Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Northern Gravity Pull

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary

By John Galt

Have you ever heard of a psychological phenomenon called the tyranny of choice? It’s when you have so many options that you end up overwhelmed and in many cases, you end up doing nothing. Kind of like a lottery winner who spends all day watching Wheel of Fortune instead of blowing his new fortune on a yacht. I am starting to feel that about my love affair with Michigan.


I have come to notice that I have been so eager to come back to Michigan that I began to think of Michigan as if it were some sort of monolithic place. The fact is Michigan is about as varied in culture and lifestyle as a state can be. Now that I am starting to seriously consider moving back to Michigan, I have to pull my head out of the clouds and begin to look at specific places. The trouble is, I haven’t really decided what kind of lifestyle I want.

First, the assumptions. Given the economy of Michigan overall, I will start by assuming that I will be somehow working remotely over the internet. If I happen to find a decent job, that will make my location choice much easier, of course. But for now, let’s assume I have carte blanche to move wherever I want. Do I want the hipster city lifestyle of downtown Ann Arbor? Or maybe the urban slum lord adventure of Flint or Detroit. Should I go for typical honkey suburban bliss, or should I basically retire, “4-Hour Work Week” style on the lake in Traverse City or Charlevoix? Even still, I find a certain romance to Going Galt and trying out the Unibomber lifestyle (minus the homicide) on some ultra-rural land up north. With every option open, I find myself eagerly overwhelmed with the possibilities.

The fun part about Michigan is that most Michiganders are a combination of these lifestyles. Despite the economy, Michigan is so cheap to live that many people have the disposable income for things like cabins or boats or dune buggies in addition to their 9 to 5 lifestyle. But I think part of that is also an effort to compromise between what people would really prefer to be doing and what they have to do to survive. I remember thinking as a kid, “how great it would be if I could life up north, if only there were jobs up here.” Well, now I can. The question is: Should I?

Part of my equation is an examination of where a city will be economically and culturally, say, 10 or 20 years from now. The more I look at the dying industrial sector and I try and imagine what Michigan would look like in the future, my mind gravitates to the belief that the future of Michigan is north and west. I would guess that 20 years from now people will be much more likely to live in a place like Traverse City than Detroit or Flint.

The more I think about it, the more I think my future will also probably be somewhere north, at least for a while. Why not spend a year or two living in a cabin on a lake? Is this shortsighted of me? After all, I might get bored up there. And despite my very real dislike of people in general, I might even get lonely. I might be romanticizing the up north lifestyle a bit too much, but then again, maybe that’s okay. Self-delusion just may be the welcome change I am looking for.

So now, I am unabashedly soliciting your advice. If you are an expat, where would you move to if you had total freedom to live as you please? And if you are a Michigan resident, where would you go if you had the choice to live anywhere you wanted in Michigan? Leave your comments below; they will be much appreciated.


  1. yeah, but how are you going to afford those property taxes?

  2. As alluring as the great north is, you should look into West Michigan. Business is healthier here than the east side of the state, and you have many lifestyle options, as you call them. Get the hipster life by living in East Town or Heritage Hill; enjoy the suburbs of East Grand Rapids, Kentwood or Cascade; or enjoy the quiet life the rural communities have to offer. The best part: Lake Michigan beaches are never more than an hour away.

  3. I'd have a summer home in Michigan, which, as you stated, leaves me with the choice of where. And, really, I'd want to buy up one of the houses on my parents block. However, I have been spoiled greatly with the weather of the south, and further south. I love the snow, but would prefer it sparsley rationed.

  4. Great comments all. Cori, you are right, I need to learn more about western Michigan. I am going to look into posting a map that everyone can comment on where they would move if they had total freedom. I think that could be a cool indicator of where the "future" of Michigan is.