Are people really leaving the Bay Area

Bye-bye, San Francisco

Insane rents, hours of traffic jams - many want to get out of the Bay Area. But the American province also has its challenges.

Text: Steffan Heuer
Illustration: Silke Weißbach

• After 28 years, John Williams had had enough of San Francisco. The city that the native Brit fell in love with when he first visited it on his honeymoon in 1980. He stayed there, built and sold houses, made a lot of money and had a big house of his own. He moved away just before Christmas 2018.

After his divorce, Williams decided he wanted to live somewhere else, in a cheaper place. For two years he drove nearly ten miles from Washington to Utah, looking at 15 cities, small and medium-sized. He stayed in each place for a few days, and in the end he had five candidates on his list.

“As an immigrant, you immediately feel welcome in an international city like San Francisco, but you can't say that about the province,” he says. In many places he missed a cultural offer, the people were not open enough for him. Endless prairie, a straight road with a yellow median to the horizon, plus a lonely gas station - it may be beautiful in films, but he didn't want to live like that.

The 65-year-old therefore considered criteria that should be met in his future place of residence: “There has to be a proper coffee shop. And bookshops. ”And they shouldn't have a cross or Jesus on two thirds of all books.

Like many others, San Francisco had become too expensive for John Williams. A house there costs an average of $ 1.34 million, and in Mountain View, where Google and Facebook are based, it costs as much as $ 1.6 million. A two-bedroom rental apartment is available for just under $ 3,000 a month.

That is why more and more long-time residents, but also young professionals with a six-figure annual salary, are thinking about leaving the Bay Area. Even if they can afford it, they no longer feel like spending two to three hours a day on totally congested motorways. According to a survey by the Bay Area Business Association, almost half of all residents wanted to leave the Northern California region in 2017 because of high prices and traffic jams.

But if you want to go to the country in order to save money, you not only have to go very far, you also have to be prepared to forego a lot. A well-paid job, for example, or urban trend products such as organic sourdough and soy latte - or cosmopolitan schools with children from different cultures.

If that's too provincial for you, you can move to a small town where the standard of living of the big city dwellers has already found its way. US magazines not only regularly publish bestseller lists, but also recommendations of the supposedly best places for an affordable life or a happy retirement.

Soy latte or lonely prairie?

In the end, John Williams chose Santa Fe in the New Mexico highlands. With around 80,000 inhabitants, it is relatively small, not too expensive and quite remote, but still well visited by tourists. You come for the traditional mud houses and the paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, the place has long been an artist refuge. In terms of culture, Santa Fe offers what you would otherwise look for in vain in small US cities of the same size: art galleries and restaurants, even an opera. "I don't have to starve to death here," Williams says of his new home. He is now retired and uses the time to explore nature and the art scene.

City exodus is not a mass phenomenon in America, but rather a targeted migration to smaller centers. Almost 85 percent of US citizens, or 272 million people, lived in cities in 2016, compared to just 51 million in rural areas. While most sparsely populated areas have lost inhabitants since 2010, cities with 250,000 or more inhabitants have grown significantly.

Even Nicole Osmer, who specializes in public relations for medical technology companies, had had enough of Silicon Valley after 15 years in the tech stronghold Menlo Park. The “absurdly high” cost of living for a family with five children would have bothered them, but even more the enormous social pressure to perform. “There is already insane competition among teenagers. Who has the hottest clothes, who has the bigger pool at home? ”It has been proven that this leads to depression and suicide. She wanted to protect her children from it.

So in 2015 the family bought a house in Santa Rosa, a quiet town with around 175,000 inhabitants, a good hour's drive north of San Francisco. But then in 2017 a violent forest fire destroyed more than 5,600 buildings in the area, including their new home. “That was traumatic, but not so bad because we got away unscathed and could start all over again,” says Osmer.

So the family moved again, to an even more rural area. Healdsburg, only 11,000 inhabitants, surrounded by vineyards, postcard idyll, but at least with three restaurants with Michelin stars. The employees of her PR company worked from home, so moving was not a problem.

“I don't see any disadvantage in living out here,” says Nicole Osmer. “The children can go anywhere by bike, the private school is affordable, we finally have a swimming pool, and I can afford a large office.” Because the rural location is so much cheaper, she was able to expand her company and now has 20 employees . Her husband also works for her now. The only thing missing is the chic shopping center next to the elite Stanford University, she says. Fortunately, Amazon also delivers to the countryside. ---