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Future Homes 2.0
More than five years before I made the move to the St. Louis area, I started the long process of pondering and researching new places to live. Last month, I passed the one-year mark since moving into my apartment here in New Baden (on the Illinois side of the St. Louis metro). And while I'm not anxious to do another move soon, I have been considering - as I'm almost always doing - possible new places to explore living in.
Regarding my inclination to move from place to place, I need to say that this isn't out of discontentment or dissatisfaction with life, nor due to something silly like trying to 'find myself'. Some have suspected that. This is how I really am - I have a natural love for traveling, exploring and experiencing new places - all a part of enjoying the freedom of life I've been blessed with. As a freelancer/work-at-home web developer, my options have always been virtually limitless. This freedom is something I value and would like to maintain for as long as I can.
One of the factors in my decision to choose St. Louis was that it wasn't abnormally far away in terms of how spread out my network of friends and family currently is, and therefore I assumed wasn't going to be a major practical barrier in terms of how often we'd see each other. But there's a difficult thing to learn about moving away from where it's convenient for people to visit you: when it is no longer convenient, you unfortunately stop seeing the visits. This is particularly true of those of us who are single, and without kids/family, by yourself you're not much of a 'destination'. That's not a criticism on anyone, it's just a fact of life. And so, without that factor to influence a decision on where to live, the options on potential future homes has opened up considerably. For example, I had demoted much of my location options west of St. Louis partly for that reason. Now, not only are those areas 'back in play', there are some new ones I've added to the mix.
Another previously-counted point that is now a non-factor is a location's television market coverage potential for severe weather. Storm observing has almost completely reverted back to being purely a hobby for me, with all past media revenue sources gone (with very, very few exceptions) and no agency affiliations. With web development now and in the future looking to be my sole career path, media considerations will no longer influence where I live and what type of weather events I cover. This also opens up some new possibilities I hadn't looked at for previous versions of my 'future homes' list.
The one requirement for a 'future home' that has remained consistent is that it needs to be either in or close to a decent-sized metro area. While I love the rural Great Plains, it's hard to keep a business going, find a job if need be, and make friends in such remote areas.
So without further rambling, here are some of the new places I've been looking at (in no particular order), with some brief commentary on each.
Arnold-Imperial-South STL County, MO
Some leisure drives and business marketing trips introduced me to this section of the St. Louis metro area over the past year. I have been casually searching for a good place to live on the Missouri side of the STL metro, mainly because it is much cheaper to live and run a business there than it is in Illinois. While I'd be giving up my Texas Caprock-like flat landscape of the rural Illinois side, the I-55 corridor south of St. Louis features gently rolling hills with plenty of open skies. The great observing/sky viewing on the Illinois prairies is just a short drive over the I-255 bridge, and downtown St. Louis is about the same distance away as it is in New Baden. There is generally more business to be had on this side of the river than over in Illinois. Above all, there is generally more of a 'comfort factor' with this side of the city than in other parts of the metro, at least to me.
Wentzville and the surrounding area is another comfortable part of the STL metro. It's a great launching point for storm observing in northern and central/western Missouri, regions that have decent observing terrain and frequent storms. Highway access routes are good in all directions, with fast routes across the river into Illinois, northward toward Iowa and westward to Kansas.
Joplin-Mt. Vernon-Baxter Springs MO/KS
While I love the entire I-44 corridor as a travel route west of STL, the primary areas I feel comfortable enough to live in are generally west of Springfield. Here, the land tends to flatten out, with severe storms common in the spring and summer (and even fall-winter for that matter). Joplin is one of the smaller cities of those on my list, but still large enough to be a sustainable economic base. I like the idea of becoming a Kansan, even if across-the-border Joplin is where I end up working.
Tulsa has always been a city on my list of potentials. Its 'comfort factor' originates from it being a common storm observing 'base city', beginning with my first trip to the Plains in 2001. As with most of my urban options, it is the outer areas of town, such as Owasso and Coweta, that I like the most.
Few places in the country are a storm observer's dreamland like the Texas Caprock. Not only is the area flat, but almost completely treeless - giving the sky the full influence of the scenery. Some of my best storm observing memories are watching storms in this area. In addition to the severe weather/tornado prospects (thanks to the dryline frequently setting up here), the region's climate is generally warm most of the year. While it can receive bitter cold and snow at times, 60 and 70 degree days are not uncommon in the winter in between cold snaps.
Oklahoma City, OK
While Oklahoma City itself hasn't been a huge player on my list, the surrounding areas - particularly on the north and west sides - have been places I've given some thought. A big reason I'd placed OKC low on the list was its oversaturation of storm observers. But again, with weather media income on the way out nationwide and observing back to being a hobby for me, this was no longer a personal negative. Guthrie, Piedmont and El Reno would be my most likely settling zones if I were to choose this area.
Western North Texas and southwest/southern Oklahoma is another chase country favorite, with Wichita Falls and Lawton both satisfactorily-sized metro areas to tap into. Warmer winters and of course severe weather season make these locations attractive as another place to try.
Again, although the western Great Plains (western Kansas through the rural Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma/panhandle) are some of my all-time favorite places to be, there are still some serious negatives that rule them out, at least for now. Housing would be cheap, but finding new business clients in those locations would be very limited. If I ever decided to switch to a full-time job, it would be nearly impossible to find something to support a decent life. And to top it off, the isolation factor would be unhealthy and something I think would be generally difficult to deal with over time.
As far as moving back east, my 'sights' have been set westward. The Lord may have plans I don't know about, but for now, a move eastward to previous possibilities on the 'Future Homes 1.0' list (Evansville, Louisville, Lexington, Charleston, Raleigh) hasn't been on my mind. As always, I don't completely rule anything out, as life sometimes has a way of taking unexpected turns.
All of this said, I have every intention of staying in the St. Louis area for the long haul, at least a few more years. I like the area and the city, have met some great friends and have enjoyed some nice storm observing in and around the region. Aside from possibly moving across the river (maybe as soon as sometime this year), I should be here for a while.