If you’re considering doing what I’ve done with (or done TO) my family, moving to a family friendly, no hassle, wonderfully underpopulated place like Des Moines, Iowa, please read every article and list you can on the many choices you have. The latest Best Places piece has just come out and no surprise, 3 Iowa cities were among the top 100.
If you’re doing your research and you have no boundaries, i.e. no family or friends to consider when moving, you’ll probably toil as I did for about 2 years about where to go. Ultimately, my wife said, "I want family or friends there so we have some infrastructure." Well, that was smart and I’m not sure why I didn’t use that as a criterion from the get to at least limit my choices from Anywhere USA to 3 places. That limited us to Ohio, Alabama, and Iowa. Each of these places has some ups and downs….but Iowa truly has all of the amenities that someone coming from a populated coastal area or very metropolitan area will desire…without all of the commensurate hassles that typically come with those amenities.
When shopping for homes initially, my wife and I sought to replicate our friends house and lot. They live on what would be called the "older and established" side of town. What that means literally is lots of trees, some bigger wooded lots, less of the "newer amenities", and (my perception here)…older people. (The author is using a broad brush here since I’ve only driven through neighborhoods there and used comments made by realtors to reach this assumption). We thought we wanted this park like setting with an acre of trees, seclusion, etc.
But we found much to our dismay that we were far more taken with newer suburbs, close to the shopping, new restaurants (Des Moines has a TON of places to keep your belt expanding), and communities where there were few fences and kids running wild on the streets with parents chatting at the mailboxes.
I can say with all honesty that lack for nothing here in Iowa in terms of the things my family does. There are tons of parks, lakes, bike trails, green belt trails, shopping, movie theaters, IMAX, cultural opportunities to keep us busy. When we’re hungry, there is a massive selection that I’ve yet to tap into. From upscale to family dining to the movie theater that sells beer and pizza, we’ve really got it all.
Another unique opportunity that Des Moines provides is that downtown is mostly 15 minutes from anywhere. Downtown (Des Moines) mind you is the capitol city of this state and has some tall buildings, a developing river walk, a Science Center, etc. So when the newscasters say, "Today in Des Moines," you’re actually the center of the conversation. Anyone from Southern California who lived in the more affordable burbs 1+ hours away will confirm that "News about Los Angeles literally had no meaning or impact on us." I probably visited Los Angeles or the beach about 4 times in the last 8 years we lived there (3 of those trips were to catch cheaper airfare from a different airport by driving 1.5 hours out of my way and I saw the beach from the plane window) . Between the traffic hassles and crowds there’s really no appeal when you have two small kids under the age of 4.
I’ve traveled quite a bit and have had the chance to experience different climates, population levels, amenities, etc. Granted I didn’t live in these other places. But after a while, you get a "sense about a place" very quickly. My sense about Des Moines was that it really did offer the things that would enhance my family’s quality of life, financially allow me to retain my position of power since I wouldn’t have to dump all of my equity into another expensive home, and allow me to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. I’ve already met more business people and leaders around the Des Moines metro in 6 months than I did in my lifetime in California. Is that because I’m now liberated? Do I have a new confidence that I should have found there but couldn’t? It’s a little bit of many things. When there are smaller number of technology firms to choose from, sending an informed email introducing yourself gets noticed. When you offer up smart business plans to funding groups hungry to fund tech companies in Iowa, they listen.
Iowa is a very educated and very kind state. We’re a major service economy…but just drive for 20 minutes and you’ll see that we’re still very agrarian. The people here seem very conservative..but politically, I hear more overt Bush bashing than I ever heard in CA. All in all, I’d say that Iowa is a very welcoming place.
Now, if you’ve noticed I’ve not mentioned the most glaring difference between CA and IA…the weather. Here’s the synopsis. (For the benefit of those who don’t know what kind of temperature range one can experience in CA)..Remember that when you hear that "LA is 72 today, Newport Beach is 68, and San Diego is a balmy 70," that most people don’t live there. (If you’re willing to plunk down $600k-$700k for a median price starter home go for it). The millions of scrubs like me who had to live about 35-50 miles inland from the beach or the coastal climates, can reach 100+ degrees when the people on the coasts are getting breezy 68 degree temperatures. (I promise this is true). So, summer time means mostly above 90 and there’s probably a couple of weeks of 100+ thrown in there for good measure. OK so it’s a "dry heat", but like I always say, "Dry or not, I typically don’t run around, stand around, or play around in the heat. That’s what climate control is for." Summer in CA is brown, dry, and often full of smoke from massive fires (this varies year to year but there’s been quite a few in the last few years). Summer is Iowa is cooler than where I used to live…but there’s humidity. The humidity varies though. It’s not always stifling and causing full body sweats. It changes with the systems that come down from Canada, come up from the Gulf, or that slide across from the West. The trade off is that Iowa is green and beautiful all summer long. My home has plenty of large mature trees so a 90 degree day on my deck with high humidity is somewhat acceptable (unless you’re visiting from CA in which case you’ll probably complain). Fall is the relief that Iowans dream of when it’s hot and sticky. Cooler nights, the light jacket coming out of the closet, the leaves turning (and falling), all are prepping the populous for the holiday season. Winter is invigorating at the start. Leading up to the holidays, it’s neat to wake up and have snow on the ground, build a snowman, shovel the white stuff with my boy, etc. It can be below zero but mostly things don’t hurt unless it dips below 28 or so. (My friends in Vermont will probably mock me for being so weak). The holiday bustle gets us through about January. February hits and people long for Spring. Spring is a wonderful time of back and forth with the weather. It cannot decide to be snowing, raining, or sunny and warm. One day in fact I sat on my patio in March, had a cigar until about 9PM when the temp was about 78 degrees…and the next day there were icy chunks falling from the sky. The day after that, I was back on the deck smoking a robusto until 10PM. Tornadoes and thunder storms are always a threat though concentrated in Spring and Summer but it just something you deal with. Mother nature can put on quite a show here. It seemed that last April, every other day we were having severe t-storms..but for the last few months, things have been very quiet (of course the Northeast and Ohio Valley have been hammered).
It really is nice to have things change up a bit from "another day in paradise", but that’s a hard sell. Most everyone from here takes the weather with a grain of salt because paying in that area provides deposits in so many more.
If you are considering a move, I’d suggest you get REAL about what matters to you. College sports, pro sports, parks, biking, hiking, fishing, education, sense of community, cultural opportunities, proximity to other major cities, airport connections, property values (and growth curve), family values, etc…and then make a short list..and go there. Don’t do touristy things, visit communities, talk with real estate agents, do web research and you’ll feel very comfortable with your outcome.
Would I go back? I don’t ponder this one too much because something would really have to be RIGHT to make me do that. I’d have to "the perfect storm" of gobs of money, a house that was paid for or heavily subsidized near the coast, and a whole list of other things I’ve never thought of.
I really enjoy it here and am proud to call Iowa my home.