Anyone ever leave NYC for a smaller city?


I'm originally from the midwest and have been working in NYC for 6 years. Getting to the point where I'm fed up with the city in many respects and am thinking about moving on. The problem is, I feel like anywhere I go will just feel like the volume has been turned down and that the professional options will not be as limitless. Has anyone else been in this situation before? If so, what city did you move to? I'd like to find a city that has all the cultural options and diversity of NYC, but is still affordable and somewhere that I could own a house and possibly start a family in the future.

May 28, 12 10:42 pm

dude, get over NYC. There are so many better cities out there that offer more for way less hassle. The West Coast is where its happening. SF has the highest number of architects per capita, Seattle the 2nd highest. Seattle is becoming the hub of technology and business in the US. 

NY's hayday has past

May 29, 12 12:09 am

Seattle is the must ethnically diverse city in the country, BTW

May 29, 12 12:09 am

Highest number of architects per capita?  That sounds like it should be avoided at all costs. Besides the West Coast sucks.

I would think that there is some opportunity in the Midwest.   Places like Cleveland and Milwaukee tend to be under the radar and there are tons of old buildings that could be rehabbed if you can find a few entrepreneurs to work with.

The south is full of retarded hillbilly's so it's out of the question.

Hawaii might be good is you can stomach the idea of being of an ocean, hours away (by plane) from anywhere else.

So, I guess that leaves...

Brooklyn!  It's the next best thing to New York, yo!

May 29, 12 9:34 am

NYC to DC.

Many aspects I miss about it but it's more affordable and very young.  A little snobby and stuck up but you will have that in many places.  There is a huge construction boom and as many say here - DC is a good place to be a young(ish) architect.

May 29, 12 9:40 am

mdler - I'm actually in the process of "getting over NYC," which is why I'm asking about other cities.  All of my professional career has been in this city, so I don't really know anything else.  I'm engaged and my fiance and I are thinking long term about a city in which we could live more comfortably yet not be stuck in the suburbs that we both grew up in.

I think we'd want to return to the midwest, as both of our families are from there and we have strong relationships with them.  Plus, when we have children it will be good to be close to them.

May 29, 12 10:11 am

say hillbilly again and i'll kick yer yankee ass

May 29, 12 10:41 am

Was very happy when I left NYC in 2009. Departure really didn't work out well though. Recession surely didn't help, but I found each city that I was in very cliquey. Working in a new city after establishing yourself in another is like joining a new gang.  I'm back in NYC now. Blah.

"The south is full of retarded hillbilly's so it's out of the question."

Most hillbillies I met know that an apostrophe doesn't mean "holy crap here comes letter s".



May 29, 12 11:29 am

Original poster takes out personal failures and inability to live a whitebread, heteronormative modernist 20th-century fairytale against an entire city responsible for almost half of the entire GDP of the United States?

May 29, 12 11:42 am

 Plus, when we have children it will be good to be close to them

This will make the entire child-having experience significantly easier.  So yes, consider proximity to family in your decision.

I moved from Philly to Indianapolis.  Indianapolis has none of Philly's cultural richness, history, restaurant culture, art scene, youth energy, progressive politics, or creative toughness.  It's mostly hillbillies, in fact lol!  But my community of people (friends, clients. business associates) is made up of lovely, wonderful people who work hard to make some of that culture that is missing from bigger, older cities happen here.  I complain loudly about it frequently, but there is also much to love here.

Louisville is a super cool city - I'd put it at the top of your list if your family is anywhere nearby.  Cincinnati is fun, as is Cleveland, and Milwaukee.  The whole "west coast of Michigan" up to Traverse City is doing well if you're OK with vacation culture and not a lot else (there is decent wine).  Grand Rapids has some action.  Nashville looks to be VERY fun.  

May 29, 12 11:44 am


SF has the highest number of architects per capita, 

That's all I need, is more competition - 

May 29, 12 11:45 am
i r giv up

architects per capita figure tell you nothing.

unemployment and construction starts is what you should be looking at.

May 29, 12 1:39 pm

I have been in the city since 2005, and I am starting to think about leaving. I grew up in a rural area, and there is something lovely about being in the middle of nowhere. There is a since of community that I had throughout my childhood that I don't have here. But I don't think I can survive long term without some sort of external cultural resource that is easily available. Out of all of the places I have lived and visited, I think the 250K - 500K population is the sweet spot for a city. You will have jobs, diversity, cultural institutions, and be able to easily escape to the middle of nowhere. Those cities are usually a lot more affordable in than NYC.

Have you considered Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Austin, New Orleans, Boston (likely be in a burb), Houston (if you don't mind driving), St. Louis, Cincinnati, Baltimore?

I could think of as many reasons to leave NYC as I can think to say. I think it just becomes harder to make a big life change like this the older you get.

May 29, 12 9:46 pm

I actually consider myself to be quite successful up here, so I'm going to ignore the trolls. Donna, I'm from Missouri originally and have family in that area. You get to the point where you realize sharing a studio in Manhattan probably isn't going to be a good long term solution. It would be nice to have some room and some money to start saving for our future life together. We've had our share of unforgettable NYC times and have given back just as much as the community has given us. That being said, I'm still not about to go work at some hack firm and sell out my soul. I feel like there can be a balance of quality work and personal life. I guess we need to figure out a few cities and visit them.

May 29, 12 10:05 pm


May 29, 12 10:21 pm

OK, Missouri, so El Dorado in Kansas City is one of the most interesting firms anywhere.  They are pushing ideas of what architects can do, and how they engage with community, and are doing really great work.

May 30, 12 12:29 am

OK, my two cents on this.  I did exactly that, in fact I did it twice.  and in that effort I have compiled a nice list of cities that I lived in before, in the end, moving back to NYC. 

Los Angeles - Grad school.  2000-2001.  It was a lot cheaper back then, definitely could buy a house there and there is a real architectural culture there.  Very vibrant place, but it is one of the hardest places to fall in love with (I didn't until I moved away)

Austin - 2007-2008.  very cool city.  again...great, but small architecture scene.  Check out firms like Bercy Chen who are doing incredible design build work.   Cheap to live, but it is in the middle of Texas.

San Francisco - 2008-2010.  Beautiful city, incredibly expensive.  NO JOBS.  NO ARCHITECTURE.  just saying.

Portland -kinda - sorta.  Very cool city.   Beautiful, cheap.  some cool architecture and very small, typically.  and it isn't doing to great in terms of jobs.

So that's my tale.  lots of nice place, very different in terms of architecture.  but understand that you will not find the diversity of jobs, offices and work that you find in NYC and LA.  those are the only two major cultural hubs in the country.  Outside of that there are small pockets, be smart and go for the long term and you can create something.

Post-tale - I moved back to NYC because my  wife is from here, grew up in manhattan and both of our jobs are hard to come by outside of this city.  Plus we have incredible friends here (actually in all of these cities).  so there are always tradeoffs.

May 30, 12 9:26 am

Another quick Post-tale - even though san francisco doesn't have an architecture scene or any really good is an incredible city.  I would move back there in a second.  It is incredibly beautiful and the lifestyle there is perfect.


None of these are in the midwest, I have a few friends in Chicago.  You need to struggle a bit there to not be in a corporate firm.  I think that is the moral of the story.  you need to struggle more in terms of the work part of the equation outside of NYC and LA.

May 30, 12 9:41 am

Having worked in both the east coast and the west coast (+ Europe), personally I found that Chicago held the best combination of vibrance of culture + large, active architecture scene balanced with high quality of life (better quality and cheaper housing, better and more affordable restaurants, TONS of interesting things to do that don't break the bank) plus the people are much easier to get to know (more down-to-earth and relaxed) than either coast.  (There's a reason a large chunk of our country's comedians come from here... it's easy to break into any group here, there's no "scene" or exclusivity to the culture - people are genuine and welcoming and encouraging.) Chicagoans don't really give a shit whether you truly think LA and NYC are the only two major cultural hubs in the country, and since that attitude keeps all the holier-than-thou douchebags away, the city is very easy to land on your feet and make your own way in.

That said, and although I love it here, it is true that the general level of design activity is not the most creative on earth.  The city tends to be dominated by real estate developers who have the city government in their back pocket (thanks, Daleys!) and who churn out banality on the taxpayer's dime because "that's what the market wants".  There are architects doing excellent work here - and thanks to the major architectural/cultural institutions (Graham Foundation, UIC (credit Bob Somol), Art Inst & IIT, lots of other smaller orgs) there's a steady stream of EXCELLENT up-and-coming architects doing work here.  So if you look beneath the major players you find tons of great work being done at a variety of scales and typologies.  I completely disagree that you have to struggle to not work in a corporate firm here - amongst all the architects I know in Chicago, the minority work in a corporate firm.  You can generally find what you want here and it's easy to carve your own niche for yourself.  I did not find that to be the case on either coast, personally.  I felt it was much harder to break into the opaque "scene" on the east coast, where it really seemed to me that you had to have gone to the right school and known the right people to do anything interesting.  YMMV.  

May 30, 12 10:19 am

Although: I wouldn't have said anything on this thread at all if not for futureboy's comment, to be fair, because the real answer to your question is "nobody can answer but you."  Will be different for every person, and your only option is to do a bit of traveling and evaluate for yourself.  Depends on what you're looking for, really.  I've had people rave to me about a few other cities in the midwest, all of which I took an extreme dislike to immediately.  It's such a personal taste, how can anyone guide you?

May 30, 12 10:22 am

From Missouri? Then Kansas City should be the obvious answer.  It might be the only other place in America nearly as awesome cool as Brooklyn.

For reals, yo!

May 30, 12 10:45 am
won and done williams

This is pretty easy in my opinion. Move to the biggest city closest to your family and make the most of the opportunity.

May 30, 12 11:23 am

one more note on San Francisco - the architectural scene here is very exclusive  -you really need the social network thing down and attend all the events to network in order to work the bay scene - finding a job here is like running for office -" I want to be elected"

May 30, 12 12:01 pm

I like won and done's answer a lot.

Following up on manta's post about Chicago: the mantra here in Indy is that in a big city like NYC you have lots of opportunity to be a cultural consumer.  In a smaller field, you have the opportunity to be a cultural creator.  I'm involved in two non-profits that are doing interesting fun urban design work and raising the level of discourse in our community.  I don't get paid for it, but I can look at the urban landscape and physically see the impact I've had here.  And I didn't have to belong to any clique or pay any "dues" to do it - I just talked with other like-minded people and we all rolled up our sleeves and worked.

May 30, 12 12:23 pm


So true - it's what I miss about San Diego - two of my classmates have made a major impact in the community there with:

May 30, 12 1:11 pm

You might want to actually look into Detroit. A lot of interesting stuff going on here as of recently... and a lot of job openings in the Arch side of things. 

May 30, 12 2:35 pm

whatever you do, don't take travelling advice from oneLOSTarchitect.

May 30, 12 2:59 pm

Rusty keep on listening to Faux News

May 30, 12 3:05 pm

That doesn't even make any sense. I was referring to you being LOST and giving travel directions.

Anyways, back to stoning that hippie.

May 30, 12 5:10 pm

No one has mentioned New Orleans...still a lot to do there.. one of the most amazing cities and tons of unbelievable food!!! 

May 30, 12 7:18 pm

HA! Good one Rusty! That flew right over my head! :-)

May 30, 12 10:43 pm

New Orleans is awesome! It has that vibe that you just never want to leave once you are there. I fell in love with New Orleans while visiting 1 year post Katrina.

May 30, 12 10:45 pm

SF has the highest number of architects per capita, Seattle the 2nd highest.


I'm pretty sure that dubious honor goes to Boston...

May 31, 12 11:46 am


May 31, 12 6:16 pm

If Missouri, I'd choose KC over STL in a heartbeat as far as the arch scene. Grew up in STL, went to school in Lawrence but made it to KC a bunch ... have a lot of classmates still happy there. 

I do live in SF now with the highest per capita of architects .... the city could probably use more now as I am busier than ever ... the boom here right now, along with all the regulations that have always been here, and the very unique urban and hilly environment, make it in very high demand for talented architects. The scene is not dead or stagnant, but very particular with some nice bursts of innovation and great design.

May 31, 12 8:10 pm

I am busy 7 days/week now - many tech/social network companies moving from Silicon Valley to "Silicon City" need TI work to handle expanding staffs

May 31, 12 8:14 pm

In many ways I feel like I shouldn't have moved to NYC. Not because I hate it, but because there are so many great things about the city. Now most other cities will pale in comparison. They will feel uneducated, uncultured, unoriginal. 

But the finances of living here long-term on an architect's salary is difficult. And what sucks is that the next best cities --Boston, DC, are only marginally less expensive.

Best of luck if you decide to move.

May 31, 12 9:28 pm

I just moved to San Francisco after 4 years working as an architect in a few different countries.  I can say that culturally  this city is very rich.  architecturally, it is definitely becoming more diverse.  Unfortunately there is a rich history of stagnant design in the city that seems to finally be stirring..  My two cents.

Jun 1, 12 2:57 am

I've lived in NYC and LA, I just relocated to a mid sized city in the Midwest (115,000). I love it! Lower cost of living, easy to get around, and we've got great brew pubs everywhere (there is also a major university). I only wish I had done this years ago. Looks like some construction going on, but im out of that game and back in software development.

Jun 1, 12 6:45 am


probably what I need to think about too - I am in San Francisco - there is way too much competition here and I am only getting $20/hr for 3.5 years commercial exp with Revit.

Jun 1, 12 11:47 am

Zenakis, it's all supply and demand, I've learned that much. Personally I do like the quality of my life living in a smaller city, but it's a trade off like everything else. I think a great exercise is to say to oneself, I'm willing to relocate, maybe even switch professions, what's out there? What would my life look like? What if some software company wanted to snatch you up, pay increase, and a lower cost of living? Would you be interested?

Jun 1, 12 11:57 am

Possibly - I really need to focus more on pragmatic living - I thought of Salt Lake City

Jun 1, 12 12:31 pm

i'm guessing cape town is out of the question...come on, africa is not that bad.  get out of your safe zones over there in north america.  also, hillbillies can be fun.  midwest huh, shame.  if family is your priority, what are you doing in nyc?  i got out in half the time.  @won and done has the right/safe approach for you.  aweh, laters yall

Jun 1, 12 12:47 pm

So... did you figure anything out?  If it helps I think a lot of people are in this boat.  My fiance and I are on the search for work life balance.  We have had great success in NYC which makes it hard to consider design positions elsewhere.  But our success has come at the cost of long working hours which won't change if we stick around.  Our one bedroom rental is nice but it would be great to own.  NYC is a love hate relationship, mostly because it can make some of the most fundamental and simple things in life a huge pain.

We to often think about what we could do with our skills in smaller cities to diversify our income and work.  I don't think the answer is looking for an NYC design job outside of New York.  It's not going to happen unless you are talking about LA or San Francisco, and in those cases you will be facing the same problems.  For us I think it will involve making a new path that is outside of our comfort zone.  Taking a few more risks while we still can.

Jun 25, 12 3:29 pm

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Jun 13, 13 10:26 am

I've always heard the saturated markets are San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, and Portland.  I wouldn't say NY and LA are not saturated, but they are large markets.  I think Houston and Dallas are probably the better places to find employment, in addition to some Midwestern cities that are showing promise.

As for NY, I spent part of my childhood in its suburbs and have several relatives in the area.  Maybe I'm a geek, but NY would be great if you only had to make metered trips to the city (Manhattan) and when YOU want to, meaning living on L.I. or Westchester Co. and also working there.  My father worked in Manhattan and was so happy to move back to L.A., but this was at another time in L.A.'s history.

At any rate, I had thought about grad school in business at NYU in Manhattan.  I went to my uncle's house, took the NJ Transit bus to Port Authority, navigated the escalators down to the subway platforms, and went down to visit NYU.  If a person as much as stopped during that mad wave of humanity during the rush hour to tie their shoelaces or something, they will mow you down.  Between that and the cost and lack of inspiration of the people seen in a post-core course at NYU, I permanently nixed the idea of New York and the NYU program.

People who leave NYC will always lament the city and area's truly unique offerings and the fact that it is the U.S.'s most true to form world city, but they welcome what other areas offer - affordability, sunshine, recreation, topography, and quiet, among other things.

Jun 13, 13 11:13 am
Seattle is not very diverse. It does have the most diverse zip code in the nation, but the rest of the city is not diverse.
Jun 14, 13 1:31 pm

I left NYC for grad school in Cincinnati three years ago, thinking I would maybe stick around Cincy afterwards and re-establish my roots there. (I'm a Cincy native, but my family moved away when I was a kid.) At that time, I had been laid off from my job in NYC, and I was thoroughly burned-out with New York and very homesick. There are plenty of advantages to smaller and mid-sized cities as mentioned above, and I won't dissuade anybody from going where they can find a better fit. NYC certainly isn't for everybody, and there's no shame in seeking greener pastures elsewhere.

That said, I'm back in NYC for co-op this summer, and I've realized there are many things about the city that I've missed. Yes, it's expensive, but consider that by moving to a smaller city, you'll most likely be taking a $10k/yr salary cut in addition to spending another $10k/yr on transportation because you suddenly need to own a car. That pretty much eats up most of the money you save by living in a cheaper city. (And if you're going someplace like LA that combines a high cost of living with lower salaries and near-mandatory car ownership, NYC starts looking like a bargain.)

And it goes without saying that the architectural scene is about a million times more active and progressive in a place like NYC compared to Cincinnati. In Cincy, you'll have a few lectures a year at DAAP or the local AIA chapter, and not much else. Here in NYC -- between AIANY, the Municipal Art Society, the Architectural League, and the Van Allen Institute -- you'll find some architecture-related event happening almost every night. And that's on top of all the local schools that each have their own unique flavor and their own stuff going on. It's almost too much to keep track of.

IMO, it's also much easier to find your niche employment-wise here, because no matter what you're into as an architect, chances are there's a firm with a design focus and culture that matches your own. Cincinnati, for example, is tops if you're into consumer branding and retail design (thanks to companies like Kroger, Macy's, and P&G calling the city their home), but comes up severely lacking if you want to work for a firm that does something like large-scale urban infrastructure design or cutting-edge parametric design.

Now that I've spent a decent amount of time on each side of the fence, I'm leaning strongly toward coming back to NYC for good once I'm done with my M.Arch. next spring. Having a job I enjoy and a decent housing situation will be critical; without that, burnout will quickly rear its ugly head again. But even if I decide my future lies in a smaller city, it would almost certainly be on one of the coasts, such as Philly or Seattle, and not in the Midwest.

Just my $.02... YMMV.

Jun 14, 13 5:41 pm

There are some really wonderful areas in Baltimore.  Nice variety of restaurants and DC is a stone's throw away.

Jun 14, 13 8:43 pm

I am assuming that NYC means working in Manhattan and living in Manhattan, or maybe, just maybe, Brooklyn Heights or Hoboken.  NYC is a great destination for someone who is young and wants to be in the thick of it.  While still young, but not 24, the best job after M.Arch. couldn't have pulled me to NYC, meaning the city as described above, because the density is oppressive to me, though I love the city, and that fact that 4 out of 5 buroughs are on islands!  I thought that, for example, getting an apartment in Manhattan just meant contacting the resident building manager and filling out an application, as is mostly done with garden-style apartments in L.A.  In NYC, there seem to be more middlemen even in that equation.

As for the Northeast, I, too would be more amenable to Baltimore (per Nabad), Philadelphia, Providence, and Boston.  I would pick NYC to Washington DC, though, because seeing all the bureaucrats who looked like clones of each other running on the Mall during their lunch hour was almost depressing.

Jun 14, 13 9:41 pm


Almost as depressing as all the wall street clones in NYC!

Jun 14, 13 11:49 pm

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