Not to rub it in, but: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, not that you care, but you didn’t make this list. You either, Chicago. Instead, we found the places you may want to move the next time your landlord jacks up your rent. Or when you realize your novel is a pipe dream so long as you have to bang out 55-hour work weeks (plus commute).
Fact is, whether or not they admit it, most writers, musicians, painters, and tinkerers of every stripe aspire to remove the “struggling” from the “struggling artist” way of life. No matter what rom-coms suggest, the country is full of cities where you can find a vibrant life, in a home with room to sprawl, where you can cook or play music or just get friends together to conspire and collaborate.
This list takes into account the full livability spectrum: artistic communities (check), a good dose of nature (check), a food, craft beer/cocktail, or music scene, or all of the above (check), and a level of affordability that actually allows you to partake therein. (Apartment List’s July report accounts for the housing stats, unless noted; and the population figures are the latest from the Census Bureau.) These are places where you can actually make it, the “it” being whatever you dream up.
Metro population: 2.8 million
Median 1BD rental: $1,360
Key stat: 36 — books by newspaperman H.L. Mencken, the “Sage of Baltimore”
I used to think Baltimore would be a terrible place to live. As in “what are you honestly thinking”-level suckage. (Thanks, The Wire.) Then my best friend moved there; as a result, I found myself visiting a lot more, and subsequently eating my words between fistfuls of great crab cakes. Turns out the Charm City thing is actually real.
It’s one of the major cities that doesn’t make feel like you need to “escape,” a genuine rarity. This owes to the pace, two steps slower than New York and DC, though the waterfront bar scene doesn’t hurt — even Inner Harbor isn’t exactly besieged by tourists. The music and art scene hold their own, especially during Artscape, the largest free arts festival in the country. Lexington Market is like the Pike Place of the East Coast, except a hell of a lot older; it’s been pedaling fresh fish, meats, and pretty much every food that exists since the 1700s. No wonder the bars and restaurants that line brick roads in Mt. Vernon and Fell’s Point feel leftover from another era.
The selling point, above all else, is you can actually do all these things. Cost of living is a fraction of New York’s (and a meaningful one, actually, like half) and convenient to most of Northeast’s major cities by train, plane, or car. But if you live there, people most will likely be visiting you for crab cakes and Ravens games. Because that is what Maryland does.