Freelancers moving to small towns

#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/07/30/freelancers-moving-to-small-to.html

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#2

Sounds like a warning to spend less time on the bbs.

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#3

In some ways, I can see the appeal - if you don’t have kids, don’t want to have kids, don’t want to have friends your own age (at least, not ones within 6 deciles of your income bracket), don’t like going out and doing anything ever, are willing to deal with a really massive number of underestimated inconveniences, and don’t care what happens if your online job vaporizes…

…All of which are great, great reasons to stay the fuck away from rural America. It’s dying. Less than 20% of America’s population lives there, and people only move back when things get too expensive in big cities. It’s not gonna turn around any time soon, either, even if some people that fit a very specific mold find that it works for them.

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#4

“Places are taking the ideas of what people want in urban communities, and smaller and suburban communities are trying to recreate this.”

It can be done successfully to a point, but only in very specific and, shall we say, intentional ways. It’s one thing for a bunch of hipsters to decide (absent the input of the locals) that they’re going to make a small town up the Hudson the next Williamsburg, but it’s not going to work in car-centred exurbs or remote rural locations.

The creative class and young freelancers are drawn to cities because they’re diverse places that enourage and facilitate the flow of new ideas, because they’re full of cultural institutions, because potential patrons (human and “slow AI”) prefer to live there, and because if you’re into getting laid and having fun they offer more options.

The real problem is that those potential patrons have concentrated so much wealth that they’re pricing those who might have served them in the past right out of the city.

Don’t forget the part about not being anything other than a white, cisgender person (preferably Christian, but quiet atheism is permitted in some towns). Really, some of these small towns can be downright dangerous for the unwary and naive young hipster moving there from the big city (which is why so many young people flee rural communities, small towns, and exurbs).

I had a disturbing thought the other day, reading a twitterer who is popular but on the margins of their profession and whose twittering constantly reinforces that self-branding: being a very online sort of person can signify low income and status.

This deserves a thread all its own, but agreed. If one is constantly scrambling to re-inforce one’s personal brand, often risking career suicide in the process, one is more likely to have all the income and status of a 32-year-old actor whose chances of winning the star system lottery are reduced with every tick of the second hand.

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#5

There are things you’ll be giving up - better dining options, better shopping options, more diverse entertainment options.

On the other hand, in one of the small towns we joke about moving to, we’d have access to a million acres of undeveloped wilderness, year 'round outdoors entertainment like camping, canoeing, skiing, etc, and the house prices are dirt cheap. Plus, for community, there’s always either the cafe for breakfast or the bar at night. (Welcome to small town America, it’s different).

So there are trade-offs, but it’s not all negative.

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#6

That’s why we moved to Denver - great balance of access to city life and access to wilderness activities.

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#7

I think you’ll start seeing towns with a particular activity try and encourage more and more people to move there. Activities like a plays and the the theater, music or skiing/biking and the bars and restaurants that go with it. Telecommuting from one of these is very appealing for me.

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#8

I feel a serious ramble coming on, and will try to avoid that.

I’ve moved around a fair bit. Not as much as the seriously nomadic, but more than normal. After my 8th major (more than 1000km) move, I decided this was probably the second-to-last one. If I ever manage to leave the wage-slave hamster wheel or end up disabled or something, it will be off to a small town I bought some property in a while back to play with my hobbies. Until then, I’m settled in San Francisco. Again.

What really got to me was rebuilding my tribe over and over. I don’t like people much and it takes me a long time to find ones I’m comfortable with. Worse, I don’t like the search process. And while this town really isn’t the same one I moved to in the 90s (and I’m considering moving to the East Bay, 'cause they still make some interesting people there instead of ordering out for more TechBros), it is more home than anywhere else I’ve found.

The huge issue for me in moving to a small town, I think, is that urban life offers one huge, massive advantage: cutting someone out of your life is remarkably easy. I grew up in a tiny town, and most of the negativity that made me miserable would have been much more easily avoided somewhere where everyone didn’t know your name.

It isn’t difficult to spin that into psychological analysis, and sure, learning to deal with people you don’t like is an important part of being a sensible adult. Trust me, I’m not missing out. But seriously - a huge aspect of housing preference and the politics of same are about whom you can exclude. I happen to prefer excluding people who tend to have a preference for excluding, well, everyone not like them. And of course that invites all sorts of silly logical analysis showing that I’m the real bigot. But I think it is worth grappling with.

I’ve only lived in one intentional community, and that went a little poorly. But it did convince me that the ones that worked resembled hippy-variant gated communities with different buy-in costs.

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#9

I grew up in small towns and lived in small towns as a young adult. I’ve got the deep fryer burns to prove it. I gave up on rural underemployment and poverty and moved to the city for work, which immediately tripled my income.

It’s possible to move back to small towns and retain your standard of living, but you need to hook up your job in a city first. It’s more like being a cyber-suburban than a real resident.

I don’t want my kids to go through what I did, so I am bringing them up in the city.

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#10

But how do you really feel?

I’m not sure which small towns you’ve lived in, but I’m thankful that I’ve managed to avoid them. In my experience, small towns are sort of ideal places to raise kids. Friends and jobs can be rough, true. But I don’t find it all doom and gloom and don’t see rural America dying anytime soon.

Granted, my experience revolves around small university towns and the surrounding areas.

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#11

You’re being needlessly hard on yourself.

One still has to do that on a regular basis in a big city. The only difference is that you’re dealing with a different arsehole you might never see again every day instead of being stuck seeing the same arsehole on a daily basis. My preference is for the former.

Don’t sweat it. Your preference is Popper’s Paradox writ small.

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#12

NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate Urban Lab

OK…this gave me a chuckle.:grin:

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#13

In most small, rural towns, it’s a whole lot less “idyllic Mayberry” and a whole lot more “poverty, alcoholism, meth and opioid and benzo additions, drama, infidelity, toxic masculinity, and undiagnosed severe depression/anxiety”.

So basically you can afford your McMansion and enough Oxycodone for your strung-out, teen pregnant kids to all OD on. Because there’s nothing else to do.

University towns are a completely separate ballgame for a lot of reasons, and aren’t representative of the 99.999% of the rest of rural America (are uni towns even rural? They seem like they’d be more suburb-y or exurb-y?).

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#14

As someone who works as an 100% remote freelancer for multiple clients (some of whom I never meet in person), the dream of moving to a mid-size city is pretty alluring. I make less as a freelancer relative to an equivalent in-person job in my geographic area, but I love the lifestyle it provides… I get to pick what I work on and any down-time can be spent on personal projects, etc. Now, if I relocated to a smaller town, and managed to keep all my clients, I would be making a much better income, relative to local housing costs… sounds pretty nice.

Alas, my wife’s job is very tied to cosmopolitan areas, so we will be staying in a high-density zone for the foreseeable future. Honestly, that’s a relief to me… As much as the dream of downsizing sounds good, something tells me I would not enjoy it as much as the urban lifestyle I’ve had for over a decade. We spend time in a small town a couple times a year and the people we talk to there always remind us of what we prefer about the city… Diversity of experience and an open worldview. We spend a lot of time explaining to people that no, in the city you are not mortal danger from terrorists or psychos every time you step out the front door…

#15

(are uni towns even rural? They seem like they’d be more suburb-y or exurb-y?).

Maybe for the most part. Mine is super rural. The “city” population is under 8,000, and the county-wide population density is 36/mi^2.

I know college towns aren’t representative of life in most rural towns, and the problems you mention do exist. As far as I’m aware, though, the rates of abuse/addiction for middle school/high school kids aren’t much different in rural vs urban areas. Probably not as easy to find data on, but I’m guessing that “drama, infidelity, toxic masculinity” are in the same boat. They are problems everywhere, it’s not a rural vs urban issue.

Access to mental health services is a big problem. Rural areas are medically underserved. Poverty is an issue, too, but not as great of an issue as it’s often made out to be when making comparisons against the “poverty line” which is a federal figure, and generally a bullshit one at that. Anyway, they are often not accounting for cost of living differences.

There are a lot of assumptions about living in a rural area that are just as inaccurate as assumptions that some people have of moving to the city and immediately getting mugged daily and/or addicted to crack.

#16

I’m one of these folks, having recently moved out of the 4th largest city in North America to a city of ~100K people.

  • Online shopping has eliminated most of the shopping issues - when I do need to shop, my ~30 minute drive (traffic-free) to the 400K population city nearby with the larger stores is about as long as it took me to get around in my old megacity, except that required either navigating oftimes overcrowded public transit or always-overcrowded roads.

I’m ~90 minutes from said megacity. I won’t be going there for a casual dining adventure, but that’s not unreasonable for a special occasion or theatre performance. The movie theatre in the city is awesome because it has all the same features of the megacity theatre and no people during the week (and, no rushed servers so the food beyond popcorn is more than passable for once).

The biggest change I’ve noticed is I’m no longer planning my outings around rush hour or dreading having to head out to do routine tasks. People are more relaxed and therefore more likely to just talk to you like a human being versus look at you as a competitor for time/space/availability.

Another huge and welcome surprise (and perhaps due more to being in Canada) is the amount of cultural diversity in what, growing up, was very much a white/aboriginal farmer town - there’s a HUGE number of ethnicities in town, leading to surprisingly easy access to “exotic” food ingredients and the like - in many cases, easier to access than they were in the megacity, as there is ample parking and no traffic getting to these stores.

After decades of urban living, I fully expected to miss a lot of things out of the megacity, but in fact, it’s the opposite - I’m actively looking for more and more alternatives to prevent me having to return, and I was not expecting that, at all.

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#17

Glad you’ve found a place that suits you. I’m a city boy and always will be but could probably get along well enough in a diverse (or diversifying) city of 100k or perhaps a little less if it was close to a city of 400k+. Things would get more dicey for me with towns under 75k people, though, and that’s the kind of small town or exurb the article is discussing.

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#18

It’s interesting when you consider places based on population. I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a town with more than 15K people (not counting college). I’m currently in the Philly suburbs, in a town with a population of 10K. The county seat (the next town over) has a population of 5K. The surrounding townships and towns range in size between 10K to 25K, most with no real centers. The commercial properties tend to be found along the major roads. The county population is over 500K.

Still, there is so much variety in terms of cultural activities, dining, education, and other services, that it takes a lot of effort to convince people to go into the city. Most who live in the 'burbs only go to Philly for concerts, sporting events, museums, and the Philadelphia Orchestra (although the price is driving many back to county symphony and orchestra groups). It’s equally difficult to convince my relatives in the city to attend events in the suburbs. They are 30 minutes apart by car, train, or bus, but you would think it’s like going to NJ. Places of interest in South Jersey (aside from the shore) are only 45 minutes away by car, but that is considered by some to be a big adventure if they don’t already live there and commute to Philly on a regular basis.

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#19

Actually, the characteristics of rural versus urban addiction/abuse are wildly different, even more so than I initially thought. Urban drug abuse is primarily among the poor, unemployed, and they don’t really get into drugs until after 18 years of age. In rural communities, they start using in the 12-17 range, they’re mostly white and the ‘working poor’, and (at least among those that are treated) it’s about half for alcohol addiction (whereas in urban it’s more for hard drugs in the homeless population) and the other half is a split between meth and opioids.

Another major difference is that back in '99 or so, drug ODs were much higher in urban centers than rural. But they caught up by 2004, and have been pulling farther and farther ahead in rural regions since, mostly because of the rural opioid epidemic, at rates that line up shockingly well with the flight of the U.S. population from rural areas.

Long story short, rural America has been adopting the characteristics of a poverty-stricken third-world more and more over the last couple decades, up to and including the desperation and frustration that leads to broken elections and “strong-man”-esque dictators. And it’s getting much, much worse, not better.

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#20

Oh, my tone came off all wrong. This isn’t about me beating up on myself. (I do need to read Popper, though. On my list for too long.)

I was more attempting to get at the continuum of contingent preferences <-> tribalism.

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