The Best Place to Live in the US During the Climate Crisis

It may not be where you expect

Photo: Martin Edic

The checklist is daunting:

  • Plenty of fresh water
  • No forest fires
  • No hurricanes
  • Extremely rare and small tornados
  • Great air quality
  • Easily accessible
  • No earthquakes (why avoid climate change if you’re going to have your world shaken to pieces?)
  • No volcanos (see above)
  • Enough elevation above sea level
  • Affordable
  • Surrounded by beautiful scenery, vineyards, and rolling hills with jewel-like lakes (hey why not?)

When you start applying criteria like these the search becomes extremely narrow and limited. Add in clean cities with a lot of culture and it narrows even more. In fact you may wonder if such a place exists.

It does and I know because through an accident of birth, I live there. And lest you think this is a pitch for tourist travel and growth, bear in mind that I love California and the West Coast and always dreamed of living there. But it is not viable on many of these levels and getting worse every day, unfortunately. Ditto for so many of the former dream spots to live. Southwest? Hot, hot, hot. Dry, dry, dry. Florida? Flat, in hurricane alley, about a foot above sea level almost everywhere, no fresh water as oceans rise. Mid-Atlantic? Have you noticed all that constant footage of flooding and tornados? Midwest?

You get the idea. So, where is this paradise? It’s called Western NY, which for non-New Yorkers is not Downstate (NYC and Long Island) or Upstate (Catskills and Hudson Valley), though many refer to it as that. Western NY is west of the Catskills, bordered by Lake Ontario and Lake Erie on the north and Pennsylvania to the south. It contains three mid-sized cities, Syracuse, Rochester (my home), and Buffalo, along with the beautiful Finger Lakes Wine Region where vineyard land prices have risen tenfold (mostly because of buying by West Coast wine producers) and Canandaigua Lake, now the most expensive freshwater real estate in the US, having surpassed Lake Tahoe.

Rochester has seventeen universities and colleges, including Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) with its computer science, animation, and game development programs, and the University of Rochester with a major medical school and research center at URMed. One of the top three music schools in the country, maybe the world, The Eastman School of Music, and a huge cultural scene seeded over a hundred years ago by the millions (today equivalent: billions) of George Eastman, founder of Kodak, which once employed 165,000 (run into the ground by new tech and abysmal management).

It’s not a rust belt city

But all of this seeded an outburst of technology companies based on a highly educated population with an emphasis on engineering and science. We were never a blue collar town or a union town because workers here were generally treated so well that organizers couldn’t get a foothold. Nor are we a rust belt city because we never were reliant on coal or steel, unlike our close neighbor Buffalo.

Fresh water, a lot of fresh water

And let’s not forget we border on the largest body of freshwater on the planet, the Great Lakes. I had a college buddy from downstate who didn’t believe you could not see across Lake Ontario, whose shore was a few steps from my childhood home, because it was called a lake. I had to show him in person why it is technically an inland sea, more than eighty-five miles across from Rochester to Canada. Did I mention World Cup sailing?

The downside (no place is perfect)

This is not an economic development brochure. We have a major racial divide in a city with a majority black and latino population, mostly living in poverty. K-12 education in urban areas is among the worst in the nation. Real estate prices were stagnant for 40 years, though they are now rising rapidly (wonder why?). I should mention that NY has so far beaten back COVID 19 more successfully than anywhere in the country after a horrendous beginning (humble brag- we are disciplined, but I hope I’m not jinxing us!).

Why am I writing this? Why let the secret out? Look around you. As this is written there are over 500 deadly fires in California. We are seeing two hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, an event not previously recorded in modern times. Death Valley measured the highest temp ever record on Earth. A derecho ‘land hurricane’ has devastated crops across the Midwest. And that is just this year, actually this month (August 2020). This is about both survival and quality of life. Not having your house periodically burned, flooded or blown to pieces by wind. Not rationing water. Not worrying about things like mudslides (a catastrophe I left out in my list above) or dust storms.

As I mentioned, real estate prices are rising rapidly, bringing rents closer to big cities. Taxes are frankly insane. Oh, and what about our dreaded winters? Let me address that frankly. We average 100” of snow annually. That’s a lot. But the nature of these winters has changed in my lifetime. When I was a kid in the seventies they were colder and more consistently colder with that snow piling up over time. Blizzards were more common, a lot more common. The presence of those big bodies of cold water greatly contributed to that.

But those lakes are getting warmer, like everything else, and it is moderating the winter. Temps seesaw from day to day but average higher. That seesawing means the snow cover melts between falls, so we have many days without snow on the ground. It’s still winter and it can still suck, believe me I know. But nobody ever mentions how incredible our other three seasons are. And how amazingly lush it is here. There is a ninth floor rooftop bar in my neighborhood and when you look down on our city from that height, it looks like a forest with buildings.

I can go on and on. I love my town and my state but I love a lot of places. I just can’t think of too many with the natural advantages we have in a rapidly warming world. Actually I can’t think of any in the US. Did I mention that if the projected Yellowstone volcano erupts, as it is due to, that we lose the entire Pacific Northwest to tsunamis…?

Have a nice day. It’s gorgeous and calm here.

Former software marketer. Former musician. Writer, nine non-fiction books, two novels, Buddhist, train lover. Amateur cook, lover of life most of the time!

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