I’ve just finished reading Who’s Your City by Richard Florida and, in short, it strikes me as intuitively about right. The essence of the book is that where you live is as important a choice as what your job is or who your partner is. Additionally Florida argues that the creative economy is making the world more ‘spiky’ – that individuals in particular sectors cluster together and for the best career prospects you need to be where these clusters are.

Reading the book now has helped me try to structure my own thoughts about these matters. For the last two and a half years I’ve lived mostly in Brussels with plenty of time also spent in London for work. Now it’s high time that something changes. That might not necessarily mean a change of home city, but freelance web design and EU politics training based in Brussels is not working. I’ve not found the creative kick I need in the political web design arena here and the practical EU training is not as challenging or fun as it once was. I first blogged about these dilemmas in January – this post is a more detailed follow up. If I am to move it would be from sometime this coming summer.

There’s also a common misconception among friends about my work – because I do web strategy and web design plenty of people assume I can do the work from anywhere. Yes, that’s true, I can work from anywhere, but I cannot get work anywhere. Because the work I get is all thanks to word of mouth, via people I meet at events, colleagues of colleagues etc. I need to be based in a place where the market for political websites is strong and vibrant.

First of all, what are the options?

Brussels, London and Berlin are the obvious possibilities. I always enjoy time I spend in Germany, but is there any city other than Berlin worth living in? Nordic cities (Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm) are organised and creative, but also rather closed and I don’t speak the languages. Same applies to Netherlands. USA and Canada are, for now, simply too unfathomable, and I crave order and Ordnung too much to contemplate France, Spain or Italy.

Running these cities through Florida’s Place Finder comes up with the following scores: London – 70, Berlin – 67, other Nordic or German city – between 55 and 62, and Brussels – 47.

London - CC / FlickrLondon wins hands down in terms of quality of the job market. The market for political web design and strategy is vast, and I am already well connected in the relevant sector. Being based there also keeps the door to future party political engagement open. There is also the possible side line of EU training there. English is my mother tongue, and I have a decent number of good friends there. Conversely, finding a decent place to live in London is hellish, and escape from the pressure of the city is not easy, and I would be more dependent on planes if and when I need to really escape the city.

Berlin - CC / FlickrBerlin wins enormously when it comes to quality of life. Ever since I lived there for a short while in 2001/2 I’ve longed to return. It’s historic and modern, brilliant flats to live in don’t cost the earth, there’s abundant green space, and I have almost as many friends there as I do in London. But what would I do there? The city has a sky-high unemployment rate, and there seem to be more web agencies than there is work for them to all do. I speak German, but I don’t write it flawlessly. Any prospect of party political engagement is more complex than London, but not out of the question. But might I end up there and have no cash and insufficient work to do?

Oslo - CC / FlickrOther Nordic, German or Dutch cities are some sort of balance between the pros and cons of London and Berlin, and perhaps present more tricky challenges than either. The nature around Oslo or Stockholm might be stunning, but could I see myself living in cities that geographically far from the European mainstream? Conversely there remains the prospect that an interesting project or job might attract me to one of those cities, but that’s a rather distant prospect.

Brussels - CC / FlickrAnd then there’s Brussels. As an EU and computer nerd it should surely be the perfect place? Work prospects are better than Berlin, but in large part because it takes than less than 2 hours to get to London. Quality of life is better than London, especially when it comes to housing. But the stodgy, unresponsive political environment gives no prospect whatsoever of local political engagement – I’m very much an expat in Brussels. Basic stuff not working, and risking my life every time I cycle are getting me down. Conversely I have more good friends here than I do anywhere else.

And so to the Wikinomics bit… I genuinely don’t know the answer as to what to do, so I’m going to use the wisdom of the crowd people that visit my blog to try to help me answer. Please take a second to vote in the poll below and, if you have brilliant additional suggestions, please comment below!

Where should Jon live from summer 2010 onwards?

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12 Comments

  1. Pingback: Europasionaria » Blog Archive » The mid-mid life crisis of the expat-generation

  2. @Wendy – thanks for the thought provoking comment! Yes there is something that says ‘not London’ in that the place doesn’t give me the feeling of energy, fun, even joy that Berlin does. Maybe it’s just too familiar for me. The housing is a drawback but it’s not the most serious one I think.

    Green space is important, not least because I need a place to go running. Walthamstow and Hackney Marshes in North East London are the best place for that in London at least…

    As for North American cities – I agree that in principle that cities like the ones you mention could be excellent places to live, but the problem is that I’ve never actually visited any of those and would only realistically have the prospect of visiting Boston of the ones on your list before it’s time to make a choice. I would also add Montréal to the list – it’s a place I could see myself living.

  3. Interesting discussion. Based on the “scientific” approach, London was it. But something inside you is telling you “not London” or you would not have posted the blog entry. You mentioned the high cost of housing as one serious drawback.

    It also sounds like you value green space and a chance to escape the city as well as you value all the benefits a city of London offers.

    Not sure why you are against North America, as places like San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto, Denver, Boston would seem to offer what you are looking for (to name a few places): web design clusters; great urban spaces; easy to escape; English speaking; and housing is less expensive than London.

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  5. @Claire / @kattebel – Fair point… I’ll visit Washington for the first time in June, and am at a conference with all the top folks from the US online politics scene in New York just before that. So if those options are workable then I will be able to find out.

    @Marianne – Are you being paid by Manu? But I think I need a city with more everyday, high level politics than that, much as I like Strasbourg as a city.

    @Bente – thanks for the very detailed analysis! You do nail the issue about London – it’s a very big pool to work in, and being able to make some demonstrable change will for sure help. The quick visit I have planned to Oslo in April might help a little. And I can deal with cold, and I do know how to ski 🙂 But sadly I speak next to no Norwegian at the moment.

    @Brusselsblogger – hmmm, yes. And to what extent is all of this just a reflection of the locations of the people who read the blog and comment?

  6. Interesting, currently London, Berlin and Brussels all have exactly 10 votes. Is that what you hoped for? 🙂

  7. Marianne

    Eurodistrikt Strasbourg-Ortenau! You get the German touch the proximity of European politicians during EP weeks, fun local politics, and a challenging cross-border area where the Europe of tomorrow is being built 🙂

    But maybe taking some distance and moving, even temporarily outside Europe, could be salvating. What about joining the democrats team of Organizing for America for a few months?

  8. Only 1 percent has voted Nordic/German city (not me), but I’ll give you some reasons for looking to the North!

    But first – if you want to keep doing what you’re doing, but in another city, you should go to London. I assume you have great opportunities and more than enough contacts to get an interesting and hectic job – even possibilities within party politics, as you say.

    If you want change, real change, you should go the US or Scandinavia. As Kattebel, I would recommend DC, fantastic city for a political geek like you. DC is pale compared to NY (culturally), but for someone interested in politics, media and technology, it is vibrant and kicking and powerful. But it takes some time to get under the skin of the city, you have to be patient with DC.

    If you want to make a difference, you should go to Oslo. You have a unique techpolitics background, as well as your EU knowledge, which is not often found in this city. I’m convinced you will find an interesting way to use your resources (even though I can’t present a concrete job to you at this point), and I’m also equally convinced you can make an impact within the political/tech environment I’m hanging out in.
    Because everything is smaller here, it is possible to start initiatives that will be noticed, in a different way than London.
    Oslo is also a city where you can have a life, in addition to work. Oslo is famous for having rush hour at 15, you can run in the woods, go sailing or play cricket (yes, here are several cricket teams) at 1630, and still have plenty of time for a beer at Mono (my favorite bar). Did I mention that Norway is one of the most gender equal countries in the world – that does actually make a difference in how people behave and interact.

    Oslo drawbacks:
    -If you don’t love skiing, the winter is long and cold. But global warming is helping us out, Ålesund on the west coast will become the new Biarritz!
    – Oslo is expensive – as a tourist. But If you live and work here, your salary is higher than in Brussels.
    – Language. Only Norwegians speak Norwegian. Everyone speaks some level of English here, but if you really want to understand the society, you need to speak the language…
    Not to forget, Norway is not member of the EU (maybe that should be your main focus, to change that fact…)

    Okay, I must admit, I’m paid by the tourist office of Oslo to write this.
    Anyway, you have a tough choice ahead. But focus on people – who do you want to play ball with in the near future.

  9. claire

    All those options are so similar – Challenge yourself, leave Europe!

  10. If you are serious about doing politics, you may want to go back to London – you would just be 2 hours away from us all :).

  11. I, of course would like you to stay in Brussels because it’s fun to have you around but I think you would thrive very well in DC actually. It’s a walhalla for political junkies and there is a ample need for EU training there from institutions, lobby groups, congress etc. It’s not easy to get there and may not be a 2010 project but you should definitely consider it.

  12. Alejandro

    San Francisco:
    – Great quality of life
    – Lots of job opportunities
    – Lots to learn
    – Amazing social network
    – Everybody speaks English
    – Public services are quiet good
    …and the food is fantastic!
    caveats:
    – far from Europe
    Perhaps a city for a couple of years.

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