Can I move anywhere I want?

Posted on Jan 2, 2012 in community, Strategy

Sidewalk gallery dinner one summer night in Amsterdam

I’ve just returned from a fabulous year abroad in Europe and am trying to decide in which city I’ll be planting roots for awhile. In an article in the paper this morning I was reminded again of how promising Austin’s job market was and how resistant to unemployment it’s been during this recession (6.9%). But are my skills, abilities and passions marketable and needed in this city? Can someone just choose a city from the Mercer’s List and “make it”? Of course citizenship, language and skills are all important, but if House Hunters International has taught us anything, it’s that in this hyper-globalized economy, anything is possible.

My husband and I chatted about why one of the most highly educated cities, San Francisco (#30 on the list), also had high unemployment rates and yet remains one of the most attractive places to live in the world. SF offers great culture, climate and services that cater to a variety of lifestyles. It also attracts a lot of unemployed people. Or do people move there and then have trouble finding work? Certainly unemployment will affect the living conditions in a city and an unemployed person will enjoy different living conditions than someone with a job even living in the same city. Will we ever see cities in the US start to incentivize or limit access thereby controlling the growth and quality of life?

One way we control population on a national level is through immigration. My husband is applying to immigrate into the US and must meet financial requirements (applicants must be well above poverty line), have secured a place of residence (valid address) in the US and prove his ability to find work or be supported by others once he gets here. The US considers him a “high risk” individual if plans to be the breadwinner of the family. Would states ever impose similar restrictions as citizens move from state-to-state? City to city?

In the Netherlands, a person was once required to gain permission in order to live in a city other than the one he was raised in. Especially in more rural communities, this was enforced in effort to distribute the services, population and development evenly. They wanted to control the growth and it worked. There are still astronomical wait times for people who wish to rent or buy a house in more popular cities (Amsterdam, Amstelveen, Almere). They wouldn’t want someone to move into a city who wasn’t able to produce enough, stimulate the economy and not take up too much space (hello taxes!!).

I don’t think we’ll ever see the kind of mobility regulation state-to-state in the US even though I would like to see more state autonomy. This is  after-all the United free States of free America-don’t-take-away-my-freedom. Healthcare and Pensions are about as social as we get.  Also, regulating where people live does not necessarily regulate the flow of investment, money, production and local contribution. Thanks to a number of brilliant programs like Swap your Shop, there could be a whole team of developers living in Austin working for their Barcelona design firm.

So, back to my question: can I live anywhere I want? I guess it comes down to the bigger question of how involved, invested and hollistically do I want to live my life? I want to dig deep into my community, learn from it, water it, engage with it and help it get a higher ranking on that list. I want to use my experience living in a top 20 city (Amsterdam is #12) and help the next place I live be a model for the rest of the state. Sign me up to the citizen committee of those who improve the lives of its residents through good design.