The power of place

In my junior year of high school, when I was living in my home state of Virginia and looking at colleges, my aunt Susy (who is also my webmaster – hi, Susy!) gave me a very good piece of advice. She said something to the effect of, “As you look at schools, think about where you’d like to end up as an adult. Most people end up settling wherever they go to college. So ask yourself, ‘Do I really want to live in [X city/state/region] for the foreseeable future?’” What she said made sense to me, and I started thinking about where I would most like to live.

It should be urban. The weather should be mild. The attitude should be progressive. I didn’t want to live right near family, but I liked the idea of having them nearby.

portlandThese criteria pointed me in the direction of Portland, Oregon. I did a little more research, and everything I read about Portland made it sound like the right place for me. So, I applied to one college (Lewis & Clark), took one visit to Portland to interview there and take a look the town … and when I was accepted, I moved there virtually sight unseen. That was 22 years ago, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Portland really does fit me, for all the above reasons and more.

At the moment, as you know, I’m vacationing in San Diego, and my intention is to begin living here during the winters – starting next winter – because I want to be surrounded by warm sunshine, rather than bleak rain. (Portland’s singular failing, from my perspective.) This past spring, as I began brainstorming possible new cities, I considered various locales that would be warmer. Once again, I made myself a list of the criteria that were most important to me. This time around, they were: 1) Warm but not too hot, 2) English speaking (I was open to southern-hemisphere destinations), 3) Within an hour of the ocean, 4) Plenty of vegan-friendly restaurants, 5) A thriving ecstatic dance scene, and 6) Good bicycle and transit infrastructure, so that I could continue living car-free.

balboaOn paper, San Diego seemed to fit the bill best, but I had never seen it. So, I hopped on a plane at the end of April to spend a few days surveying the scene. I loved what I saw! In addition to meeting all of my criteria, the city got bonus points for having the incredible Balboa Park right in the middle of town, and having friendly, laid-back people everywhere I went. When I arrived here again on the train yesterday, I was filled with joy, knowing I would be spending the next four days in my soon-to-be seasonal home city.

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the power of place, when it comes to determining our happiness and satisfaction with life. When we live somewhere that doesn’t feel “right” to us, for whatever reason, it clouds our mood much of the time, and leaves us feeling unhappy on a regular basis. By contrast, living in a place that is aligned with our values and preferences leaves us feeling happy and energized much of the time.

I’m curious about readers’ experiences with this. Does your current town or city feel “right” to you? If so, what was your path to arriving there? If not, what criteria does your town not satisfy for you? What would your ideal location look like? What, if anything, is holding you back from moving to that place?


4 thoughts on “The power of place”

  1. Portland is definitely my city also. I want to move back there at some point. Small town Vermont just doesn’t do it for me. Hope to see you soon!

  2. I moved to Portland in 1970. I was six years old. I have moved in and out of Portland many times, across the country in several states, and now, currently in Vancouver, Washington, just across the river from Portland.

    I love the culture of Portland, and the beautiful downtown Portland city lights at night, as well as being conveniently and centrally located to so many wonderful options for fun, adventure, easy travel to the mountains, rivers forests, deserts, ocean, and fertile Willamette Valley basin as well, not to mention the spectacular Columbia River Gorge, world-renown for its perfect mix of wind and water on the Columbia River, especially near or at Hood River, Oregon, only 90 minutes or so on Interstate 84 going East fro Portland.

    I do reluctantly commiserate with you in a love-hate sort of melancholic way in my affectionate attachment to Portland, Maren, on Portland’s “singular failing,” of our long, dark, sunshine-deprived, very wet, sometimes windy, cold winters. Having said that, I must admit my impromptu realization/admission of at least one exception to our blues-inducing Portland wintery weather: it does allow for snow-lovers to enjoy their snow-dependent leisure pursuits.

    Like you, I, too have, on an almost daily, and certainly weekly basis, complained to myself and to anyone within an earshot of being willing to put up with my whining, how much I also would dearly love (not quite kill for, but it has crossed my mind (just kidding 🙂 ) to temporarily, for the winters only, transplant myself to a warmer, sunnier climate in desperate search for comfort and reprieve from our otherwise, relatively speaking, nearly perfect score I would assign to Portland as one of the most liveable cities in the country, in my opinion.
    As a result of your own research and reporting back to us, exuberantly and triumphantly so of your establishing your preferred soon-to-be seasonal home city of San Diego (which my mother also loves and has raved about for years, I will as well begin engaging in planning my own escape, as well, during Portland’s wintery months.

    Three cheers for you, Maren! Your inspirational share and reinforcing the importance of feeling at home in our environment spurs me on to create the same for myself!

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