now operate there. Why? Because there are things to do and similar people in the area. It’s fun.

    I lived in Binghamton, NY for four years in college. I had an internship one semester with the mayor. She tried really hard to make Binghamton a desirable place for people to live, but it was a losing battle. She didn’t have enough money to clean up the downtown. Half the town was on government benefits and spent their money on super cheap beer in dilapidated bars. Not a single one of my friends stayed in Binghamton after graduation.

    The NYC model is working. People stay in NYC until they have kids and then move to the surrounding suburbs when they have kids. There are jobs here. Businesses want to operate here, even with the taxes and the bureaucracy and the expensive real estate.


    1. “She didn’t have enough money to clean up the downtown.”

      “Clean up downtown” is weasel for “give all the homeless guys bus tickets to the next big town,” isn’t it?

      Our downtown has spruced up considerably since we got here 6 years ago, with more little coffee and tea places than our population can possibly support. I don’t mind (since it’s better than nothing, which is what was there before), but I wonder what’s going to happen to a lot of these people. I also wonder what happened to all the homeless guys who used to hang out downtown, pushing baby strollers full of their stuff around. How did the city fathers get rid of so many of them?


  17. You know what Atrios would say: Better public transportation and bike lanes. If people can get around the city without a car, it will be more vibrant and alive.


  18. And that means no to upstate NY, right? Everybody will want to be in Vancouver or Seattle, where you can bike all year.


  19. Where I live in Minneapolis there is a thriving bike culture and biking in the winter is quite common. You can’t find a much colder or snowier city in the continuous states than Minneapolis.

    Minneapolis as a whole has avoided most of the pitfalls that have plagued other mid-sized, Midwestern cities. It was never a heavily industrial city so that probably has a lot to do with why that is. Young people have always wanted to live and work in the city and that’s becoming increasingly true of young families as well. The Minneapolis School District has seen a complete turn around in enrollment over the past five years to the point that there is a serious overcrowding problem and they’re reopening schools that have been empty for years.


  20. Hipsters buying lofts is not sufficient to save a city, or to create a middle class. Baristas aren’t middle class; you need factories and offices. Ask yourself, why aren’t banks opening back office facilities in Newburgh?

    You’re welcome to explain why other industries aren’t moving to Newburgh. I talk about what I know, which is law and financial services.


    1. It’s a bit of a chicken/egg problem: of course you need jobs but you also need talented people to work in those jobs. If talented people stay or are attracted to low-cost areas, businesses might be more likely to stay or relocate to those areas. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that these hard hit cities will return to their heights of 50 years ago just proposing strategies to stabilize the loss of people and jobs.

      And that’s my super sophisticated economic analysis for the day.


  21. Economic vibrancy doesn’t come from amenities. It comes from the disposable income without which amenities aren’t accessible (or sustainable for the few who have it….critical mass is a thing). When you see disappearing cities, you are looking a a critical mass of throwaway people. There isn’t anywhere those of us who are throwaway can go to improve our prospects. Hence, things are likely to get really ugly. Much uglier than some abandoned buildings.


  22. Once the demographics of a city or small town change because the young adults all move away, you also end up with a situation where the predominantly elderly population doesn’t vote for putting a lot of money into the schools anymore. In Schenectady, the public schools are terrible and any hipsters who do decide to live in the city put their kids in private schools. I had thought the advent of high speed railroad might save upstate new york. If you could get to NY on weekends cheaply and quickly, maybe people would decide it’s OK to live in upstate new York.


    1. Plus, a lot of locales have special property tax breaks for the elderly. If you have enough elderly in the area, that’s really bad.


    2. So true but also that’s really sad; my parents were both educated in that area and had amazing public schools, because the GE scientists were all over it. (Plus the space race.)


  23. Jobs jobs jobs. Cities die because they can’t create enough well paying jobs. And nice to live has very little to do with it. Lots of people in NYC make lots of money, and some of them like to work in coffee shops in Williamsburg. Plop that coffee shop down in upstate New York, and you better hope you’re within walking distance of a big university. The cities we talk about dying all have lost huge numbers of good jobs. Mostly in manufacturing.

    Likewise it’s crazytalk to ignore the impact of regulation and taxation and cost of doing business on job formation. Why are all the jobs in NYC seemingly tech and finance and media and publishing? Because you don’t need to work about much beyond office space. No long complicated regulatory regime to work through just to open an office. Even so New York does a fair bit of manufacturing, but its shrinking. Businesses just don’t open new operations here. The long standing defense industries in New York, especially Long Island and upstate mean that there is actually a fairly large skilled workforce for both electronics and aerospace. Nonetheless Boeing opens its new factory in South Carolina and Apple/Motorola both bring manufacturing back to the US in Texas.

    That’s just a couple datapoints of course, but the factors that make up rankings like this (on which New York does reasonably well in fact) make a difference over time.

    And Houston seems okay if you are just looking for a job


  24. True story:

    My husband is a tenured academic who does a little hobby programming for things like the Palm in the old days and the Kindle and phone apps these days. The hobby programming has brought in a small but very welcome income (he’s not doing much with it right now, but the royalties keep coming in at about $400 a month). Anyway, this summer, totally out of the blue, he got an invitation to apply for a programming job with a major cell phone/electronics company. It would be based in the Bay Area. The invitation was very flattering, but we didn’t pursue it, for a number of obvious reasons. Among other things, in Texas, we are the proud owners of a nearly 3000 square foot home that is walking distance to work, we have two big kids in private school, and I am home with our baby, and our city is small enough we do not live in our car. I have no idea how much money you’d need to replicate that in Silicon Valley, but I am familiar with coastal cost-of-living issues (as a former DC resident and from my reading of CA real estate blogs) and I know that even an offer of 2X our current income would leave us pretty poor in the Bay Area. (I recently heard Dave Ramsey take a call from a family with a household income of $170k in Silicon Valley who were wondering when they’d ever be able to afford a house.)

    The big coastal cities are great fun if you are young or rolling in cash, but they are much less fun for merely upper-middle class families with school-age children. I enjoyed our time in DC a lot, but it was financially a huge relief to leave.


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