Move to SF and hate it?

I spent some time skimming this post and feeling pretty irritated about a variety of comments.  I’ll try not to get all irritated on you, but I didn’t want this particular brainstorm to go to waste, especially as it helped me crystallize a few things I’ve been stewing on lately.  Perhaps this content is better suited for our blog, as it pertains to our life here in A2, but I wanted to be clear that these are my thoughts and do not necessarily reflect the rest of Team Beers.

The question that kicked off the post I liked to was this:

Have any of you moved to the Bay Area for tech and hated the atmosphere? How long did you stay and where did you move to after?

The response that seems to be getting the most traction cited the cost, lack of casual food, abysmal parking and public transit, hordes of tourists and gutter punks, and lack of seasons. The author of this response left SF to return to A2, finally settling in Chicago. I haven’t lived in SF or Chicago, but do feel fit to comment on A2 after a year of living here.

Most of the times people ask us about living in A2, we give sunny responses. And they’re mostly true. There are a lot of very good things about A2, but there are also frustrating things, and I’d like to list some of both of them for you here.  Many of my points will refer back to the post response mentioned above, as that’s what’s kicking around my head at the moment:

The Good:

  • There are jobs – unlike much of the rest of the state – and the median family income is keeping pace with the national average.  Many of those jobs are at a top-tier research institution.
  • People are educated.  Extremely so – 71.3% over 25 have at least a college degree, compared to 27.4% nationwide [1].
  • People are green-minded.  The city composts, single-stream recycling was implemented this summer, and there are at least 13 community gardens available to residents for a pretty reasonable price.
  • As usually goes with the above, it’s a very liberal city.
  • There’s a very active local food movement, with three farmers’ markets during the week, several “underground” food collectives or organizations focused on local food, and restaurants that focus on farm-to-table.
  • Public transportation covers most of the city, and Amtrak runs to Chicago a couple of times per day.  The Detroit airport is easily accessible by car and shuttle, though I haven’t taken the latter.  I can’t vouch for the availability or cost of cabs, as I only ever see them on campus.
  • There’s a lot of green space, between the Arb and the many surrounding parks. I heard somewhere that you’re never more than 10km from a natural source of water in Michigan, which is pretty cool.
  • Access to great (an affordable, if you work for the U) healthcare at the U of M.
  • Great schools.  When Shane interviewed here, he was told that there are no bad school districts, just good and better ones.
  • Relaxed attitudes towards marijuana, if that’s your bag.
  • Michigan is an amazing state for beer.  We tried to drink west coast beers exclusively when we were in California, and were told a few times that there’s more that they can’t get from Michigan than that we can’t get from California.  So, go us!

The Bad:

  • It’s expensive.  Not as expensive as a big city, but more expensive than a small city deserves to be.  Median home values are higher than the national average – $245,000 compared to $192,400 – and monthly owner costs run to $1908 if you have a mortgage, $697 if you rent.  How can anyone afford to buy a home when the median home value is five times the median income? [2]
  • Lack of racial diversity.  This is a very white town.  Like, whitebread white.  Pure driven snow white.  72.8% white and 14.7% Asian, with the remaining 12.5% divided amongst all other racial groups, including those people who identify as bi- or multi-racial.
  • No good music venues.  OK, there’s The Ark, but it caters to a very specific audience, and frankly, we’re not that audience.  I know we got spoiled by the 9:30 Club, but if Champaign can put together an impressive line-up for a festival less than five years old, Ann Arbor really should be able to have a decent show once in a while.
  • The roads are in terrible condition.  This is an endemic problem in a depressed economy, of course, but my boss has lived on our street for 15 years and said that for as long as she can remember, we’ve been on the list for repairs that never seem to happen.  Sure, you can ride your bike to work, but you’ll be safer doing so on the sidewalk because at least the homeowners are held liable.
  • Along with the relaxed drug laws, you get things like Hash Bash.
  • I love Big 10 football more than all other sports combined, but the crush of traffic and humanity on game days here rivals anything we experienced in DC, including Obama’s inauguration.
  • I can’t fairly complain about the weather.  I mean, I could, but we moved to Michigan, and that means months and months of snow and cold.  I can complain about the “homeless” kids that hang out downtown as soon as the weather turns nice, though.  It’s one thing to be actually homeless, and it’s another to play at it, gutter punk style.
  • Lack of neighborhoods in the city sense, though they exist in the suburban sense.  The only exception that I know of is Kerrytown.
  • There’s no Galaxy Hut – or any reasonable equivalent.  And by that I mean, there are no casual bars.  Or at least none that we’ve found.  You want to go grab a beer and maybe food at 5pm?  Good luck.  Most days the patios of the downtown restaurants are already full when I walk or ped by at 4pm.  Expect an hour wait if you want to get dinner at 6pm.
  • And because it’s expensive, there’s little hope of a Galaxy Hut opening up.  It’s too expensive to charge reasonable prices if you have good beer, good ingredients, and good real estate.

The Mixed Bag:

  • There are seasons!  But along with the gorgeous spring and fall, we get a hot and humid summer – nearly as hot as in DC – and a cold and snowy winter that feels like it will never end.
  • Ann Arbor meets both the positive and pejorative definitions of ‘foodie’.  There’s a whole lot of good food, but it’s expensive and (often) pretentious – or at least over priced.  There’s no reason for a brew pub to charge $6 for a beer made in house.  There’s no reason to have multiple delis charging $10+ for a sandwich, even if it’s an excellent and quite large sandwich .
  • On a related note, there are ample excellent grocery options, but many are priced accordingly.  There’s a co-op, but you generally can’t do all of your shopping there.  There’s a Trader Joe’s, but it’s on the opposite side of town from us, and you also can’t do all your shopping there.  There’s no reason we need two Whole Foods locations, but we’ve got ’em.
  • Along with all of these good things comes attitude like nobody’s business.  It’s an extremely self-satisfied town.  In fact, I think it’s fair to describe Ann Arbor as the Brooklyn of the Midwest.  Move here, get your hippie-crunchy on, and don’t let anyone forget that we have great food and pot is legal.  Buy and proudly wear your Keep Ann Arbor Weird t-shirt.

When we first moved here, my eye doctor – a long-time resident who has been in practice in the area since the early 70s – told me that Ann Arbor used to be better.  It used to be more inclusive and less judgmental.  It’s as if the city moved too far to the left, and now anything to the right – in terms of politics, greenness, food, transportation, etc – isn’t good enough.

And I think that’s what’s rubbing me the wrong way.  I like Ann Arbor a lot, but I don’t love it.

[1] All statistics, unless otherwise cited, are from the Census Bureau’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates, by way of American Fact Finder
[2] Interestingly, CNN has totally different numbers for both household income and median home price.  They’re probably more up-to-date, but I have a hard time believing that the median household income has nearly doubled in the 2-4 years since the American Community Survey.


0 thoughts on “Move to SF and hate it?

  1. What a timely post. For a whole host of reasons, we’ve been chatting about what life would be like should we happen to move from CU to Madison. Nothing concrete on the table, we aren’t looking for jobs… it’s more of a “what if uiuc collapses” kind of scenario.

    I like to visit Madison. I have a lot of friends there. A lot of people in my CU circle love to go to Madison and come home and complain about how lame CU is. But I think I would have a similar reaction to Madison that you’re having to A2 and I’ve been feeling Not Cool. Like, why wouldn’t I want to be there? What’s wrong with me? So seeing you lay these points out is really kind of comforting.

    So my post doesn’t really help you at all, but I had to share. Maybe your helping me does help you? I don’t know… pull the fire alarm. 😉


  2. Hey, I didn’t know we lived so close! I’m in Redford, a blue collar burb of Detroit. I am a UM grad, and even I can hardly stand the hip-smugness that is Ann Arbor. On the other hand, it’s a lovely place, and very walkable, and the original Borders is there. Nice place to visit, but…


  3. I’ve often fantasized about moving to he Bay Area or SF specifically, but I think when it comes down to it the expense of living plus the crowds would make me want to live somewhere a bit less… urban. I also don’t think I want to raise a family in a place like SF, even though I adore that city. I really do. Anthony and I have talked about moving to San Mateo (which you’re familiar with!) or somewhere else in that area.


  4. huh. I don’t love A2 either, though I don’t mind living here. There is a lot about CU I miss, and that can’t be replaced. The yarn stores, for one, don’t compare… The German restaurants…


  5. This was very interesting. I’m born and bred Brooklyn, with a huge and sometimes misplaced sense of Brooklyn pride, and lately have been musing on the pros and cons of my city and my nabe…

    By the way, i’m giving my regular blog a break but my book journal for Twelve Books in Twelve Months can be found at if you’d like to change my link…


  6. Michigan is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. It just seems so disconnected. I’ll take Champaign-Urbana over anywhere in MI any day.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s