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I can’t see myself living here July 15, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in societal commentary.

Fargo, Bismarck, and Grand Forks made it onto CNN’s 100 Best Places to Live.

They determine these ratings by numbers, which don’t mean a lot to most people. Some people, however, will read the descriptions. Unfortunately, they leave a lot to be desired. Fargo, for instance, is pretty much described as a college town. In the description of Bismarck and Grand Forks, they talk about the weather. I get the impression that the editors were surprised some of these places showed up on the list.

I wish people would get over this weather thing. It’s not that bad. Really. If you’re used to a much warmer climate, it takes about a year for the body to adjust, and then it’s old hat.

What I hate is that the majority of the other cities on the list are there because of high test scores and low crime. It also turns out that the median house price is unreachable for most people, and the median income is a lot more than most people can make. Don’t you think they ought to be losing points for that?

And yet, you can live is most places in North Dakota, where the crime is low and you can probably afford to buy a house without paying through the roof for taxes, and you don’t have to be rich.

The things they don’t talk about but should in these articles:

• You can often get to know your neighbors, and they aren’t scary.

• Some of the best hunting and fishing in the world is only a couple hours away.

• We are within a day’s drive of some really incredible skiing, biking, and hiking.

• I can bike to work and not be terrified that I’m going to be run over. (Despite what some of the local bicyclists say, I have noticed a lot more respect for bicyclists here than other cities.)

• It can actually be faster to bike to work than to drive because things are relatively close.

• Likewise, when I get home at the end of the day, I have time to spend with my kids rather than just feed them and get them to bed because of the short commute.

• NO TRAFFIC. You won’t believe what that does for your stress level.

• I do not feel afraid to let my kids play outside.

As always, they never mention the people. The majority of the people I know up here are generally hard-working and pragmatic. If they want something, they aren’t going to wait for it to come to them: they’ll go out and do what they need to do.

How do you think we got through the flood of 2009? In a large part, it wasn’t because people sat around waiting for their neighbors or the government or anybody else to do something: they went out and did it themselves. That is something you can’t measure.

Yet I have so many friends who have said, “I can’t see myself living there.” All they think about is the cold weather. Or they say that something is too far away. (I always note that the person saying this doesn’t often indulge in their favorite hobby anyway because they work long hours on top of a commute.)

They really don’t understand what they’re missing.



1. Paul Franklin - July 16, 2010

As a counter point, the weather can be a great hindrance.
– I’ve had more than a few events cancelled because of weather in all four seasons.
– A common cause of heart attacks in the area is snow shoveling.
– The almost yearly flooding feels like we’re a city that doesn’t know when to fix a problem.
– Driving during the winter can be precarious, even for experienced drivers.
– Tornadoes. Not fun.

Culture is very hit and miss.
– Yes, we had Britney Spears in Grand Forks, but the closest Tool or Lady Gaga has ever come is Minneapolis.
– However, if you like country music, you’ll probably do okay.
– We suffer from a lack of decent new/used bookstores.
– And you can forget about independent music stores. I know of one or two for all of Fargo/Moorhead.

Overall, you’ll see a smaller selection of things. We don’t have any Whole Food/Trader Joe’s type grocery stores in the area. We have two very mediocre game shops.

In my mind, Fargo balances out. It does have some of the better things about larger markets, but also suffers from some of the problems afflicting smaller cities and towns.

I wouldn’t say Fargo is a great place to live, but if you’re looking for a relatively safe place and are willing to become acquainted with your inner snowman, it’s not a bad choice. Just bring your snow boots, hip waders, sandals, running shoes, and ski boots with you. 🙂


mareserinitatis - July 16, 2010

I’ve said a lot of the same things myself. I was so happy to live in Minneapolis for a couple years because Trader Joes! Culture! Things to do!

The reality is that I spent so much time commuting, and nothing was very close. I could count on a trip to Trader Joes taking 1 1/2 hours unless I happened to catch it on my way back from Fargo. I had no time or energy to do anything in the evenings.

Going to the airport means spending an hour minimum on driving time and probably longer to get tickets and get through security. I compare this with 10 min. to the airport here and 15 min. in security. I go to the store here, and nearly every checkout lane is open. I’d go in Minneapolis, and there’d be 3…at 5 p.m….and the cashiers were all rude.

The cost and availability of parking was horrid. Riding the buses was downright scary in some parts. Minnesotans don’t seem to understand that below -10F, the salt no longer keeps the ice melted. I saw accidents (and often was caught in the resulting traffic) on nearly a daily basis.

And in places like LA, you start to really miss seasons, especially snow in the winter.

It really becomes noticeable when you’re going back and forth on a weekly basis, and the hassles I had to deal with living in the Cities were not offset by the benefits…the benefits just became more hassles. It’s great having all these things, but what’s the point if you can’t enjoy them?

There are drawbacks to living here, but certainly the flooding was barely noticeable this year, especially in contrast to last. Everything was working rather efficiently. I’d rather deal with that on an annual basis than some of the things that go on daily in the cities.


2. Fluxor - July 16, 2010

What’s almost never mentioned in these rankings is food, which being such a subjective issue, is difficult to quantify. Food is important to me and I enjoy a diverse range of foods from all over the world. Smaller towns simply don’t have that diversity. It’s just a numbers game. A small population means significantly less diversity in restaurants and grocery items. There just isn’t the critical mass. Thus, I can’t see myself living in most of the places mentioned in CNN’s list. I’d die from blandness.

I live in a “town” of ~1 million people and it takes me 10 minutes to drive to work. It would take 20 minutes to bike, but I never do. There’s actually a dedicated bike/hike only road from my neighbourhood to work.

Weather is not unimportant. I used to walk half an hour to school hatless and scarfless in -30C weather, but those days a long behind me. The older I get, the less I enjoy the cold weather.

As for the median income being high in some places, I supposed if you’re going to move there, the assumption would be that you’ll be gainfully employed in the local economy. Thus, if you’re an “regular” family for that region, the median income should be within reach. I make a pretty decent income, but I bet if I were to go to a fishing village where the median income is low, my income would be even lower than that median. I don’t have the skills to be a fisherman and it wouldn’t make sense for me to move there regardless of the median income or median housing prices.


mareserinitatis - July 16, 2010

So maybe Fargo doesn’t have a multitude of restaurants, but a lot of the local ones, especially the ethnic ones, are pretty good. There are a couple Thai places, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian…and a lot of eclectic things. My only complaint is that we don’t have a teppanyaki grill.

And you’re talking to the wrong person about weather. I’m actually the opposite. The older I get, the less I can handle heat. I really prefer it cool.

Minneapolis metro is about the same size as Ottawa, and it takes me anywhere from half hour to an hour to get from my place to the campus…and that doesn’t include getting from my parking space to my building. Throw in another 20 min. for that. This is, of course, better than LA.

I guess what I was saying with the medium income is that it’s possible to do a lot of things here and have a nice place. I have a friend who lives in the bay area, and he said the only place he could find would’ve cost him $700,000 and the only financing that he could get was an interest-only loan. Even my friends who have moved from here to Minneapolis complain about the jump in housing prices (median is easily twice or more what it is here) for houses that aren’t as nice. The high tech sector is expanding here (we do have the second largest Microsoft campus), and it’s not like living in the sticks or something that would require people to be incredibly under-employed.


Fluxor - July 16, 2010

I have to agree with you about California. During the dot-com craze, I really wanted to be in the thick of things. Interviewed and got offers from many companies in the Bay Area as well as Orange County. Ultimately decided the move wasn’t worth it.

I’ll have to dispute that Minneapolis is the same size as Ottawa. Judging from Wikipedia, metro Minneapolis is ~3x larger than metro Ottawa. That’s getting a bit big for my tastes, otherwise I would’ve moved to Toronto already.

Good to hear Fargo’s hi-tech sector is expanding. It’s certainly not doing so here.


3. Charles J Gervasi - July 16, 2010

I agreed with everything you said, applied to Madison. It’s probably more true for Fargo.
My thought is I’m glad that people who think it’s flyover country keep on flying or go to Chicago or the Twin Cities, not here.


mareserinitatis - July 16, 2010

Yeah, I suppose if it gets too crowded, we’re back to the same problems.


Charles J Gervasi - July 16, 2010

It’s not the number of people but my stereotype of their character. I feel like they’re looking for “best” restaurants, biggest thrill, and the most connected people. My stereotype of us is hard-working and no-nonsense.


mareserinitatis - July 16, 2010

Ah! Totally agree. 🙂


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