I’ve been considering a fair number of “rust belt” cities myself. For the moment I’ve tentatively decided on Pittsburgh, PA, as the cost of living there is quite low, the local libraries are excellent, and there are multiple local universities. I might still change my mind.
Creating a local community would be wonderful, particularly with a larger community associated with the local community. My own goals are more modest, but let me know if you ever do anything towards that larger goal.
I agree that having a good local group to discuss things with is very valuable. I quite enjoyed talking to many of the people I met at the University of Texas at Austin when I was there. To me, “local vibe” would refer to the attitudes of most people, and “local collaborators” would refer to people I’d collaborate with, a far smaller group. A third group, perhaps “local intellectuals” or whatnot is also worth looking for. They don’t need to be collaborators.
The process I used to arrive at Pittsburgh is worth detailing. (This was an interesting weekend project.) Basically, I started with a CSV spreadsheet of all Federal Depository Libraries. (You can download the spreadsheet by clicking on “advanced search” at the following link, scrolling down to the bottom, checking the “All FDLs” checkbox, pressing the “submit” button, and then clicking on the floppy disk icon at the top right of the results table.) I supplemented this list with a list of Patent and Trademark Resource Centers. These libraries are mandated by law to allow public access to their collections, an important factor if one has no affiliation with the associated university or organization. This gave me a starting point of about 1000 cities.
Then I used the League of American Bicyclists’ website to return all their “bike friendly communities” as a JSON file by using my browser’s developer console on this page. As a dedicated cyclist, this factor is important to me, though I admit it’s not something most care too much about. And I don’t want to say the League of American Bicyclists’ list guarantees that a city is good for cyclists. All it means is that the local government is trying, which is probably the bare minimum.
I merged these files into a single Sqlite database. By taking the intersection of cities with FDLs/PTRCs and “bike-friendly” cities, I reduced the number of cities to about 200.
I wrote a bot to get cost of living data from BestPlaces for the cities in the database. I also used a bot to get Zillow’s home value estimate for each city. Then I narrowed the selection to cities with a cost of living score less than 95 (100 is average) and home cost estimates less than $250000. I also got some census data to keep the gender ratio of the city near balanced as some cities skew heavily male. That returned 33 cities, which I examined in more detail.
I eliminated cities for a variety of reasons, some quite subjective and/or arbitrary. I’ll describe some of the more objective factors leading to elimination of cities. I eliminated cities if their population growth rate was 8% per decade or higher. The reason I looked at population growth is that housing prices are likely to increase more if there is large demand for a particular location. (There is no particular significance to 8%.) I eliminated cities if their crime rates were above a certain threshold. I eliminated cities if the local library didn’t seem particularly good.
After all of this, I was left with Kansas City, MO, Cincinnati, OH, and Pittsburgh, PA. Kansas City was a city I considered before this analysis because of Linda Hall Library, though ultimately I decided against the city because it doesn’t seem to be particularly good for cyclists. Cincinnati was not a city I had considered before, and I eliminated it because it seemed comparable to Pittsburgh in most ways, but had worse local libraries. Pittsburgh was a city I had considered earlier. The city seems better for cyclists than Austin, where I did my PhD.