Ask yourself: What do I need?
Dr. Löw says you should start by asking yourself one question: Do you want the city to reflect your own character traits, or complement them? An extroverted, hyper-energetic person may not be best served by a city that replicates those qualities, like New York or Tokyo, for example. That individual might be better suited to a smaller, less hectic city, like Lisbon, which could act as a counterbalance.
Dr. Ellard said what you want or need from a city may also change with age. What you crave from a place at the age of 25 is probably different from what you want from a city when you’re in your 50s and expecting just one city to fulfill a person for their entire life might not be realistic. Dr. Helliwell agreed with this, observing that the older a person was, the more important deriving a sense of belonging from a place was (he pointed out that younger people might well derive much of their sense of belonging from their place of work, university or the communities surrounding their children’s school). He has observed that in places with lower population densities, inhabitants tend to be longer rooted in their communities, thus increasing the chances of those in the community growing more attached to each other.
Don’t overlook local “sexual identity cultures”
Japonica Brown-Saracino, a professor of sociology at Boston University, interviewed 170 lesbian, bisexual and queer women who had moved to coastal, progressive cities — Ithaca, N.Y., San Luis Obispo, Calif., Portland, Me., and Greenfield, Mass. — for her book, “How Places Make Us.” Although her findings can’t be applied uniformly across genders and locations, Dr. Brown-Saracino observed radically different sexual identities in each city. The four small cities all have growing lesbian populations, according to census data, but different identities. In Ithaca most people seemed post-identity politics, preferring to define themselves in terms of their job or their hobbies or their children rather than via sexuality. This was in contrast to Portland, where hyphenated sexual and gender identities took center stage.
However, she observed interviewees subconsciously adjusting their sense of self to the environment they had moved to. Back in Brooklyn, the same interviewee had primarily identified as a lesbian and had only socialized with other lesbians, but in Ithaca she found herself spending much of her time hanging out with straight men in a bar downtown. Only after moving did her interviewees realize how significant these differences were, which occasionally led to feelings of disappointment or loneliness.
To get a well-rounded view of the city, she recommends checking out local publications online and trying to meet as many groups of people when visiting, rather than sticking to specific scenes, neighborhoods or friend groups.
Put safety first
Jan Miles, who documents incidents of racism across the country from 2013 to 2016 in “The Post-Racial Negro Green Book,” said to do research before relocating. She recommends checking out mappingpoliceviolence.org — a website that filters incidents of violence across the United States according to race, gender and year, among other factors — and looking at political representation, both on a national and a state level, to see how diverse the politicians representing you are. She also suggests you look into whether the state the city is in has passed legislation about voting rights that aims to limit or dilute the political influence of voters of color.