Global Warming: These Northern Cities Offer Attractive Refuge
Away from heat and floods, low-cost and often highly educated
It’s the #1 emerging metropolitan area in the U.S. It’s #2 in terms of best green cities. And it’s the #3 most-secure small town in America. But the weather’s crummy. Do you move there?
It’s a question increasing numbers of Americans – and, likely, immigrants – will be asking in the decades ahead as climate change transforms the economy, habitability and landscape of America and much of the world.
That’s the conclusion of a comprehensive atlas compiled by the McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design. The atlas – called the 2100 Project – set out to ask big questions that are unsettling to many in politics and society: “What will be lost – economically, culturally, psychologically, physically – should the climate crisis continue unabated?”
The economic portion of that question ultimately gets to geography. Assuming temperatures and sea levels continue rising, various parts of the U.S. will become physically uninhabitable because they’ll be underwater. Other areas will likely struggle as their local economies, often tied to agriculture, increasingly confront weather conditions inhospitable to crops and livestock.
Which brings us back to the emerging metro area that’s safe and green, albeit home to lousy winters.
It’s Ithaca, New York.
The 2100 Project’s zone inhabits a fairly thin band that stretches the breadth of the U.S./Canada border where, the report predicts, local economies will flourish in the decades to come, even as much of America racks up economic and population losses due to changes in the local climate.
Already, some forward-thinking cities are looking ahead to what’s likely. Buffalo, New York, Mayor Byron Brown labeled his town a “Climate Refuge City” in his 2019 state of the city address, and is pushing to make the city attractive to climate migrants.
That’s a thought-provoking concept: a climate refuge city. If you recognize fundamental changes are afoot, do you try to exploit those changes – and, if so, how?
Real estate is an obvious play.
Across that beneficial band, several cities already exhibit certain characteristics that will attract migrants – superior education, affordable living, a pleasant quality of life, moderate to low housing costs.
Let’s start with Ithaca
Home to Cornell University, two of every three residents hold a bachelor's degree, double the national average. The city spends more than $21,000 annually per student at the K-12 level. The U.S. averages just under $12,400.
AreaVibes.com, which measures livability, gives Ithaca a 68 on a 100 scale. The site dings Ithaca for weather (D-) and cost of living (D+), because Ithaca’s in line with the U.S. average. Median home value is $241,000, above the $205,000 national median, but super-cheap if you’re relocating from a coastal metro area.
In the city of Stephen King, median home value is just under $151,000. Cost of living is about 17% lower than the U.S. average.
Educational spending and the proportion of bachelor’s degrees among the population are right at the national average. With 33,000 residents, Bangor is small, manageable and quaint in a quintessential, small town America way. It already rates among the top 100 cities to live in America, giving it a profile that will attract migrants.
Keene, New Hampshire
Keene is another small New England college town with a high “quaint” factor with a larger percentage of bachelor’s degree holders than the national average, and student spending exceeds $17,200 annually.
Median housing costs are under $190,000. And Keene’s location near the White and Green mountain ranges means the town will likely lure the outdoorsy type.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grand Rapids regularly appears on lists of best places to live in the U.S. and best places to retire. And on AreaVibes it’s ranked #2 most secure among large cities, #15 for a healthy retirement, #18 for most comfortable summers, and #19 among best cities for tele-workers.
Grand Rapid median housing price is just $131,700, with a cost of living that’s 12% below the national average. The city spends well above the national average on education, and the percentage of the population with a bachelor’s degree is just above the national average.
All of that – along with a local arts scene and abundant outdoor-living opportunities – helps explain why Newsweek ranked Grand Rapids #3 for best quality of life.
Cool. Cold. Very cold. Freezing.
The four seasons in Duluth.
And yet, the city on the southwestern shores of Lake Superior ranks as one of the likeliest destinations for climate migrants.
Duluth median home prices, at just over $157,000, are well below the nation as a whole. Cost of living is nearly 15% below the national average. Educational spending is high at more than $17,000 per student. The proportion of bachelor’s degrees within the local population is above the national average.
So, a 2014 survey from the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research labeled Duluth one of the happiest cities in the U.S. Harvard climate scientist Jesse Keenan last year identified Duluth as a potential climate sanctuary. He jokingly told Reuters the city’s ad slogan could be “Duluth: 99% climate-proof.”
Lots of cities have potential. Anacortes, Washington, in the halo of Seattle. Colorado Springs. Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, Idaho, #5 and #10, respectively, on a list of emerging metro areas. Bend, Oregon, with its high livability scores and high educational attainment. Buffalo, #2 among best cities for relocation and #6 most secure. Burlington, Vermont, #1 in green cities, a foodie haven, and a leader in LGBTQ rights.
And, of course, today’s crummy winters in many of these destinations will be tomorrow’s comfortable climate.