Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How to Read a Town

felt macarons from Little Fluff Stuff
How to read a town, how to research a city, how to figure out where to live-- it all depends on what language you're speaking.  For me, I speak walk-able, bike-able, old architecture, crafting community.  And affordable, but I'll maybe have to learn a new dialect.  Looking at a new town when you've never been to it is hard.  I have no idea what people did before the internet (guess I should ask my mom).  I'm going to share some of the tips I've figured out about judging a town's compatibility.

1.  Meet-up is a good place to start.  Smaller areas probably won't have a lot of entries, but a large city should yield up a group for just about anything (Southbay Goth Meet-up, LARPers, Raw food and board games night).  Pick your keywords and see what you find.  Now, I'm not sure how wide-spread meetup is, and it may be used more by some age groups than others.  Or maybe you don't even care about age groups.  Check it out.

Knitted cowl from Nisey Knits
2. Since this is at least 40% a craft blog, I chose to do some scouting through Using their Shop Local search, I found sellers from the area we're looking at.  Then, I sent a handful of friendly notes asking about the availability of craft supplies and whether there was much of a crafting community.  I got answers back almost immediately about stores to go to and offers of help once I get there.  That was probably the most positive thing that's happened so far.  I'd like to thank Little Fluff Stuff (pictured above), maukDesigns, Nisey Knits, and La Plume Ethere for helping me feel at home before it's even my home. I even got an invitation to knit with someone!

3.  Google Street View: I can never use this feature without thinking HOLY SHIT IT'S THE FUTURE.  I've used this to check out my childhood home (they cut down my damn tree!) and find bike-able roads.  Now, I can snail my way through entire neighborhoods.  Looking at things from above always make them look weird and clinical, but street view is nice. The absence of deciduous trees in California makes me sad, but using this I could see that there are plenty of leaves out there.  Through a freak occurrence, J wasn't able to rent a car for his trip, but he could use the street view maps to check out the sidewalks.

View Larger Map

4. Discussions from their forum often come to the top of my searches when thinking about moving/trailing.  It's a large enough website that you can almost always find someone moving from/to where you're going.  The design leaves much to be desired, but it is chock-full of facts. You won't laugh (you might cry, looking at housing prices) but you'll get some of the big answers.  This doesn't particularly give you the feel of a place, but gives more precise information about demographics/employment/industry than any Wikipedia article.

5. lets you know how much your city respects pedestrians and cyclists, which isn't important to everyone but it is to me.  And since it's hooked into Google Maps, you also get a list of cool places, by category, near the address.  For me, if all that pops up under coffee is Starbucks, I've hit a dud.

I hope this helps someone.  When J applied for jobs in Portland, I had more of an idea of what to expect. I'd been there and its reputation preceded it.  This part of California, though, boggled my mind.  And when you're feeling boggled, it's easy to focus on the bad stuff.


  1. Sexy American HeroJune 22, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    Using these tips, I learned that my new apartment is next to a gay strip club! I couldn't be more excited. <3 <3 <3!

  2. Great links! I like the walk score one especially.

  3. Good idea with emailing crafters--and I'd never heard of walkscore before, which seems potentially really helpful. I played around with putting in places I've lived in previously and places we're thinking of moving and got mixed results. While I think it's spot on for where we are now, it gave some pretty good scores to places I've lived that I didn't find walkable. Or I might have been more car-oriented at the time, hard to tell. Thanks for sharing all the ideas!

  4. The responses I've gotten from Etsy have been very heartening. I'm not sure why I'm so nervous-- I've got a lot going just by being willing to put myself out there.

    @Eileen Pairing Walkscore and Google Maps makes it work better, I think.

  5. Hmm, I went to university in that area (the big fancy one up the road). it's not as bad as you might think. great local radio (university's student/community-run station), lots of good live music and art scene and, with several colleges and universities around, surprisingly diverse options for entertainment all around. also, so many great day trip locations near by (santa cruz, san francisco, highway 1, etc)!

  6. @Anonymous Hello! You say "community-run" radio station? I was a DJ at my campus station all through undergrad.

    I'm starting to get excited about the area. My resistance was to just how different it looks (I'm used to hills, lots of trees, more space) and I'm getting over that. I didn't realize how rural my tastes were.

    Please keep commenting! If J gets the job, I may need to ask you some more questions.

  7. Check out Stanford's radio station, then! It's run by students and the community (when I was there, probably 30% students, 70% non-students from the area) and quite cool. Santa Clara might have something, too. I grew up on the East Coast and definitely count it weird looking at first, but you get used to it! Oh, for what it's worth, I've been reading your blog for a couple of months. I'm a female academic whose long-suffering husband has 'trailed' me through Asia and Europe over the years; reading your blog has helped me a lot with understanding his moods/reactions/emotions much better.

  8. I'm glad it helps. So far I've only been writing from conjecture, so in the next few months you'll see how a trailing spouse really feels once I move. Soon!


Registration isn't necessary, but please don't post as "anonymous".