Can we have the best of both worlds?
There is a lot of talk in books, reports and internet blogs about the advantage that living in a Big City brings about to the individual. Serendipitous encounters, broader acceptance of the fringes and large-scale public infrastructure pull many ambitious upstarters to the Big City every year.
Things have changed a lot in the last two decades. Big Cities have become Mega cities with millions new inhabitants. Pollution and traffic, lack of coherent community, stressed infrastructure due to overpopulation and high housing costs have ruined the Big City dream for me. I needed a new refuge.
Community and Convenience
I need some light sense of community belonging, a place where people take a minute to breathe and chat lightly to neighbors. I need a place with joyful outdoors - essential infrastructure combined with lots of nature. A place that still holds the coherence of its culture combined with an openness to welcome outsiders. I wanted the best of both worlds - the small town community and the big city convenience, along with a culture that fuses both.
I have a location-independent worklife. This means, I am not bound to live in the Big City for my work. My dislike for the current state of the Big City life and the location-independence offered by my worklife made me go on a search sprint to find a better place where I can take refuge. The biggest element in curating a joyful everyday life was to select the right place. So I read hundreds of reports, blogs and compared the quality of life in dozens of places, filtered by what I was looking for. I tried beach towns, foreign cities, country villages, boom cities, college towns and tourist cities. I kept optimizing for what I like and what I dislike. Then I found my new homebase.
The mountain city of Dharamshala (in North India) fits the small goldilocks city criteria I was looking for. It is located in the foothills of western Himalayas and is home to a good mix of outsiders and insiders. I do not see the indignity of homelessness on the streets here. The residents are welcoming and friendly to outsiders but still hold on to their culture and community. A vibrant sub-community of spiritual Tibetan Buddhists (including the Dalai Lama) adds to the diversity-mix along with proud Punjabi people from the neighboring state, nomadic mountain tribes of Himalayas, families of retired army veterans, and a disparate flow of exploring backpackers.
Big city life is optimized for maximum productivity but I found a better bargain: essential productivity + maximum creativity + essential community. In this small goldilocks city, We don’t have many shopping malls and metro trains here but we do have art galleries, museums, film festivals, artisan cafes, and markets. However, its not overflowing with crass commercialism overriding the coherence of the community structure. Traffic jams are rare occurrences. Essential infrastuctrure—(housing, transport, utilities, et al) is cheap. Perennial water streams from the mountains acts as a free audio-spa when I go out on long strolls in the nature, outside the city center. Above all, people are friendly and sincere to each other and after living in this place for months now, it keeps filling me with joy and raw life, day after day.
After noticing some of my acquaintances and other location-independent people making a similar choice, I decided to write this note to others who might share the same interests and are looking for someone to share with, the experience of making a conscious choice of finding and moving to a small goldilocks city.
[Brent Beshore](https://twitter.com/BrentBeshore) (VC & Founder of adventur.es), who moved to Columbia, Missouri to live and build a business:
I understand why people live in big cities — physical density of the interest graph has a meaningful impact on serendipity and access to infrastructure, quality of distraction, and broad variety is beneficial. Rural America is built on family, the outdoors, and community. It’s just a fundamentally different lens to view the game of life.
With that said, there are many “Goldilocks” towns in the U.S. and my hometown of Columbia, MO is one of them. We frequently host visitors from the coasts and virtually all of them remark about how they “get it.” We’re a college town with about 130,000 residents without students and roughly 40,000 students in the area. We blend the quality of food, music, sports, and art of a bigger city with a toned down pace and focus on community. There’s no traffic. It’s cheap. People are friendly and welcoming. We have a vibrant downtown, beautiful outdoors, and host some of the top film, music, and book festivals in the country. We put together short slide deck about it here: https://www.adventur.es/our-home
My pitch is that there’s far, far more going on than wherever you physically find yourself in the world. That area of the country you fly over looks barren, but it’s not. For instance, two of Y-Combinator’s most valuable companies originated in Columbia in the past 8 years (Zapier and Equipment Share). CNBC ranked Columbia as the second best place in the U.S. for women with careers. Forbes ranked Columbia as the 10th best place in the country for business. Plus, the internet cord stretches all the way out here and there are jet planes that can take you anywhere you want to go.
You should come check it out. I’d be happy to show you around.
Source: Brent’s October 2019 interview with Alex Danco.
Finding your Small Goldilocks City
There are hundreds of these small goldilocks cities around the world, lying undiscovered by the digital nomad. I had the first taste of this in the small city of Albi in South France, in the spring of 2016.
After 3 years of trial and search, I have developed a personal set of filter criteria to select such cities—a population in the 100,000-300,000 range, plenty of nature in and around, essential infrastructure in good shape, an openness to outsiders(tourist towns and college towns are usually good for this), pleasant climate, affordable housing, and walkable side-roads.
Industrial revolution pulled us from villages and small towns to the Big City but now, the Metropolis has turned into the Megalopolis. Good news is, the Internet Revolution is here to liberate us from it. If you are location-independent in your worklife, you can find your own small goldilocks city— joyful, affordable, clean, friendly and filled with community and nature. That doesn’t sound too bad to me.
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