It’s hard to look for a home and not dwell for a minute on where we’re coming from. We lived in Los Angeles for almost a decade. Decentralized and sprawling, a megacity cobbled together of diverse neighborhoods. To live in a place like that, to never have want for more options is mind-bending. We shudder to think that a city we never loved could get under the skin so that more humble surroundings seem frightening and subversive.
Everyone has a personal vision of L.A. fortified by the media and film industry. We’ve all made it through the fourth wall into Venice Beach, Rodeo Drive, or a Hollywood premiere. But as residents, we couldn’t help feeling like we were sharing an inside joke with Angelenos when we saw the local street corner on the small screen. It’s quite a different sight when you’re beyond a certain camera angle. But still, what you’ve seen is all true: the coast, the stars, the traffic and the sunshine are all turned up to eleven. People flock here hoping to achieve their greatest dreams; it’s easy to drink the koolaid and start believing there isn’t a better place in the world to live.
Traveling made us realize how easy it is to live a mobile lifestyle, but almost as importantly, that we want to find a home. Though we’re not prepping the nest to start a family, we are ready to settle into a committed relationship with our community. Seeing such an extensive list of cities has helped us to articulate what exactly we are looking for and much of it revolves around what kind of lifestyle we want to lead.
So off we go to Denver, Colorado. Our first impression: Where was the great body of water? The dense, cooling forests? Are the trees of Colorado stunted from either the elevation or terrain, or the wrath of god? Looking upon the Rockies does recall “great mountains’ majesty,” but good lord do the plains just go on and on forever? Looks like you can take a coastal dweller from the coast, but not the coast from the dweller. At least throw us a surging river, or something… And oh yes, it was also snowing, and it was May 15th.
The city feels safe, and creepily clean. Nothing was too perfect, but just enough sterilization made us feel the lack of chaos and grime we felt at home in. Seems like a weird example of the grass always being greener, but there it was. The walkable center was designed or even manufactured, with a plan and by committee. The outskirts are beginning to be filled in with the grisly attraction of brand new gated communities and tract homes, the promise of a better life with order and precision, but without your soul. We had a Stepford Wives flashback looking at these well groomed lanes peppered with smiling people in their unsoiled city.
But then we started to notice a few things. If the weather was even remotely good, the entire populace took to the outdoors running, hiking, bicycling and barbecuing with friends and family. The city planned trails everywhere: along streams through downtown, across footbridges, and straight into the surrounding Rockies. State and National parks beckon from all directions, and stores overflow with outdoor equipment as if they were struggling to keep up with market demand.
And then there’s the locals, the Denverites (Denverinos?), and they are really friendly. Maybe some people would shrug off this amity as normal, but in big bustling Los Angeles and “liberal” San Francisco, friendly can be the exception. The self interest which seems to fuel a big city was missing, and instead the locals would just walk up and start talking to us. When they asked how our day was going they expected a real response, and would give us one in return. It was a little frightening at first but eventually we warmed to this welcoming attitude.
Jeremy at Rockmount Ranch, the birthplace of western wear
Denver’s beloved Tattered Cover Bookstore
Everyone we spoke to boasted that Denver is “growing” and “emerging,” a lot was going on now, compared to a few years before. Because the city isn’t taking time to form naturally, residents are involved in the architecture of their communities. There are a lot of independent businesses — not quite as many as in L.A., but the ratio was higher, somehow there are no where as many chain stores. People were proud of their small local start-ups and basement projects.
Outside of Denver there are other prospective towns for us to be interested in. Boulder is hip, forward and unfortunately so full of itself that people warned us before we even got there. Yes, it is a nice little town with youthful energy from it’s College, nestled beautifully into the crook of the Rockies, but we felt instantly that the people were less friendly. Some of that smugness we were trying to leave behind in Southern California had crept in, and turned us off. It’s a familiar story, our alma mater Santa Cruz suffers in a similar way: as long as we were matriculated we owned the town, but decide to stay on after, and the community turns a conservative cheek.
In comparison, Fort Collins seemed like a little hippie stronghold, maybe a little small for us, but with pride in its uniqueness. Both towns are within what we from Los Angeles would consider acceptable commuting distance.
We are not sold on packing up and moving away to the Great Divide yet. But there may be a place for us in Denver. We are used to cities big enough to have everything you can think of, plus a few things you couldn’t even imagine needing. We are the small fish in the big pond, and have never though of a different equation. Smaller cities are still growing, searching for further possibilities, and for us that could mean a chance to try something of our own in a receptive environment, a smaller pond.
Denver has Burlesque! The Clocktower Cabaret has a pretty full schedule.
We could try starting our own business or growing some kind of community based club. The reality is there are a lot of options that haven’t yet surfaced here and the population seems so hungry for more choice. We want pick a community which will make our transition pleasant, a city where we’ll be able to make new friends and connections — Denver residents seem sincerely interested in one another and their community efforts. Could we be received here just as warmly?
Criteria for the City of Dreams
Most people decide where they will settle down based on their jobs, and we get asked a lot what we intend to do about work. The truth is, our careers aren’t figuring in very much on our decisions this time. When we moved to Los Angeles, we were moving from college. We thought the big city would be a good starting point for our careers, much like everyone else who came there. Our plan worked, but the city didn’t. With Jeremy’s bank position, we were effectively slipped a pair of golden handcuffs: a great position with a great boss that was very hard to walk away from. Now we want to choose a home based on lifestyle.
We love seeing cities where people seem to be constantly socializing, and are able to connect across diverse circumstances. Eva finds L.A. to be quite ugly, so she wants to find a “beautiful” place, where she might find more inspiration. A progressive place. The idea of seasons sounds intriguing, after a lifetime of spring and summer, but then again… could we handle it? We’d like to be free of daily car use. We are attracted to extensive public transportation networks and walkable communities. Cities that love coming up with excuses to get together, free music in the park. Good food, obviously.
Even the concept of being a big city resident is now up for discussion. Could we be happier in a quainter, less urban environment we sometimes fantasize about? Or are we already too jaded and infected with bigger needs? We’re talking a lot about picking a home just outside a major city center where we can explore removing citified elements, but still be able to run for cover if we need to.
It’s a lot to put on a wishlist, but we aren’t shy. People are happy the world over, and soon we’ll also be. The more places we see and lifestyles we sample, the easier it has been to recognize a good thing when we find it, and to see potential in unexpected places. Including places at a high altitude.
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