Depending on where you grew up, big city life in Los Angeles or New York City can feel like the ultimate goal. Many residents of small towns seek out major cities after they graduate high school. They want to experience the hustle and bustle that their quiet towns have never had. Many who work in industries like finance and high tech have been forced to move to cities like New York and San Francisco to find good jobs. However, the incredibly high cost of living in such cities shows no signs of slowing their growth. Now many residents are starting to look at whether the attractions of such towns are genuinely worth it.
With the rapid expansion of remote work allowing many professionals to work from wherever they call home, more people question if the costs and drawbacks of big city life are worth it. Instead, their wages could buy them a large house in a quiet neighborhood in a suburb or smaller community. The data seems to indicate that many choose to leave cities like New York for surrounding suburbs or even move further into the country’s interior areas. Read on for thirty reasons why people might decide to leave the big city for the country’s outlying areas according to NPR and CNN.
18. More Room For Pets
Americans spend an ever-increasing amount of time, energy, and money on their beloved four-legged friends. So it should come as no surprise that a desire for more pets is high on the list of reasons to move away from major cities. Plus, the desire for an easier and more relaxing way of living with their pets. No one wants to spend a New York winter having to bundle up and put a leash on Fido every single time he wants to go to the bathroom. It’s much easier to care for dogs if you have a nice fenced-in backyard with ample room for your pooches to run.
Do you want larger dogs? Maybe you like specific breeds like Bully breeds that are often banned in apartments. Leaving the city for a suburb or smaller city with ample houses to rent or buy with fenced backyards is a huge draw. It’s easier to have larger dogs outside of the big city. Furthermore, it’s easier to have more dogs for those folks who want their own little pack of furry friends. One Redditor said they chose their neighborhood in part due to their pet. They said, “I’m here because I found an apartment that’s <900 for my room in a two-bedroom, with most of the perks. Specifically, garaged, gated parking, my own bathroom, and it allows a 100-pound Pitbull as a pet.”
In times of crisis and anxiety, many people naturally seek a return to the land to find a slice of comfort and self-sufficiency. That is especially true in pandemic times when being around other people is inherently more dangerous than isolation. During the current Covid-19 pandemic, cities like Manhattan have seen vast decreases in new rental and leasing contracts while surrounding suburbs and smaller communities see sharp increases. People realize that city life may not be the best for their health, especially when a contagious illness is around. Despite the high-quality medical care in big cities, many are seeking less crowded areas.
At the start of the pandemic, we all saw a massive influx of people attempting to bake their own bread, becoming interested in raising their vegetables and chickens, and more. When supply chains are threatened, people look inward for ways to become self-sufficient to survive. If you’re in a tiny apartment with no land, you are entirely dependent on the retail supply chain for survival, and times of anxiety make some people turn away from that lifestyle. While many still see value in living in concentrated areas where assistance will be more likely, others seek to move to greener pastures for a sense of safety.
Most of us are on a fixed income, with our wages from work and any side hustles being our only income source. With the increased availability of remote work jobs, many of us are now facing the choice of where we can get the most bang for our buck, and for most, the answer is not major cities like New York or San Francisco. If you have, say, $5,000 a month for your expenses, you certainly won’t be able to buy a nice home in a major city where properties routinely are many millions of dollars. Owning a car is also very expensive and often unnecessary, so that is also out as an option.
That same $5,000 will get you an extremely high quality of life in a smaller city, especially off the coasts in somewhere like Kansas City or Cleveland. You can not only get a large, nice home with a fenced yard for pets or children but you’ll have enough left over for food, a nice vehicle, vacations, and more. Many are asking themselves what they want their money to buy them, as /u/actualtext said on Reddit, “It’s hard to not go through this pandemic working from home and not do some self-reflection on what you want out of life and your priorities in life.”
Due to the US process of using property tax receipts to set school funding, suburbs with luxe houses with high property tax values tend to have very well-funded schools. In contrast, inner-city schools in major cities like New York are often relatively underfunded and overcrowded due to the high renters and relatively low property tax receipts. While a lot could be said about the systematic inequality, this creates, especially for people of color, the current reality is simply that suburbs often have better-funded schools with lower teacher-to-student ratios. Thus, many parents are seeking out suburbs and smaller towns for their childrens’ education.
Efforts are being made to make larger inner-city schools more competitive. However, they are still typically under-funded compared to suburban schools and more affluent smaller communities where most of the population are homeowners contributing property taxes to the budget. Higher funding allows for better technology in the classroom, higher better-trained teachers, more modern school buildings, and more. Many of the highest-rated US school systems are in suburbs and medium-sized cities, making them a major draw for parents with young children who will need to enroll in school in the next couple of years. Unfortunately, this cycle tends to perpetuate inner-city school under-funding.
Competition for affordable rental housing in major cities like New York and San Francisco can be fierce with many people enlisting the help of a realtor simply to find a rental, an idea that would be unfathomable in most smaller cities where finding rentals is a simple process that can be easily navigated from a website by yourself. Buildings with rent control often have a waiting list decades-long and may never even see the light of a listing before being snapped up by someone with a personal connection to another tenant or the landlord. As Redditor /u/Little_Tyrant explained, “After 12 years, the constant competition of living in LA just got to be too much.”
While the real estate market can be competitive at times in smaller US cities, especially if there’s a boom in a local job market, fixer-uppers are almost always available, as are homes in slightly outdated neighborhoods. Bargain-priced houses intended for quick sales may be tough to find, but, in general, you will be able to find a home within your budget in a reasonably short search with the help of a realtor. Rentals tend to be similarly abundant in large enough cities, with even small towns having houses for rent even if they don’t have dedicated apartment complexes.
Most major US cities are quite historic and have existed far longer than most suburbs and smaller communities throughout the US. Thanks to that age, there is a lot of historic housing in cities like New York, which is full of old brick and brownstone buildings that have unique historic charm. However, the drawback of that age is that very few new homes are able to be built within these cities, meaning that what you see is what you get for housing. When you add in the cost, many are feeling like Redditor /u/Darth_Gostkowski, who said they “can almost buy a house outright AND pay off my student loans outside of NYC.”
A significant benefit for many looking to leave cities is the ability to custom build a brand new home for a fraction of the price of renting in an older building in a major city. Many growing suburbs and even more rural small towns offer fantastic tax and mortgage incentives for families to build new houses in subdivisions. Some communities provide as much as five to 10 years of zero or reduced property taxes to build new homes to grow the town and support local construction and finishing businesses. It allows families to build homes precisely the way they want them in every detail.
Some people eventually feel the call of the wild at one point in their lives. They want to have their own patch of green earth to call home. Maybe, they want to raise hobby horses, rescue a whole pack of dogs, or simply tend a garden in peace. When city dwellers get that call, there is no alternative to leaving the city. You must seek a suburb or even a rural property where the land is still relatively affordable. As long as it isn’t a beach or lakefront property, the land is still much cheaper to buy than rent in most major cities. Make sure you also avoid a costly agricultural zone like much of Iowa.
While it is possible to return to nature a bit in major cities, it’s far more difficult and expensive due to the extreme expense and difficulty of getting a piece of land that you can actually have any control over. Most rentals only have a communal space that would require an agreement between tenants to use, if they have a piece of land at all. Community gardens are a great option but are often overcrowded and subject to lotteries to even get a plot to begin with. As Redditor, /u/jsm1370 said, “Its (sic) easier to lock down sitting in a 2500sqft 4 bedroom house on 2 acres of land.”
Many urban dwellers in major cities outside of California, where the car is still king, rely on public transit to get to work, especially on the densely populated Eastern Seaboard. Many commuters take some combination of trains, subway cars, and buses to get to work and back every single day which can lead to real fatigue of public transit thanks to its incredible business and the lack of control over your own schedule. As exhausted Redditor /u/actualtext said, “the random [expletive] you see in the subway is the stupid stuff I think I used to tell myself made this city special.”
Many smaller cities in the US have limited public transportation with light rail trains at best and just buses, or essentially nothing, at worst. While this likely seems like a drawback for many urban residents who rely on public transit for an environmentally-conscious public transit commute, people who grew up in car culture often miss the convenience of grocery shopping and getting around on their own four wheels. The lack of public transit in smaller communities is an incentive (or an outright demand) to own a car, which can provide relief from the burnout of public transit use every day.
Much of American history has been bound up in who owned what land. Furthermore, who wanted to own what land. Homesteaders were drawn from throughout Europe with the promise of free or extremely cheap land plots. That became much of the generational wealth white Americans still enjoy today. Owning a piece of land is firmly integrated into our culture as a symbol of freedom and success. Many still view it that way, and the inability to own land in a major US city is a cause of people fleeing to suburbs and smaller communities where they can own a home with acreage or at least a small plot of land. Redditor /u/ Bourbeau said, buy ”houses out of state with a pool and land for their kids.”
Most of us don’t do much beyond some simple gardening and landscaping with the land we own. However, the tantalizing promise and ability to do more remains. Many smaller cities’ residents raise small flocks of chickens or grow small vegetable gardens to reconnect with older traditions and gain a feeling of self-reliance and sustainability. Others engage in hobbies like dog agility training or lawn bowling, and other outdoor games. Regardless of the use, feeling like you own a piece of this earth is a tantalizing and rewarding feeling and has been for ages.
Zoom fatigue is a way of life these days. Nevertheless, most of us still use technology like Zoom or FaceTime to connect with friends while social distancing. Many people, especially in neurodivergent and disability communities, have long had rich networks of online friends. They’ve developed close relationships despite never being physically together. We live in an era where such digital friendship is possible. That means local connections are no longer holding people in place in their communities the way they once did. Why? Because moving away doesn’t necessarily have to mean losing dear friendships the way it did when phone calls were the best you could hope for.
When facing a steep cost of living and a cramped apartment, the idea of only being able to FaceTime friends isn’t a terribly huge drawback. That is especially true after a year of having to live distanced anyways. Things that would have once seemed deeply strange have quickly become commonplace. More and more people are uprooting and leaving friends and family behind with the knowledge that it’s easier to stay digitally connected than ever. Besides, it feels more normal than ever before. With the lower cost of living in smaller areas, it even becomes possible to visit. As Redditor /u/UAtraveler1k said, “Heck I could probably just fly in when I need to.”
Virtually every newer home in the 1990s had a dedicated home office, despite almost no jobs allowing remote work in that era. You can thank that fact to the strong economy of the 1990s and the oversize homes that resulted. However, with the lack of laptops and wireless, these offices typically housed the single-family computer. People used them for taxes, accounting, and other humdrum activities in the pre-internet times. In the 2000s, dedicated home offices often looked dated. They were repurposed for craft rooms, children’s rooms, and many other uses since most didn’t see the need for a home office.
Of course, in the Covid era, many of us are exclusively working from home. A large portion of them are hoping to continue working from home even after the pandemic settles down. This rapid rise in telecommuting has led to a massive cultural shift in the perception of the dedicated home office. Many people, especially parents, realize how valuable a quiet, isolated space can be. Especially one where work and personal life can be separated. For those living in cramped apartments in major cities, separation is quite impossible. Thus, it is sending many fleeing to the suburbs to look for larger houses where they can have that quiet office.
Everyone wants the highest quality of life they can afford on their salary, no matter where they live. Many realize that the cost of living in a bustling, entertaining city like New York simply doesn’t afford a quality of life that makes the perks like entertainment and dining worth it. What’s the point of living in a city with all that entertainment if rent is so expensive you can’t afford to partake in any of it? Suburbs and smaller communities are often looked down on as being boring. However, the lower cost of living in such places does tend to afford a quality of life that simply isn’t attainable in a major city.
You want to work a normal job with an average salary. More importantly, you want to have a home, a yard, two cars, or any of the other typical “American dream” elements of quality of life. You are almost assuredly going to need to move out of a city like New York or San Francisco to achieve it. Sure, you may lose some of the exclusive cultural elements like Broadway. However, you gain a lot more spending money to enjoy dining out, vacations, and more. For many, this tradeoff is starting to look more appealing as rents in major urban areas show no signs of slowing their growth. As Redditor /u/UAtraveler1k perfectly summarized, “ Why pay for a small space when I can get a larger space somewhere for the same price?”
Many see suburbia as a boring place where families go to become mainstream. However, others have always viewed suburbia as the ultimate goal. Everyone’s conception of the American Dream is different. However, the data is showing that fewer and fewer people are seeing expensive, small apartments in major cities. Many agree with sentiments like that of Redditor /u/nariusone who said, “the trend is already moving to the suburbs. Recent events will just accelerate the trends. Who wants to deal with crime, homelessness, and angry people on a day-to-day basis.”
Suburbs tend to have many benefits, especially for families with children. These go beyond just the space and nice tree-lined drives. The US system of property tax being used to fund education means suburbs tend to have extremely well-funded schools. They offer the best possible education for the children who live there. Suburbs tend to be less polluted and more walkable than urban areas. That means kids can walk to school more easily and families can more easily get safe outdoor exercise. Suburbs tend to be, for better or worse, also very heavily policed and have low relative crime rates.
As Redditor /u/nariusone points out, “the trick is to move to a suburb close enough (30 min drive?) so that you can get all the entertainment and shopping you want, but far enough that you can get away from the bad stuff.” This is the dream for those seeking shorter commutes. While it, of course, requires buying a car, many find that moving to more affordable housing outside of the city limits results in a shorter and more pleasant commute than taking buses from their inner-city apartment, especially when you add in wait times for late buses, the unpleasantness of waiting outside in winter, and more. Commutes become even better for those who seek employment in smaller communities.
Again, it may sound unreal to those living on the Eastern Seaboard or in majorly sprawling areas like Los Angeles. However, those of us living in medium-size communities often have commutes of 10 to 15 minutes for work. Often, getting “across town” is only a matter of several miles. Moreover, traffic is rarely enough to add much time to that drive. Of course, we have fewer amenities as a result of that diminished size. However, the short, simple commutes are an absolute treat. Why? Many people have to deal with mega-commutes of an hour or more in large cities. They are starting to gravitate towards those shorter small town commutes.
Even if you live in a nice sound-proof old Brownstone, there still is no sense of privacy in an apartment complex, townhome, or duplex. You will eventually hear and see your neighbors, and they will see and hear you. For those who value privacy above all for any reason, inner-city life typically isn’t a great fit. Why? Because you are surrounded by people always. One factor that rural people often list as most prized about their location is the sense of absolute privacy. It comes from living on your own piece of land with a bit of space between you and others. For many city dwellers, that idea of privacy can be extremely compelling.
For musicians, in particular, a bit of privacy to practice one’s instrument as loudly as they feel like is a compelling draw towards more isolated areas. No one appreciates hearing musical instrument practice in an apartment. Furthermore, no one is more aware of that fact than the musicians themselves. Artists also tend to enjoy the larger space. They can set up studios without any prying eyes. Families with small children are looking for more privacy to play outside without any stranger danger apprehension. Realistically, most people value at least some privacy and consider it as a factor when moving.
Depending on your level of agoraphobic tendencies, wide-open spaces are either the best or the worst part of living outside big cities. Some genuinely hate the wide, vast expanses of many midwestern states where you can see the horizon for miles. For others, the sense of freedom and space is exhilarating and comforting. Many lifetime residents from cities like New York have reported being stunned upon their first time seeing flat agricultural states like Nebraska or Kansas. They can believe the vast amount of unfilled, uninhabited space (unless you count corn as inhabitants of the state.)
For some who tire of big city life and the concrete jungle, the appeal of wide-open spaces can be enough to motivate a move. If space has always been a limitation and a consideration, it can feel like luxury to have too much space whether on your own property or simply around you in the form of huge national parks, acres upon acres of cropland, and more. As one Redditor, /u/Fallout99, pointed out when saying “Fall in Vermont surpassed my already high expectations,” you can also find beautiful new scenery better than you’d imagined.
New Yorkers certainly know how to come together in the face of a tragedy; however, no one would argue that New York City has a sense of community. Furthermore, people claim the same of cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles. Living there, you likely will never actually meet or talk to your neighbors. You probably see humanity as just a bunch of faceless people on your next subway commute. Some people enjoy this level of anonymity and isolation within a crowd. However, others who desire a stronger sense of community are motivated to move to smaller cities. They can get more involved locally and build a sense of neighborhood and community.
Plenty of people in the suburbs and smaller communities like to stick to themselves. However, it is still far more likely that you will get to know your neighbors a little bit. It is common to see neighbors out chatting about the weather or some upcoming city event. Many smaller communities still celebrate events like the national night out. Some host community or block picnics where neighbors can gather to meet one another. Mobile apps like NextDoor give neighbors a chance to know each other. However, reports of racial profiling among users have consistently plagued such apps.
The largest factor in the decision to move away from major US cities is the cost of living. Rent for a small one-bedroom apartment is more than you would pay for a family home in smaller cities. Thus, it is difficult to find reasons to stay. That is especially true in an era with increasing remote work opportunities. Without the ties of high-paying jobs holding folks in place in major cities, more are fleeing to cheaper areas. As Redditor /u/HeloRising explained, “I’m tired of fighting just for an inch of breathing room and being on food stamps.”
Many big-city residents dismissively refer to much of the country as flyover country, and, culturally speaking, it is. There isn’t much to write home about in terms of entertainment or fine dining in the middle of the US. However, the reality is that residents of the flyover areas enjoy a low cost of living. It allows them to enjoy far more space, privacy, peace of mind, and security. That is especially true compared to those who are continually shuffling between expensive, cramped apartments in major cities. For some, the culture and nightlife of major cities like New York are worth the sacrifice in cost of living. In that sense, it is becoming increasingly clear that many are choosing to leave. For more information, find out how much you need to live comfortably in each state.