The Best Places to Raise a Family (Or Not)

If you have only yourself to consider, choosing where to live can be a walk in the park, or down the shore, or under an arch, or through some tar pits – whatever suits your fancy. If you shackle yourself, lovingly of course, to another human being, and the two of you with clear eyes and full hearts bring forth new life into the world, well, choosing where to live becomes more fraught. Values shift. Priorities adjust. Apartments that seemed cozy start to feel like “the hole” in The Shawshank Redemption.

Forbes has taken these and other factors, fed them into a robot that doesn’t like ethnic food, and spat out a list of The Best Cities For Raising a Family. You may notice that all people pictured look whiter than new fallen snow, except for — ha! — the Provo, Utah slide, which, in a group of kids, includes one ambiguously Asian boy in the corner. Nor is Provo the only Utah city in the top ten; it’s joined by Ogden. Other winners include Boise, Idaho, Omaha, Nebraska, and Des Moines (“Some people say that Des Moines is the best city in Iowa!”).

Granted, Forbes might not be speaking directly to me and mine, but this shit makes me tired. My husband, baby empress, and I might be looking to relocate, and “having only pasty folks around” is not our #1 criteria. What if you value good schools and diversity? Feeling safe and feeling comfortable as an atheist, a lesbian, a gender-nonconformist, or someone who knows that their child could grow up to be any of those things? What if you just like your lattes? If you’re priced out of boho Brooklyn, where should you go?

NB: Forbes has made something of a cottage industry of these lists, if you’re curious. Others in the genre include America’s Coolest Cities (Houston — which is wrong on at least two levels), 10 Best Places for Newlyweds to Live and Work (also Houston), America’s Safest, Most Secure Places to Live (“smaller cities in the Pacific Northwest”), and plenty more.

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43 Comments / Post A Comment

Esther, your prose was a delight to read and I agree with everything you’ve said (albeit, I would have substituted “seasonal microbrew” for latte, but to each their own).

uncleezno (#2,595)

I could really use a well-constructed list on this topic! Wife and I are in suburban CT for the next two years while she finishes her residency, and then we’ll have to move. Back to NYC was the assumption for a while, but it’s SO EXPENSIVE and we’re planning on having a kid before the move. My brother and I were raised in Queens, but the idea of renting a two-bedroom place in the city makes me so nervous about money!

We also talk about trying somewhere new, but we need to be in or very near to a city for our jobs, and our criteria knock off plenty of places. We’ve done Boston and DC and don’t want to return to either, so there’s all of the Northeast (Providence? Yeah, right). We’re both very liberal, we’re Jewish, and we don’t want to live somewhere homogeneous – there goes most of the South and the Midwest. We also don’t dig humidity – there goes the rest of the South.

What’s left? LA is something we talk about, and we’ve visited plenty and have friends there, but all our family is East Coast and LA requires so much driving. San Fran? We’ve visited there too, but it’s ridiculously expensive, and didn’t vibe with us. San Diego? Maybe, but it seems pretty blah compared to the two other Cali options. The Pacific Northwest? Been there too – Seattle and Portland – and it’s too wet/dark for us.

Why can’t there just be affordable close-in suburbs to NYC? Why must they all cost scrillions of dollars?

bgprincipessa (#699)

@uncleezno Well, I’m not necessarily knowledgeable on this, particularly not with regards to family-raising – but you did skip Philly & Baltimore.

I understand where you’re coming from, though. My family is all on Long Island (..basically Queens, actually) and I don’t want to live in NYC ($$$$) but everywhere else that is interesting to live makes it difficult to get to/from Long Island for quick visiting.

Blondsak (#2,299)

@uncleezno Minneapolis is liberal, diverse, affordable & also MN has one of the best public school systems in the country. I won’t say it’s not cold but if you can handle CT winters, with an extra layer or two you can definitely handle MN ones.

Also I second @bgprincipessa’s recommendation of Philadelphia.

emmabee (#2,008)

@uncleezno I wouldn’t paint the South and Midwest with such a broad brush? Atlanta is pretty far from where you want to be, and it has some issues (terrible transit!), but it’s very diverse/liberal/liveable. And the Midwest has Chicago…
Also, Providence is small, yes, but cost of living is very low, it has great connections to Boston and New York, and it’s a fun, diverse, and culturally vibrant city.

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@uncleezno Durham, NC. Seriously. I get that you don’t dig humidity, but Durham has lots of diversity, amazing eats, good public and private schools, NC has strong public universities (tho’ lord knows what they’ll be like by the time your un-born child is ready for uni) and plenty of medical jobs (sounds like your wife is a doc?). Plus three hours to mountains or the best beaches.

garli (#4,150)

@uncleezno There’s cool parts of San Diego. There’s also terrifying parts of San Diego. It’s super red politically which I can’t support and there’s a lot of traffic.

If you ever seriously consider living there I can give you a list of more fun neighborhoods.

dotcommie (#662)

@uncleezno CHICAGO! By far the most affordable major city in the country, and certainly not homogeneous.

rhinoceranita (#5,858)

@uncleezno Providence is actually really great and it’d be great for your wife to be around the medical community at Brown and the greater Boston area

Nicoledn (#4,941)

@LookUponMyWorks YES DURHAM RULES! Also, Houston is getting much better–has great food and diversity, lots of alternative folks, etc., though the traffic and humidity might deter many.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@LookUponMyWorks As someone who lives in Durham and works for one of its major, internationally-recognized festivals, I second, third, and fourth Durham. It is also an easy 15-20 minute drive to Chapel Hill *and* Raleigh, which both offer their own wealth of culinary and cultural options. It is an incredible place. Have to take issue with the NC beaches though–the best beaches in the continental US (not including Hawaii here because, come on), are in my beautiful hometown of Sarasota, Florida.

theballgirl (#1,546)

@uncleezno Check out south of Providence – either Narragansett area or Bristol. I am partial to Bristol as it’s about 20 minutes from both downtown Newport (beaches, cool festivals!) and Providence (mini city!). Bristol itself is pretty diverse and is ocean front. There are some similar towns north of Boston – marblehead for one – but childcare is the highest in the country in MA. Friends of mine loved Long Island (long beach + port washington) also. Good luck wherever you land!

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

Seriously. My future hypothetical (but really never gonna happen) children are going to be raised on a strict diet of Korean food and papusas…not plentiful in either of those top cities!

I’m gonna stick up for Des Moines here as a singles/couples/and family-friendly city. It’s easy to get around, has a diverse and vibrant arts scene, and some truly great restaurants that rival my favorite restaurants in my current city of Chicago. Plus: easy access to the State Fair. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a celebrity carved out of butter. So, you know, Forbes is not wrong about Des Moines at least.

HOUSTON. I can’t even.

compbiochick (#5,805)

What’s wrong with Houston? I’m moving there for grad/professional school and I got the impression that it was a very affordable, fun, diverse place to live. I’m a little worried now that I was wrong :/. Any particular reasons why Houston is getting a bad rep?

moreadventurous (#4,956)

@compbiochick I live in Austin, so I’m not a Houston expert, but I think people really don’t differentiate between the sprawling part of the metropolitan area from the more urban parts inside the loop. There are amazing museums and cultural events downtown, and some gorgeous historic neighborhoods. Plus, I saw recently that it has (is about to?) become the most culturally diverse city in America, passing up NYC.

But, the traffic can be a nightmare if you live out in Katy or The Woodlands or something; I-10 between Houston and Katy is this crazy 12 lane monstrosity that manages to always be congested. Plus, it is a Texan city at the end of the day… I think you’ll be fine if you go in seeking the fun and diverse aspects of it! It’s a huge city, so I’d have to imagine there is a strong grad student / young professional subculture that is pretty solid.

samburger (#5,489)

@compbiochick It’s super diverse, but the reputation is that it’s very segregated/racist.

My personal philosophy is that it gets shit because it’s in the south. Boston is segregated as all hell but it’s not nearly as reviled as it should be for it (because it has a museum and it’s in the north! the north is ENLIGHTENED! MUSEUMS).

I speak from Minneapolis though so emphasis on “reputation” here.

Nicoledn (#4,941)

@compbiochick as a born and bred Houstonian no longer living there, I will say Houston gets a bad rap because of the traffic and suburban sprawl. But like any city there a ways to deal with it, like living inside 610, which is relatively easy and cheap compared to the cost of living close to downtown in other major cities. The diversity, food, and entertainment are all awesome, especially if you can get near Montrose/downtown. Houston definitely struggles with segregation and gentrification but I have noticed that its just as bad or worse in places like DC and Chicago. But the crazy diversity and affordability mean that most young professionals would have a blast living in Houston right now.

Elsajeni (#1,763)

@compbiochick No, Houston is great! @moreadventurous is right, though, that your location within the city and your commute are the keys to happiness here. Our freeway system is truly a disaster — when you’re looking for a place to live, give bonus points to neighborhoods where you have non-freeway options for your commute. (Also: hi! Welcome (soon) to Houston! Where will you be going to school?)

compbiochick (#5,805)

Thanks for the input everyone! I’m reassured that I made a good choice with Houston. @Elsajeni I’m going to Baylor College of Medicine. Very excited to be moving down there.

beastmode (#4,170)

@compbiochick I know you just got a lot of support for your decision, but I figure it can’t hurt to hear another person support your move! Houston is legit a great place and I’m pretty sure that everyone who hates on it has either never been there or drove through once, saw there were a lot of strip malls and that it was super sprawly, and was like, this place sucks. Well, guess what, driving through any large city sucks (I almost killed some people in the Bronx once. they were so cool about it).

I am super, super biased because I grew up there, but there is a TON to do and it is very cheap. Also, I loved biking there because I was kind of an anomaly and cars avoided me. Montrose is the most wonderful neigborhood I’ve ever lived in and I paid less per month for a two bedroom HOME with a front porch and back deck than I did for my one bedroom apartment with mice in DC. It was also much closer to bars, restaurants, and coffee than my apartment. Anyway! It is terrific and the medical center is amazing, so really good choice.

Lastly, Beyonce is from Houston. SO.

Eric18 (#4,486)

@samburger It is not as segregated as some outsiders would have you believe. I have visited several Northern (and European) cities which are far more segregated and racist. But you know, because it’s in Texas, I guess we got to stereotype.

ledamarritz (#3,069)

Anyone have experience living in Portland, ME? I feel myself seduced by “real” Maine living (salt air, small but cultural city, etc.) but have not spent much time there and thus can fantasize freely about it being perfect.

garli (#4,150)

@ledamarritz Ha, no, I went to college in Maine and also like to idealize Portland with no real experience to back that up.

samburger (#5,489)

@garli Does “no real experience” = Portlandia? If yes, I am in the same boat.

Meaghano (#529)

@ledamarritz I just spent…one day there a few weeks ago! Ha. I have idealized it in my mind since I saw that movie Andre about a girl and her pet seal (???) when I was a small child, and was a little disappointed. I think March was not the best time to go. The city never really came together for me — if that makes ANY sense — and revealed itself to be beautiful and charming. But! Lots of good restaurants, some amazing donuts? A few great bookstores. And being by the water is so nice, I think. I would like to see it in the summer, do a little more research, etc. But I didn’t leave with hearts in my eyes the way I expected to.

ledamarritz (#3,069)

@Meaghano Interesting (and makes sense!). I should spend some actual time there. March is not a good time to visit anywhere in the that climate zone, probably! I can attest that Maine is definitely very seductive in summer.

sea legs (#2,115)

@ledamarritz I never lived in Portland, but I’m from a nearby town and lots of my friends have ended up in Portland. My take: it’s the biggest city in northern New England (ME, VT, NH) and as a result it has everything… very vibrant art scene, music scene, restaurant scene, etc. Like anywhere else in northern New England, get ready to deal with very long winters (but gorgeous summers/autumns!). You will need a car. Nightlife is fun except that after a while you will probably just be seeing the same people over and over again, which could be tiring or comforting depending on what you want. I think you have to want to be in a small city with a strong sense of community. Otherwise you will learn and experience everything there is in a couple years, and probably be left wanting more. But coastal Maine is great for families and anyone who wants to be able to be outside and have access to lots of outdoor activities (summer AND winter). Portland has an airport and once you jump on I-95 you’re about 1.5/1.75hrs to Boston, 5-6hrs to NYC. Anyway Maine is great, go Maine!

@Meaghano ANDREEEEE! I was convinced for a long time I was the only person (beside my sister & the aunt who showed it to us) who had ever seen that movie.

Ahhhhhh. I need to rewatch this somehow. Okay I just looked it up and one, it was made 20 years ago. Damn. Two, it is not even supposed to be based in Portland. It is based in Rockland, ME, which I visited, too! Tiny and cute. But the movie wasn’t even actually filmed there. All of my Portland fantasies are based on nothing!

samburger (#5,489)

These are the WORST. I was raised in a whitewashed affluent suburb and it was SO TERRIBLE. Do you have any idea how much racism and homophobia I internalized in that garbage pit? DO YOU KNOW HOW LITTLE INDIAN FOOD I ATE?!

I intend to raise my babies in an urban lesbian separatist compound.

Christy (#3,892)

@samburger Take me with you! I’m trying to convince my girlfriend of the dream of the lesbian separatist compound, but (1) she doesn’t want to have to live on a compound, (2) she’d rather just live alone/with our little family in a rural area and never see anyone else, and (3) she’s not a lesbian so the language is a minor issue.

Aunt Scar (#5,377)

Provo, UT is where BYU is located. It’s like Mormon Central, which I guess is great if you’re Mormon, but I can’t imagine living there if you weren’t one.

Marille (#5,933)

I’m going to have to call BS on the criticisms of Provo. Provo is AWESOME if you do it right, just like any other city. It’s more diverse than its reputation would suggest (as a biracial woman who lived there, there were plenty of other POC around). There are also bunches of good restaurants (including some incredible places to get Indian food–yes, multiple places! All good!) The downtown area is nice and old-fashioned looking, there’s a free rooftop concert series with great local bands (we had Imagine Dragons a summer ago!) along with other events. And for all that it is Mormon Central, we make pretty solid neighbors as a general rule, and people are pretty chill in the main. So give it a shot! It’s a great place with good food and one of the best public libraries I’ve been to.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

“If you’re priced out of boho Brooklyn, where should you go?”

…The rest of Brooklyn, like the rest of us? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Eric18 (#4,486)

Methinks a lot of people are projecting their feelings about some cities based on stereotypes/their own political views without you know, actually having visited them.

I’d love to hear your two reasons why Houston is wrong as the coolest. A wonderful diversity that destroys most cities who claim to be diverse but are just horribly segregated. It most closely represents America as far as % of population that are foreign-born. And it’s economy blows most cities out of the water.

As for the Utah cities. Well, I can think of worse places to live than surrounded (mostly) by people from great families, raising great families of their own, who have actually spent two years in a foreign country, learning the language and culture. And are pretty successful at whatever profession they are in. And is one of the most beautiful and most affordable states in this great union of ours. But to each their own.

City_Dater (#565)

@Eric18

Ugly urban sprawl aside, there are valid reasons why people might not want to live in a state where business is barely regulated, the lack of income tax = very few social services for those who need them, and just about anyone can carry a concealed weapon.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@Eric18 I won’t touch on your (or others’) opinions of these cities but it’s not quite as easy to slag off “political views” when they directly impact your ability to maintain employment, parent your kids, marry your significant other, travel w/o threat of being asked for your papers, or any of a number of issues.

Politics, for better or worse, matter.

Eric18 (#4,486)

@City_Dater The lack of income tax has been a boon to small businesses across the state. That sucking sound is the amount of people and businesses fleeing highly taxed states like California for Texas. Taxes do not equal good social services. See California for a good example.

And if you think rednecks with guns are serious crime issue in Houston or anywhere else, you just don’t know crime in urban areas.

Also, if you think all Houston is made of is “ugly urban sprawl” then you don’t know Houston.

Eric18 (#4,486)

@DebtOrAlive Texas has a very robust economy. Much better than the states with stifling regulation that inhibits job growth. I agree on the social issues but the state is alot more tolerant than people give it credit for. But I’m not surprised outsiders hold onto their narrow minded views of all Texans. Although it is kind of ironic.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@Eric18 I think you misread my comment re. “maintain employment.” It was not related to the robust economy (which, to be sure, hides the atrociously underfunded social services programs), but rather that a number of states (Texas included) lack any protections for LGBT folks from discrimination in employment.

If it doesn’t (or couldn’t) impact you, I get why it wouldn’t be on your radar. For others, it is. It far more than a matter of a state just being “more tolerant than people give it credit for.” It’s matter of making a living, being able to raise your kids, and maintain a family. This is not insignificant.

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