Attention Time-Lifers – Des Moines not that bad. In fact, it’s pretty good

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There’s been a lot of talk about NYC-based Time-Life magazine people possibly having to move to Des Moines should this deal between Des Moines-based Meredith and Time-Life actually happen – so it seems a good time to make a pitch for Des Moines.  When I moved to Des Moines 21 years ago – to take a media job, not in magazines but at the Des Moines Register – the city wasn’t high on my list of places to live. I had to look at a map to place it (and I was moving from Kansas City, only three hours south of Des Moines, and before that Wichita, six hours south.) I remember my cousin in New York City saying to me “Where do you find these places?”

I’d also lived in London, Boston, the New York City metro area and Iowa didn’t excite.  Des Moines today is still a far cry from those big cities.  And yes, the airfares are relatively high here and you have to get used to missing connecting flights. You can feel isolated from the rest of the world, especially on a snowy February day like today.  But in the past 10 years, Des Moines has become a far more interesting place to live, with more big-city attractions but without the big-city hassles. (And Chicago is a 5 1/2–hour drive away, Minneapolis is four hours, Omaha is two hours and I also love exploring in-state places like Iowa City, Mount Vernon, Decorah and northeast Iowa, Dubuque and other Mississippi River towns.)

Perhaps Des Moines biggest selling point is that it’s a great place to live a relatively stress-free life, in general, and to do the work-family thing, in particular. It’s also become more welcoming for young single career types. When I moved here two decades ago at age 30,  I used to get blue that there was nowhere to go for a late dinner after a Saturday night movie – but that’s no longer the case. There are many more interesting restaurants, cafes, bars and shops now – and an entire urban-esque neighborhood, the East Village that didn’t exist when we arrived. Des Moines’ East Village is not NYC’s East Village – closer to NYC’s West Village, if anything, with interesting boutiques, galleries, music clubs, restaurants and bars. And in the burbs, we now have a Costco, a Trader Joe’s, even a Whole Foods, although frankly, they’re no longer as needed since we also have a great independent gourmet market near downtown, The Gateway Market.

All this, on top of the fact that this is a place where you can live comfortably without going broke. You can buy a beautiful old home – or a new one – for under $250,000. I get a kick out of telling my friends on the east coast or the west coast or even in Chicago how little we paid for our lovely 1930s French eclectic style home. If that doesn’t appeal, there are lots of new lofts and apartments downtown. And no need for private schools here – the public schools are still going strong.  Those lines you have to stand in to get your kid in a summer camp or a swim program in Brooklyn?  That won’t happen here. Even with all the new hip stuff to attract the young creative class, this remains an exceedingly family-friendly community with a lot to offer. Kids really do play outside in our old leafy neighborhood. They ride their bikes and walk to school, just like I did as a kid in 1960s suburban Detroit. Because there’s about a 20  minute rush hour – if that –  and work is close by wherever you live in the metro area, we easily managed sit-down family dinners when our kids were living at home.

As far as  culture and recreation, we’re in good shape too. There’s a lively music and theater scene, with diverse venues that bring in a range of performers and shows from around the country, most recently  “The Book of Mormon”  and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. (The ticket prices also are much cheaper than you’ll find in Chicago or NYC.); a fantastic contemporary art museum (with free admission) and a fabulous downtown sculpture garden ; a jam-packed farmers market downtown on Saturdays from spring through fall; a two-day independent music festival every summer; an outdoor concert series at an amphitheater along the river; a still-very-alive-and-kicking symphony orchestra.  And within a half hour you can be out in the countryside, riding your bike or walking your dog on one of the many recreational trails in Central Iowa.  Then there’s the people – warm, welcoming, interesting, civic-and-community minded.  Some are native Iowans – a lot moved here, like us, for jobs. We’ve made wonderful friends. You can too!

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Filed under Des Moines, DINING

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