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Migration To Flyover Country

The NYT had a piece yesterday about how people are leaving the unaffordable coastal regions for places they would have thought dull in the past, but whose affordable housing options prompt a Strange New Respect for their virtues. Excerpt:

Rising rents and the difficulty of securing a mortgage on the coasts have proved a boon to inland cities that offer the middle class a firmer footing and an easier life. In the eternal competition among urban centers, the shift has produced some new winners.

Oklahoma City, for example, has outpaced most other cities in growth since 2011, becoming the 12th-fastest-growing city last year. It has also won over a coveted demographic, young adults age 25 to 34, going from a net loss of millennials to a net gain. Other affordable cities that have jumped in the growth rankings include several in Texas, including El Paso and San Antonio, as well as Columbus, Ohio, and Little Rock, Ark.

Newcomers in Oklahoma City have traded traffic jams and preschool waiting lists for master suites the size of their old apartments. The sons of Lorin Olson, a stem cell biologist who moved here from New York’s Upper East Side, now ride bikes in their suburban neighborhood and go home to a four-bedroom house. Hector Lopez, a caricature artist, lives in a loft apartment here for less than he paid to stay in a garage near Los Angeles. Tony Trammell, one of a group of about a dozen friends to make the move from San Diego, paid $260,000 for his 3,300-square-foot home in a nearby suburb.

“This is the opposite of the gold rush,” Mr. Trammell said.

Great quotes here:

Mr. Saleh moved because he had a rare opportunity to make about $60,000 a year while avoiding a desk job. The low cost of living was a major sweetener, he said, enabling him to become something he thought would not be possible: a homeowner. “I would say that, 100 percent, I had given up on the idea of homeownership in Seattle,” he said. “Which is a really big deal.”

Some of the newcomers say that as they contemplated living with roommates, sitting in traffic and barely scraping by, the good things about life in a high-cost city lost their appeal. “The beach isn’t going to pay my rent,” said Jacqueline Sit, 32, who left Portland, Ore., where she worked as a television reporter, to come to Oklahoma City, where she quickly found a job in public relations.

Another person interviewed said he and his family were not sad to leave New York City for Oklahoma City. Yes, he said, there are fewer things to do, but now they can afford to do them.

What do you think? I can’t think of a time in my life when I felt so harmonious and happy with where I lived than the four years Julie, Matthew and I lived in Brooklyn. But Julie and I always knew that it couldn’t last. We would not be able to afford it. The question was not will we move? but when and to where will we move? In some of my more sentimental moments, especially after 9/11, I toyed with the thought that we might never leave, that we would be able to make it there, somehow. But the cost of living was just too great. Obviously millions of people continue to live there, so your mileage may vary. It was a higher price than we were willing and able to pay. After a while, living pretty much paycheck to paycheck to support daily life in a city like New York means you are getting farther from shore, on thinner and thinner ice. Something’s got to give.

UPDATE: Nice comment by B.G.:

I made the move from the DC metro area to Oklahoma City about 7 years ago, right as its growth was really starting to pick up, so the phenomenon described above has been pretty central to my life for awhile now (I’m in the 25-34 young professional demographic described above). It’s absolutely true, the housing price difference is pretty radical, to the point where I don’t know if I’ll ever move back (or to either coast). I miss the fast-paced lifestyle and accessibility to so much entertainment and culture, but the price is so low I don’t know if I could ever rationally justify leaving. My wife and I became homeowners here just a few years out of college; my old friends on the coast are skeptical they’ll ever be able to afford to buy.

There’s a really interesting cultural difference too. Obviously, there are huge political/social differences: Oklahoma is about as Red as it gets. God, guns, and deep-fried food are a way of life. A lot of the people here stop listening (and start shouting) as soon as they even hear the word ‘liberal’. This was a big turn-off for awhile, and there’s a lot of ignorance on important issues by a majority of the populace.

There are some more subtle cultural differences, however, that I’ve come to appreciate over time. Aside from being friendlier and more family-oriented, people are more utilitarian, independent and robust. There’s also a stronger sense of community. The value of the ‘good Samaritan’ characteristic is high and is practiced often, across economic, racial and geographic boundaries. Traditions of sports, food and (of course) religion may seem silly sometimes, but when universally accepted they create stability.

There’s also a big difference in person-to-person interactions. This is all anecdotal, but in DC it seemed that whenever two people first met and formed a relationship, professionally or socially, each person usually viewed the other as either an ally to be used or an enemy to be conquered. When two Oklahomans meet, professionally or socially, their goal is usually to first find common ground, to make a new friend or at least to find a way to work together productively.

Had I read this on paper back when I was living in DC, I would have breezed over these qualities as simplistic, antiquated and boring. Coming here and experiencing it has changed my mind, and I’d invite anyone who feels skeptical about it to try it themselves. This is what first turned me on to TAC and RD, witnessing first hand that the ideas they talked about (localism, tradition, community) weren’t just hyperbole or idealism, but a way of life that has real value and merit and shouldn’t be dismissed by talking heads or public opinion. The Flyover regions aren’t perfect, but they shouldn’t be written off either.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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