By the time I graduated college, I had lived in 12 different cities. Three of those were out of the country, and none of them were in Iowa. Let’s just say, living in Iowa was low on my list of “things to do.”
I’ve lived in trendy southern cities (Howdy, Austin!), beautiful German cities (Hallo, Heidelberg!), and even our nation’s capital (Hey, D.C.!). So why am I now choosing to say Hello, Des Moines? Here are the top five reasons Des Moines has captured my heart — and might just capture yours too.
1. It’s not popular
It seems like everyone I know is moving from Austin to Portland or Portland to Austin. Millennials are on the hunt for a trendy city that will help them figure out who they are. Austin is weird, so if you move there, you might just become a laid-back yet knowledgeable hipster with insightful views on literature and a knack for knowing where all the “secret shows” are during SXSW — right? Or maybe if you move to Portland you’ll develop a chic way to wear flannel while hiking with your dog and discussing climate change with your group of socially aware friends.
All snark aside, Austin and Portland are two of my favorite cities — but they already have their thing. Des Moines is just coming into its own. There are boundless opportunities here to develop and define yourself along with the city. When you move here, no one expects you to fit a certain vibe, you’re free to find your niche and do your own thing. And, fortunately, while the city isn’t seeing newcomers at astronomical rates, its steady millennial growth ensures years of progress to come.
2. It’s active
Des Moines might not be in the “Top 5 most active cities” list, but there is a direct correlation between the three half-marathons I’ve run since moving to Iowa and living in Des Moines. The city is covered with well-tended and thoughtful running trails that sidle along the river and weave through parks and downtown. You can’t go outside on a sunny day without being passed by a runner, a biker, or someone trying to make rollerblading a thing again.
Not only is everyone around you active, but they throw massive parties to celebrate being active. Take Dam to Dam, an all-volunteer-coordinated half-marathon. The incredibly popular race ends in a multi-block party in downtown Des Moines that will make even the least active person want to join in (ex: me three years ago). Not a runner? Then you’ve probably heard of RAGBRAI — the largest bike-touring event in the world, which crosses the state from west to east on a new route every year. I hear they know how to party too.
3. It’s cheap
Ok, yes, if you are really concerned about cost of living you could head back to your small hometown and pay $500 a month to rent a three-bedroom house. Then you could look down from your pile of money at everyone you know who pays quadruple that for a studio in Manhattan.
But you couldn’t look too far down your nose at those of us living in Des Moines, since a spacious one-bedroom apartment averages only $860 a month. Seriously. I live in a newly renovated historic building in downtown with a two-minute bike ride to work and easy access to a grocery store and any number of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops — and I can walk to a touring Broadway show on a Saturday night.
4. It’s easy to get out of
Des Moines is great and all, but sometimes you need to get out of town. Growing up moving every two years instilled in me a pretty deep need to travel regularly. When I was living in Austin, it took me six hours just to get out of the state. Now, I can be in three different major cities in less than three — Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Omaha. A weekend road trip to Chicago is never out of the question. And for longer trips, I can Uber to the airport in ten minutes or less.
5. It’s like everywhere else
If there’s one thing I’ve learned after living around the world, it’s that people are all the same. Everywhere you go you’re going to encounter the same kinds of people, whether they speak your language or not. Everyone wants the same basic things out of life, and I’d argue that every city is nearly the same for it. I’ve met the same kinds of genuine, interesting, cultured people in Des Moines, Iowa, that I knew in Heidelberg, Germany, Washington D.C., and Harker Heights, Texas.
A city is what you make of it, and I’m glad to make Des Moines mine.