Finding Happiness in the “Generic” City

So I was looking for jobs about six months ago and I came upon my current position through my network of grad school friends. On paper I knew I had what it takes to get the job. I also knew that this was a job that I could grow into and also be myself. Later on, after getting the job, I moved to the downtown area where this job was located. I have a great view of said downtown from this place. I can afford to eat a meal out at least once a week in this downtown. I can walk to work and to those restaurants in less than 15 minutes. Also, I have a car. It’s paid off and I can get to where I need to go outside of downtown in about 15 minutes. My car can also get to the beach in 4 hours and the mountains in 3.5. There’s decent low-cost places to park it. Oh, and I went to grad school in this same place, with one year free and the other for less than $20,000. Oh, and the train station is right next door.

This is my hometown. I have to write its name with the state abbreviation beside it. It’s economically distressed in areas. There’s no light rail. There’s no Trader Joes (yet). My parents live within those 15 minutes.

It could be Anytown, USA, the Generic City.

I thought I’d be living somewhere else by now, but I don’t need to. Even with those drawbacks I listed in the paragraph above.

The New York Times recently published one of their famous stories of how recent college graduates are living in New York. New York for Americans and much of the world is probably the number one name-brand city. A lot of people in the comments claimed that those folks featured were trust fund babies. However, I see in some of these stories echoes of mine. This too is an article for those of us who are fortunate to be working a salaried job. To have state-school level student debt, if any at all. To have a parent who was able to take one in while one worked out their career issues.

My parents, a schoolteacher and an electrician, along with a few other family members and generous friends stepped in to help me out by providing shelter,food,entertainment, money advice and even a few extra dollars to help me get my car, furniture and the like. I call this the village effect. I know everyone has some kind of support network, even if it’s just social services. In the meantime, I went to a state school and financed it mostly through scholarships and grants, taking out loans,then paying back the differential of what I didn’t need. I did the same thing in grad school, only I lived at home and worked as a graduate assistant. In between I worked a few places, but nothing longer than 14 months or permanent. I made some financial mistakes, but I know now what I need to do to fix them. Now I live in a small, but solo apartment in a very nice area of downtown.

Yet, if I’d moved to New York City, or even Washington, DC, my true dream name-brand city, I don’t think I’d be in such good shape, unless I had a job with a crazy high salary. My equivalent job in New York pays exactly the same as it does here in North Carolina. Unfortunately, there’s no cost of living adjustment. On the subject of college, my loans would have eaten me alive. We are going to assume that I would not have received any financial aid, at either a public or private university.

I also think the NYT article echoes a need that some people have to move somewhere with action, but not necessarily with a job or a job that pays all the bills. What I advocate is for a person to move somewhere with a job, but close to a decent airport, train station, Megabus stop or cross-country interstate. If you are living somewhere where you have low rent, then you can save up to take vacations (paid or unpaid). If you are in a mid-sized, but well-located city like I am, a low paycheck goes a long way. Either way, a steady paycheck in this economy goes far longer that no money in a city that may be a name-brand, but with no job prospects for you.

Back to the negatives of this generic city for a minute. There are some missing stores, but they are coming (Trader Joes, we are still waiting). Yet, with that aside, being in this generic city, I know the powers-to-be who are bringing the store in and why we have yet to see it. I’ve also mentioned on my Facebook page about how our 35 year old co-op is moving downtown and assuming the role a Traders has in many a community.

Another negative factor is the local social scene. We are still more of a family town, but we do have singles activities if you look long and hard. For me, it’s taking the steps to one, accept that I have a different lifestyle and two, cultural events aren’t necessarily one-sized fits all.

Once again, this is an elitist article. This assumes that you have a decent job or job offers. You have a choice on where you live. No, scratch that, this is a real article. You only got one job offer and it’s not in that name-brand city you dream about every night. You love everything about your life besides the city on the line of your mailing address. However, in that generic city, you just might be living your dream life after all.

  • We all know this place! “Finding Happiness in the “Generic” City” by @blackurbanist

  • Karen

    Kristen, great piece.  Your first paragraph describes my life in Pittsburgh, minus the 4 hours to the beach and my car note will be paid of in December.  As a former New Yorker, I could not have gone to grad school and stayed financially independent.  There is something to be said for the generic city and the impact it can have on our independence and the impact we can have on it.  

    • Kristen Jeffers

      I agree. Sometimes we need to focus on creating wealth, financially and as well as in a community as a whole. Generic cities are the perfect fuel for such.

  • Finding Happiness in the “Generic” City

  • Via @blackurbanist — the upside to living in “the generic city”

  • When I worked in New York for four years after college, I lived in New Jersey to save money. Being there was a great experience — but an experience that requires significant compromises. I moved to North Carolina in 2009 to escape the high cost of living, long commutes, and cold winters.

    I like living in the NC Triangle — lower cost of living, less traffic, and still plenty going on — when there are a million things happening on any one night, you can still be in just one place at a time. My apartment here isn’t as charming as my house in New Jersey… but it costs a third as much, and I don’t have to deal with the maintenance headaches.

    Life is what we make of it.

  • I live in a somewhat generic suburban town in central Virginia, no Trader Joes, but almost all the other grocery chains in a 1/4 mile radius of each other. I just moved back after 6 year in San Francisco. Yes it makes sense financially but I would love some bike lanes and mass transit. Also, my 11 y.o daughter was much more independent because of our walkable n’hood in SF.

  • cyclewrite

    Hope you’ll find your new place better over time. For me, it’s been tougher than living in Toronto or Vancouver, BC where both cities have liveable, walkable, bikeable and vibrant cores, as well as some neighbourhoods. 

    Long story here but anyway, onward with the future.