Life

Myth Busting: Midwestern Cities Don't Suck and Here are Five Reasons Why

A new list from Apartment Guide shares the 10 most affordable cities in the United States, based on rents and average cost of living. The list is heavy on Midwestern cities, including Cincinnati (#10), Columbus (#4), and Dayton (#6), Ohio. I have lived in two of these cities, and Dayton is half-way between them. Another city on the list — #8, Louisville, KY — is an hour and a half south of Cincinnati. And #7, Indianapolis, is about an hour south of the Indiana city where I lived for a while.

Yes, they all are affordable (especially in contrast to the two east coast cities where I've lived, Washington, D.C., and New York City). And ultimately they're not bad places to be. I've been living back in my hometown of Cincinnati since September — the longest stretch since I left for college at 18 — and though I'm not quite ready to stay in the Midwest yet (Cali's calling, guys), I'm glad for the time I've spent back here recently. For the time I've spent in all these Midwestern cities, actually.

Too many of my East Coast friends (either born and raised or just transplanted there too long) can get a bit elitist about city life. The eternal trap of NYC is that people think their pursuits are inherently interesting by virtue of taking place there. I love big, coastal cities, but smaller, Midwest cities have their charms, too. And I'd like to clear up some of the myths I've heard about my hometowns.

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Myth: Trends Don't Translate Here

They do. The effect may be smaller, but small towns and cities still get their fair share of backyard chicken keepers, homemade kimchi makers, moonshiners, pop-up shops, micro-wineries, industrial buildings turned high-concept lofts, artisanal ice-cream makers, barre classes, food trucks, smoking bans (in the Ohio cities since 2006), bars with firepits, locavore restaurants, and malls anchored by Anthropologie and Restoration Hardware.

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Myth: It's Hard to Find Good Groceries Here

In Cincinnati, Columbus, and small-town Indiana, I’ve had little trouble finding the groceries I want (and I tend to want weird or at least very specific groceries). Obviously it varies by neighborhood within these cities, and there aren’t necessarily corner stores selling kale juice every block like in, say, Manhattan. But between farmer’s markets, local shops and supermarket chains (plus the occasional Amazon seaweed order), I get by. Kroger’s is a Midwestern grocery chain that’s all over Cincinnati, and in addition to a decent organic produce section and a large wine and beer selection, a lot of them carry almost everything I’d seek in a specialty store elsewhere (tempeh, kale chips, sprouted grain tortillas, all the nut milks, kombucha, coconut water, sushi, soba noodles, etc.).

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Myth: Midwesterners Drink Bad Beer

Not even my uncle who works on the railroads and only wears cowboy boots is still a Budweiser-only kind of guy. Not only do people (especially young people) here enjoy as wide and weird a range of beers as elsewhere, craft beers from local microbreweries tend to be popular. In Lafayette, Indiana, there was a brewery three blocks from my house (the Lafayette Brewing Company) and another one on the Wabash riverfront about a mile away (People’s). Cincinnati has more than a dozen, including Christian Moerlein, Rhinegeist, Mt. Carmel Brewing Company, and my favorite, Madtree Brewing Company.

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Myth: Nobody Makes Art Here

Columbus, Ohio, has an incredible popular monthly “Gallery Hop” and a fantastic and vibrant theater scene (if you’re ever there, check out a company called MadLab). I’m not as familiar with things in Cincinnati, but there are a good deal of theaters and galleries here. Both Ohio cities have plenty of venues for local and touring concerts; the kinds of big, downtown venues that host traveling Broadway shows, their own symphonies and ballets, plenty of arts festivals, and various indie/experimental arts scenes.

Even Lafayette, Indiana, had its own art museum and ballet — both in walking distance of my downtown apartment, along with the county arts federation, a community theater (that ran it’s own children’s theater and playwriting groups), a bar that regularly hosted a local improv group, another bar where my weekly writer’s group met, two open mic night venues, at least a half-dozen places to see local bands play, a monthly gallery walk, a dozen or so galleries, and Foam City, a weird warehouse turned offices/art hub/DIY show space.

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Myth: Good Bands Don't Visit

The first concert I saw in Lafayette, Indiana was Xenia Rubinos — a musician I’d most recently performed at the same showcase with in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Small world. Good sign. As a college town, Lafayette got occasional independent and big touring acts, though to see good shows with any regularity you’d have to head to nearby Indianapolis. It — along with Cincinnati and Columbus — attracts decent shows all year round, from indie bands to huge, stadium-style performers.

In Cincinnati in particular, I’ve been impressed with the lineup of small- and medium-sized bands playing (mostly at places like The Southgate House Revival, just across the river in Newport, Kentucky, or MOTR, in downtown Cincy neighborhood Over-the-Rhine). And the Midpoint Music Festival each fall attracts a huge number of great bands to a small area in downtown Cincinnati (for New Yorkers, think the CMJ festival without all scurrying between venues and ticketed-out shows — plus everything’s cheaper). In the past two years, this has included the Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Best Coast, Shuggie Otis, Woods, Tennis, Cut Copy, Foxygen, Here We Go Magic, and more.

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Not a myth: You Have to Drive Everywhere

It depends on where you live, of course — in downtown Lafayette, IN, I was actually able to live a pretty walkable existence. Same for when I lived just north of downtown Columbus in a neighborhood called Victorian Village/The Short North. And my friends in certain parts of downtown Cincinnati can do similarly. But if you live out of narrow parameters in any of these places (or ever plan to leave the inner-city vicinity), it’s pretty difficult to get around without a car. It can be done, but it’s difficult (Chicago being one of a few obvious exceptions as far as Midwest Cities go, but it’s not on Apartment Guide’s list).

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