City Renters "Gone Country"

A recent Canadian study suggests that the explosion of connectivity means more work options for the "creative class" outside traditional metropolitan areas.

Renters in major cities everywhere are familiar with this equation: "If I lived in X, my rent would only be Y. With all the money I could save, I could do Z!" Factor in the pros of past-midnight Chinese-food delivery, the cons of smog and congestion, and the decision to rent in a smaller town can be a tough call.

Wondering if you could swap "city rent" for "country rent" and live to tell the tale? Here are a few people in the foothills of the Appalachian Trail who did just that...
The first fear concerns amenities. What will you have to give up if you move to a small town? Meghan Williamson, 26, moved from downtown Washington, D.C. to the small city of Staunton, Va. (pop. 25,000). She serves as the Economic Director of the Staunton Creative Community Fund, an organization focused on attracting "creative class" talent.

"I fundamentally reject the notion that rural communities offer fewer amenities than urban ones," says Williamson. "Some of the best music scenes in the country are in smaller, hometown-style venues. And having spent many a lazy afternoon in an urban apartment wishing for a nearby kayaking spot or secluded mountain top, I can't understate the benefits of having free and accessible outdoor entertainment in a rural setting."

Cortney Skinner, 34, works as an illustrator. "As a visual artist living in the city, I was used to the stimulation of the urban environment, easy access to art supplies and bookstores, museums, culture, people, and the local art scene. It was also a wonderful and varied source for models for my paintings."

He adds, "Now in the country, the stimulation has shifted to a more pastoral scene and I've had to adjust to a quieter life with less stimulation and inspiration. Less distraction has translated into more time for work. My work has changed somewhat to reflect my new environment, and I'm adapting to a new artistic stage in my life, I suppose."

Another trade-off is the opportunity costs concerning career options and advancement. Skinner saw these shift when moving from Boston, Mass. to Hollywood, Ca., then from California to the outskirts of tiny Waynesboro, Va., (pop. 22,000) prior to the popularity of the internet.

"[Previously] I had to seek a brand new client list, starting over from scratch. Now, eight years later, the internet has matured to a point where I could basically live anywhere since my illustration assignments are both commissioned and delivered over the web. The only challenges are when time differences might make my clients feedback in India (9.5 hours ahead of me) less than timely."

Williamson agrees, saying, "Rural communities are hungry for talent, and the opportunity to define your own relationship with a community unique. While rising to a position of real influence can take decades in urban settings, small communities are still responsive to the voices of young leaders."

Jack Morgan, 30, moved from Berkeley, California to Staunton and runs Darjeeling Cafe with his partner, Mary Beth Harris. "People who come here see nothing but potential," says Morgan. "They've seen what's possible in other places, and they're not afraid to try new things. People want you to succeed here; in a big city, everyone's trying to outdo one another, and no one has a vested interest in anyone else's success."

And in tough economic times it's nice to have fewer financial pressures. "A freelance illustrator's income is never a dependable thing especially in this economy," says Skinner, "so the pros of moving to the country with it's lower shelter expenses make it easier when one must tighten one's belt for whatever reason."

Thinking of "going country"? It can be done!

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