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I moved to Minneapolis in the summer of 2012; my wife and I actually got here on the night of August 1, 2012. We had basically nada — everything was in a moving truck somewhere in Illinois — but we went out that night to the Old Chicago in Uptown (since closed) and their tap list basically destroyed everything you’ll find in New York City (NYC obviously has other advantages on Minneapolis, as we’ll probably get to later). We thought this was pretty cool. We got home, fat/drunk/happy, and thought “Nice, this is a cool place.”
About two years later, we’re leaving. I came here for graduate school — a good experience, although not always the best one — and so we always knew there was a chance we’d be leaving when that was over. I ended up getting a pretty solid job down in Dallas, so we’re headed there in the next week or so. In the course of these two years, I (and we) learned a lot about Minneapolis. I wanted to share some of it. Maybe someone will stumble across this post in the process of considering their own move, and maybe it’ll offer some enlightenment. Maybe not. Regardless, here goes nothing.
It’s a tremendously civic place: You hear about stuff like Nice Ride (the bike share program) all the time, but Minneapolis really is the most civic place I’ve ever lived. I don’t know exactly how I’m using that word, but I think what I mean is this: the infrastructure generally seems to care about the humans involved. For example, before I got here, I would have assumed that a place like Minneapolis was a definite two-car city for two people. Not at all. They have an excellent bus system, and the light rail system is getting better (they just added a Green Line that basically connects UMN to downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul). They do great with bikes, farmers’ markets, green spaces, etc. It’s a very comfortable place to live. It’s not surprising that it tops a lot of quality-of-life lists.
It’s also tremendously insular: This, and No. 4 below, are probably the biggest reasons we ultimately decided to leave. Quick story. We went to the SPAM factory in Austin, MN last winter. After touring the place, we went down the street to a bar to grab lunch. The bartender was a nice 24 year-old girl. She had gone to college at USC — in SoCal — and while she wanted to work in entertainment, she was back slinging bar in Austin, MN. Why, we asked. Well, it’s Minnesota, she explained. Everyone just comes back. That story didn’t take place in Minneapolis, but it could have. Admittedly it’s hard to make adult friends pretty much anywhere when you move, but Minneapolis was really hard. I had three or four great friends through school, and we met some people via church (which seemed odd at the time), but this is a highly insular place. Families have been here for generations, and it can be hard to break into social circles.
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There are, however, jobs: Bunch of big companies here, as you probably know — Target, General Mills, 3M, Best Buy, Cargill, Medtronic, and others. It’s actually considered a hub for marketing and advertising, almost on par with a NYC. I didn’t do very well getting gigs here, alas, but there are jobs to be found. My wife found a job in probably 2-3 weeks once she started the process. Pay isn’t going to be the same as a coastal city, in general, but the cost of living is pretty solid.
Let’s talk about the winters: This is probably the first thing you associate with Minneapolis if you’re not from here. The winters are bad, and they last a long time. There is no real way to sugarcoat this. Minneapolis would probably be a top-10 U.S. city for population if global warming was advancing at a more rapid rate. We were here for two winters — the first one wasn’t as bad, but it was long; I would say it was cold as hell when I got off the plane back from Thanksgiving, and then there was still snow at the bus stop on Cinco de Mayo (do the math there). The second winter was brutal. We had the famed -50 (negative 50) degree day, and the ice was everywhere. I skidded into probably 2-3 cars this winter (no one was harmed). The snow is annoying, but the ice is really bad. It’s hard to drive and walk, and it makes you a bit limited socially as well. It’s impossible to move here without considering the winters. People will say, “Oh, you’re from the Northeast / South / etc, so you’ve seen crazy winters.” You haven’t seen winters like this. Minneapolis does a great job getting planes out on time and buses to run on time in the winter, but … it’s still a hard thing to live through for 5-6 months.
The beer is excellent: When you talk to beer snobs, people always lob Denver and Portland at you. Those are great beer cities, no doubt, but Minneapolis is right up there. The list of breweries is super: Surly, Indeed, Fulton, New Glarus (Wisconsin, but still), 612, Tin Whiskers (new), etc. Here’s a good list. I’ve heard people say it has something to do with the water being better here. I’m not sure if that’s true, although it does seem logical, but whatever’s clever: the beer is good.
If you’re associated with UMN, get used to slow-moving elephants: I went to grad school at UMN. I liked the place and they have a great faculty and a strong research commitment, but they have crazy bureaucracy that makes it hard to get things done (I worked in an office for the first year I was there). They got kinda slammed in The Wall Street Journal over this at the end of 2012, and I wrote a little about it too. It kinda goes back to that insularity aspect: UMN plays full-time, tenured professors very well — and pays support staff pretty well too — and because there’s good child care, you’re in the heart of the Cities, and your co-workers are probably Minnesotans too, there isn’t a ton of turnover. That can foster more of the insularity and also make it hard to get new things done. You’ll hear a lot of UMN people say it’s a slow-moving elephant.
You earn your summers: Goes to the winter point above, but every year when it gets nice again (be that mid-March or early May), the entire chain of lakes in Minneapolis will be awash with people biking, running, sitting, and hiking. It’s a beautiful thing, but also a little bit overwhelming.
Live in Uptown if you like walkability and can deal with 24 year-old wrecks: I lived in Uptown the entire time I was here. It’s great for walkability — I think my exact address had a walk score of 97 — and I was within a few blocks of eight bars, two supermarkets, a gym, a CVS, some restaurants, etc. It was awesome. However, it’s also becoming the playground of the mid-20s wreck who makes a good salary at a place like Target. Right now, outside my window, there’s construction on four new luxury apartment complexes (all with one-word names like “Verb” or whatever). The base rent for a 1BR on these will probably be $1750 or above. For context, I had a 1BR in Queens (20 minutes from midtown Manhattan) and paid about $1660. You shouldn’t be paying more to live in Minneapolis than NYC, even if the fixtures are brand-new. The bar scene in Uptown is fine until about 9pm, then it starts to fall off a cliff. Go to happy hours, but don’t do late night in the area. It’s a grinding mesh of bodies most nights.
If you’re more of a hipster (self-professed or not), live in Northeast: Maybe a little less walkability, but cool bars and more of a “vibe.” They have an Art Festival over there every May. They also have a cider brewery now. One of my good friends lived out here and we hung out here a lot. It’s a cool vibe. If you’re reading this way past 2014, look into Powderhorn — it’s still kind of gentrifying itself right now, but you see bars and coffee shops going up a lot, so there’s a chance that could be a thing down the road.
Find a way to get out in the winter: Final thing, which I probably could have tied to the winter discussion above. Find a way to get out. Whether it’s a bar, a restaurant, a quick walk, cross-country skiing at a lake, or whatever … find a way to do something every weekend or once every couple of nights. People in Minnesota will tell you that winters alternate — one good, one bad — and I saw that in my two years (first good, second bad). For the bad ones, you’re talking about 5-6 months of crappy temperatures and ice. That’s half your year. Don’t just go to work, then sit inside. Grab that life by the icy balls and get after it. Spit in Mother Nature’s face.
Final thought: Minneapolis is definitely a very “Midwest place,” and by that I mean standard tropes like casserole-baking, family-first, weird-accent stuff. I’m a coastal elite (LOL, hardly “elite”) and I used to think that was weird. It’s not. It’s actually great. It’s a tremendous place to live, work, and raise a family — you do just need some context for the above.