Bohemian Bargains

Have you ever wondered in which city downtowns you could actually afford to buy a home in, yet still enjoy some semblance of active urban life and entertainment? Rich Karlgaard, author of 2004’s Life 2.0: How People Across America Are Transforming Their Lives by Finding the Where of Their Happiness has done some research for you, “Bohemian Bargains are core cities in the 150,000 to 750,000 population range with lively downtowns and a reasonable cost of living.” My brief comments follow each city.

Baltimore, MD (651,000) – Visionary mayor. Great historic building stock.
Buffalo, NY (293,000) – Check out Buffalo Rising.
Cincinnati, OH (292,000) – Lots of young people.
Cleveland, OH (478,000) – Lots of public investment.
Denver, CO (572,000) – Already getting expensive.
Grand Rapids, MI (1.2 million) – Not quite there yet, but will be soon. Invest now.
Hartford, CT (136,000) – It’s affordable, that’s all I know.
Indianapolis, IN (782,000) – Strong civic leadership.
Kansas City, MO (442,000) – Lots of downtown investment.
Louisville, KY (699,000) – One of my favorites, lots of unique culture.
Memphis, TN (1.1 million) – Check out Beale Street.
Miami, FL (2.2 million) – Check out South Beach.
Milwaukee, WI (597,000) – Former Mayor Norquist now leads the CNU.
Nashville, TN (1.2 million) – Great music scene, people love their city.
New Orleans, LA (469,000) – No place like the French Quarters.
Pittsburgh, PA (335,000) – Getting there.
Portland, OR (529,000) – Model city, but getting pricey.
Providence, RI (176,000 – One of the coolest cities on this list. (pictured)
Raleigh, NC (276,000) – No shortage of jobs, and nearby college towns.
Rochester, NY (1.1 million) – Don’t know much about this one.
Sacramento, CA (426,000) – Very hot, but downtown is growing.
St. Louis, MO (2.6 million) – City is investing a lot of $ downtown.
St. Paul, MN (269,000) – One of the most creative cities w/ Minneapolis.
Tampa, FL (318,000) – Check out Ybor City and Oak Park.
Wichita, KS (355,000) – Comments, anyone?

  • Anonymous

    Raleigh is not boho for the most part. It’s straight-laced and terrified of public art. Downtown has many cool things going on but the housing is mostly luxury condos waaay out of the reach of the Creative Class.

    Chapel Hill, the “nearby” college town with the real funky vibe, is almost 40 miles away.

  • michael

    these aren’t apples to apples…. are we looking at metros or city? For example:

    Rochester, NY is 212,481 city
    Memphis 671,929 city
    Miami is only 379,724 city
    Pittsburgh is 2.4 in metro
    Buffalo is 1.2 in metro

  • elizabeth

    While I agree that Raleigh is pretty traditional, it is definitely losening up. I would also point out that Raleigh itself is a college town (NC State, Meredith, St Augustines, St Marys, Peace).
    Anonymous is awfully negative. I feel like Raleigh and the larger metro area is full of possibility. There is enough there to make a space for everyone.

  • Good point Michael, that is indeed inconsistent. I’m not sure what the author had in mind with those numbers.

  • steve T

    buffalo is indeed a cool place…

    rochester is not 1.1 million, its only about 200,000

  • Giovanni D.

    Downtown Buffalo is really turning itself around for the better. A brand new waterfront with many new attractions (Casino, Museums, Retail and Condos), An emerging Medical Campus, Strong and Vibrant Theater/Entertainment District, New Housing (100% full) and more to come, new office buildings being built right now with more to follow and the list goes on.
    Watch out for Buffalo, More people will be talking…

  • jim

    We bought a giant old Victorian with stain glass windows, oak wainscoting, moldings and the rest in Buffalo for 75,000.00 seven years ago. Granted it needed work but still, it’s in the best area in the city – a very progressive neighborhood, commercial strip of privately owned businesses, large parks, art galleries. I’ll tell you, our life here is outstanding. You can’t beat it.

  • mara

    pittsburgh was recently ranked 9th in kiplinger’s personal finance magazine’s “top 10 smartest places to live”..with affordability being an important factor in the rankings.

    here’s an excerpt: 9. Pittsburgh
    Currently undergoing a renaissance, this hidden gem has distinctive neighborhoods, tree-lined streets, glittering skyscrapers, upscale shops and a diversified economy.

  • jon

    Buffalo is truly one of America’s best kept sectrets that is soon to get out. I have lived in many of the places people think of when they think “cool” – Seattle, Boston, Charlotte, and others, and for amenities and cost of living, Buffalo beats them all. I bought a 6000 sq. ft. mansion in the Elmwood/Delaware district for under $200K – it is amazing. You can walk to everything – shops, restuarants, bars, clubs, great nightlife, theater, art – Buffalo is awesome. And if you really need a big big city fix, hop on the QEW and you’re in downtown Toronto in 90 minutes. BTW, the whole blizzard image thing is over done – the winters aren’t bad and there is great skiing within an hour.

  • Chiguy

    Interesting list. It seems almost inappropriate to have Portland and Miami, for example, on the same list as Nashville or Indianapolis or Wichita, as the latter cities’ downtowns are in a different (smaller) class. an Nashville’s music scene is good, but not if you don’t like country — it’s not very diverse. There’s no bohemian neighborhood in downtown Nashville either — besides about three blocks of tourist traps it’s completely sterile. You might find some bohemian a few miles away at Vanderbilt but then again as you go south bohemian becomes a relative thing. Memphis has more problems and even less going for it. Indianapolis’ downtown seems to be nothing but civic (government) involvement. It’s just too small. The size of downtown Indianapolis relative to its population is tiny. There are certainly cities smaller than 150,000 people with larger, more vibrant downtowns than all of those. Some college towns come to mind.

    On the other hand, cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, or Baltimore, while not as advanced as Miami or Portland perhaps (although Pittsburgh and Portland are comparable), they’ve all had some major urban developments to their once big city downtowns which are large enough to have multiple districts, and all except for Milwaukee today have a rapid transit system. These cities have more existing urban infrastructure to take advantage of. These cities are also all part of metro areas of more than 2 million with the slight exception again of Milwaukee. These downtowns can drawn on their large metro populations for patronage if not residents. Buffalo would be a smaller version of those cities. Detroit would be a big version. There does seem to be a lot going on in these cities while they remain under the radar and affordable.

    Grand Rapids, with a metro population of over a million, is still quite a small city with a small downtown, but one that’s dense and packs a bit of punch of nightlife. It’s got a bright economic future and it, like Rochester, doesn’t have the rust belt stigma attached to it like those other cities.

    The midwestern and east coast cities have the advantage of not being in the middle of nowhere not to mention being not much of anywhere themselves.

    I’m surprised not to see Toledo on this list. The again maybe not.

  • Jefferson

    Charlotte, North Carolina is “cool”? Pa-leeze!

  • NYCresident

    New Haven, CT should be at the top of your list. It is burgeoning with thousands of new apartments, and the lowest retail vacancy rates since the 1950s. New restaurants open every week or so.

  • WaltDe

    Keep up the great work on your blog. Best wishes WaltDe

  • Jim Gil

    I would suggest checking out Southtown in San Antonio. Just south of downtown it includes 2 historical districts and the arts district. Low cost of living and full of historical and cultural interests.

  • I can’t believe Syracuse, NY is not on that list!

    Did you know;

    Syracuse, New York is centrally located within 500 miles of every major city in the North East. This allows Syracuse to be central of the largest potential population draw in the entire United Stated, no other city can say that. That’s great for any type of travel and tourism business, cultural, tech., and for many, many others. It’s not far from anywhere! And I’ve got to tell you, aside from the crazy cheap cost of living here……. it’s nice to be so close to everything that I want to go to! I can eat breakfast in Syracuse and have a late lunch in Montreal, NYC, Philly, Adirondacks, Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, etc, you get the point.

    Syracuse is quickly moving into it’s period of renaissance, it’s the activity, spirit, or time of the great revival of art, literature, and learning. It’s time. For those that become part of this early on will not only benefit the most, but be part of what is created in this renaissance and mold it to there liking.

    Times like these, do not come by very often in a lifetime.

  • CJ

    Having grown up in Providence and seeing what it was like “back in the day” when crime was rampant and there didn’t seem to be any way to fix the double-digit unemployment, I’m not about to undermine its progress. There’s stunning architecture, an eclectic population, and small businesses out the wazoo. I am curious though, about exactly what makes it “the coolest city on the list.” I’m also a bit curious about what exactly makes it affordable, especially when compared to a city like Portland where the median home price is a full $100,000 less than in Providence, and lofts on Westminster Street are renting for $1300-$3,800 a month. Also, a proposed condo housing project that was to be the tallest building in the city, right on Westminster, with units ranging from 400,000 to over 2 million a pop, is pretty much dead at this point (after other buildings were already knocked down to make way for the new building).

    But like I said, either way, a very beautiful place at the least.

  • Lori

    I was born and raised in Milwaukee, I have searched my life for Utopia. Why would I do that if this were true about Milwaukee???

    Downtown Milwaukee proper has virtually no residential offerings??? The residential numbers only come into play when you add the college housing and high-priced condos, still not “downtown”.

    There are walkable pockets, yes; but, you cannot get all your needs met in any given area. East side is the only boho area and it’s appeal was lost in the 1990’s to “revitalization” where natives (including most boho artists) were taxed-out to make way for the GAP, Starbucks, and condos … No mixed use, no “third places”.

    Today, the parks are being neglected and underfunded, there is a corridor of future development called “River East” [?] being planned. And, true, it was due to the tear down of an inner-city highway that killed all reasonable methods out of the east-side. Supposedly, there will be “mixed use”, but having spoken at length with one of the developers, the plans are for luxury accommodations, nothing appealing or affordable to the “creative class”. They are building to suit a non-existent demographic of temporary residents with a very short-term usage cycle of about 40 years. When the properties begin to fall into disrepair there will be a giant hodge-podge miasma of hard to divide & sell properties.

    I wont go into the schools …

    Now, I have lived among the natives in the following areas and all have one or more missing parts: Milwaukee, WI; Madison, WI; San Francisco, CA; Denver, CO; Ojai, CA; Providence, RI and Northampton, MA.

    Many of the areas listed in this piece have also been evaluated at length; and, I have to say; “WHAT?” about many of them.

    I agree with the apples to oranges comment; but, will not limit that to just population errors …

    When people seek this boho utopia you may misguide them by writing such a vague list. What are the qualifying factors?

    And last I thrive on music, art & culture .. country music does not fit the mold beyond Johnny Cash. MEMPHIS? NASHVILLE?

    Yikes!

  • Will

    “And last I thrive on music, art & culture .. country music does not fit the mold beyond Johnny Cash. MEMPHIS? NASHVILLE?” -Lori

    Lori get a life– Memphis is the birthplace of Rock, and Nashville is one of the world’s largest recording centers for ALL types of music and home to musicians from across the spectrum. Lose the stereotypes and open your mind.

  • Syracuse, New York is centrally located within 500 miles of every major city in the North East. This allows Syracuse to be central of the largest potential population draw in the entire United Stated, no other city can say that. That”s great for any type of travel and tourism business, cultural, tech., and for many, many others. It”s not far from anywhere! And I”ve got to tell you, aside from the crazy cheap cost of living here”…. it”s nice to be so close to everything that I want to go to! I can eat breakfast in Syracuse and have a late lunch in Montreal, NYC, Philly, Adirondacks, Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, etc, you get the point.