Life in Wichita, Kansas

Wichita, Kansas, even in the depths of an ice storm, has been a reasonably pleasant place to hang out.  The folks at the airport Hilton are much friendlier than any of my friends in Boston.  The price of a room ($94/night) is probably less than what I spend keeping my apartment heated, cooled, Internetted, lighted, insured, taxed, and maintained.  The restaurants have been good.  There are no traffic jams.  We went to the local health club, Genesis, with a fantastic array of machines, an indoor running track, a spacious free weight area, racquetball courts, a 25 yard pool, a huge hot tub, a sauna, a steam room, a pool for water aerobics, and a Swim-Ex treadmill pool.  Unlike the $50 million, $900/year MIT gym, the Genesis club provides soap in the showers.  In fact, the club provides shampoo, shaving cream, deodorant, and a bunch of other items from dispensers.  The cost to enjoy this luxurious retreat?  $40 per month.

All is not rosy in Wichita, however.  One guy in the Cessna sales department told us that the nicest part of the city was just north of downtown.  “I’d like to live there, but no way would I be willing to pay the outrageous price of a house there.”  What does it cost to buy into Wichita’s most happening neighborhood?  “You could be looking at as much as $160,000 for a house there.”

18 Comments

  1. BWJones

    December 11, 2007 @ 2:19 am

    1

    I suppose it is all a matter of perspective. I’ve turned down job offers at Stanford and other places because of the high cost of housing, but I guess it depends upon what percentage of your income you are used to devoting to those investments and what the other benefits are. However, the educational system in Kansas does leave something to be desired…

  2. michael slater

    December 11, 2007 @ 7:13 am

    2

    Oh please… Wichita sucks sucks sucks. I lived there for close to a year in 1996.

    What’s it like for a 24yo male to work in Wichita?

    The main employers are a military base and a couple airplane manufacturers. Imagine the demographics — how many single girls floating around in a crowd like that.

    Fall asleep after work, but before dinner, waking up at, say, 9pm? Good luck finding dinner at anything other than gross 24-hour restaurants that are pale imitations even of “Denny’s”.

    I have never felt more damned than when I left my crappy apartment at 7am to go to work in January. It was still dark outside, the ambient temperature was 0, and the wind hit me straight on at what must have been 35knots. It was the closest thing to waterboarding that I’ve ever experienced.

    The only good thing about working in Wichita is that it sucks so bad all I could do was work like a dog, which got me promotions, which got me moved overseas.

  3. tony

    December 11, 2007 @ 11:27 am

    3

    Have you read Rich Karlgaard’s book Life 2.0 yet? He talks all about living in these smaller towns and the benefits of getting paid in the big city where salaries are high and spending your money in the small towns where things are cheap. I bet you can’t get a small condo in Boston for 160K. By the way Karlgaard is also a Cirrus pilot and an editor at Forbes.

  4. twig

    December 11, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

    4

    I live in kansas, northeast actually, and despite being flyover country, it’s not half bad here.

    Glad you’re having a nice, if icy, stay in our state. We’re not all nutjobs. ;)

  5. Frank L

    December 11, 2007 @ 1:33 pm

    5

    As someone said above, it’s all a matter of perspective. The coastal metropolitan areas (and other big metro areas like Chicago) are terrific if you’re young, are looking for a lot of intellectual and cultural (and other) stimulation, and you have a job that pays well enough to keep you in the clover and not at starvation level.

    But the coastal metropolitan areas are also overpriced, think too highly of themselves, and are virtual factories of anomie. After a while, unless you really thrive on that atmosphere and can’t imagine living anywhere else, that life becomes hard to sustain.

    The so-called “flyover states” have a great deal to recommend themselves. There are also trade-offs, just as there are in the coastal metros. If you live in a coastal metro area and are used to a certain political ideology and finding people and media outlets that buttress that ideology, on balance, you’re going to find yourself feeling more isolated in many communities in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Idaho, etc. — even in larger cities. This is also true (to use a broad generalization) in many states where there is a sustained cultural divide between coastal areas and inland areas — living in Spokane is certifiably not like living in Seattle, and living in Fresno is certifiably not the same as living in San Francisco.

  6. K

    December 11, 2007 @ 5:04 pm

    6

    The other issue is that mobility is a one-way street. You can move to a “low cost of living area” ONCE in your life, and you’re done. Try selling your $160k house and going back to the coasts: not going to happen. By contrast, a coastal person can always cash out

    There’s also the impact on “the children.” In a one-horse town (though perhaps not Wichita?), a teenager cannot simply hop the subway and go to an important museum, concert (popular or classical), major-league sporting event. Either Mom & Dad must chauffeur him/her to an Approved Activity like Youth Group or a movie, or he/she will discover the joys of meth and other illegal drugs.

    I suspect (upper middle class) urban teens often enter college with about a 5 year maturity lead on their peers from Flyoverburbia.

  7. Stan

    December 12, 2007 @ 3:30 am

    7

    Brilliant idea, separating the “aquarobics” people from the swimmers so the swimming pool doesn’t have to be heated to 80 degrees.

  8. Stan

    December 12, 2007 @ 3:35 am

    8

    “Urban teens often enter college with about a 5 year maturity lead on their peers from Flyoverburbia.” Bug or feature? It’s not so clear to me.

    “Good luck finding dinner at anything other than gross 24-hour restaurants.” They have grocery stores and bookstores that sell cookbooks, don’t they? Learn to cook.

  9. R

    December 12, 2007 @ 12:31 pm

    9

    My wife, 14-month-old and I recently moved to Omaha. She doesn’t work, but I get paid fairly well as a project manager for an engineering firm. The nice thing about cheaper living out here is the impact on the kids. For instance, I could more easily take up flying and show the kid around the country. Sure I could drive him everywhere if we lived back east, but what fun would that be? Flying out here is considerably cheaper than on the coast.

  10. K

    December 12, 2007 @ 8:18 pm

    10

    Stan, I’d call it a feature. I said “maturity,” as in “the state of not being childish.”

    I don’t think that the sexual and substance experience of a typical freshman from Wichita is significantly less than a New Yorker. You may believe it, but I don’t think statistics would bear it out. The New Yorker, however, may have a better understanding of the world, his place in it, the relative outcomes of different courses of study, and much greater savoir fair in matters both social and professional.

    I’ve heard of and known plenty of flyover teens with substance abuse problems. My assertion is that a rich urban area gives positive alternatives. What else is there to do in West Toadsuck Ferry, Arkansas besides experiment with sex and drugs and reckless driving?

  11. Jon

    December 12, 2007 @ 10:42 pm

    11

    This article is so true. I used to live in Boston and now I live in Illinois. Life is 10X better here and people are extremely friendly.

  12. Mark

    December 13, 2007 @ 3:16 am

    12

    Dear K,
    As a long-time single guy who has dated a veritable corncopia of younger, college-aged ladies (18-25) from both the metro areas who have had affluent families and the poor girls from the rural sticks as well, I can say with certainty that (from my experience) you are sorely mistaken about the upper middle class, metro kids being more “mature”. (I read alot but seldom truly laugh out loud at anything, but the rich metro kids haing the “5 year maturity lead” and “not being childish” quotes did the trick. Thanks!) Totally, totally the opposite has been my experiences with this age of young adults.
    Most big city young ladies I’ve known who had rich or upper middle class parents were usually so spoiled that the first few nights away from mommy, daddy and their black card resulted in pretty big shock. Then sometimes absolute furor would set in when they discovered that they must actually fend for themselves (at least until the weekend, when they get their $1,000 care package). The poor rural kids absolutely get a big dose of culture shock for certain, but they usually acted much more “mature” than most of the up-scale city kids tended to be. Particularly when they are on their own and fending for themselves.
    I never found monetary levels and cultural experiences to be consistently commensurate with maturity levels among young adults.
    I’d love to hear your experiences, since they seem to be a true 180 from my own.
    PS
    I think if you Google drug use among teens you’ll see a heavy usage level comes from kids with affluent families and big city teens in particular.
    It takes money to buy the dope, you know.
    Best Regards,
    Mark

  13. K

    December 13, 2007 @ 5:15 pm

    13

    Mark,

    I envy your success with the ladies.

    It seems like we need a way to separate the variables of geography, parental wealth, and intelligence as measured by going to a semi-elite university (and geography is actually two variables: size of town and region).

    I will say that maturity is definitely correlated with the quality of college attended (my hunch is that that’s the job of an admissions counselor’s job is largely assessing maturity). But I will defer to your experience of the super-rich spoiling their kids. I really got a negative view of Bush bimbo on the Ellen Degenres show with her “the best day of your life, Daddy” and “I’m afraid I won’t get any Christmas presents.” But Texanness is also correlated with spoiling girls especially, not to mention the super-rich family.

    I still think people who grow up upper-middle-class-but-not spoiled may be better off in a big city than in the sticks, but maybe not. I’ve also been impressed by people from small towns (outside the South, that is).

    As to the drug thing, I knew plenty of teenage recovering alcoholics in flyover country (and they were classmates at a religious school, not because I “hung around with the wrong crowd”).

  14. K

    December 13, 2007 @ 5:15 pm

    14

    PS: The Meth epidemic was not an urban phenomenon.

  15. Cody

    December 20, 2007 @ 1:28 pm

    15

    Philip,

    It looks like your summary of my housing situation generated a lot of interest, not only related to housing costs, but to the differences in culture between the midwest and the coasts. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s comments.

    There are obviously areas of Wichita where the homes run in the millions, but being fresh out of college and dependent solely upon myself for income, my means were only able to procure a modest 120K home. I can only assume that my same house in Cambridge would run over 700K, or even more.

    I grew up in rural Oklahoma and loved my childhood. My summers were spent riding my bike, building forts in the woods, and hiking up creeks. I was never taken to an opera, a musical, or anything else culturally stimulating. Everything changed when I went to college. I love musicals, art galleries, foreign cultures …

    I have to agree with many of the comments left by others. Meth and drugs are all too frequent in small, midwestern towns. Nearly all of my extended family have ruined their lives with meth. It is certainly a tragic truth, and it was difficult watching my cousins sink their lives in such an avoidable manner.

    I look forward to reading more comments about the differences between flyover country and the coasts. If I’m ever in BED, I’ll touch base with you and you can show me around.

  16. James G.

    January 22, 2008 @ 7:08 pm

    16

    This is a good relaxed small city. Safer than most. If you need to see the ocean or a bunch of bright lights, take a flight to LA, NYC, or Vegas. Meth labs well we in the Sherriffs Dept. go and bust them. Fun if you ever been on a raid. Come see my home. I have a great house and for the cost, you will not find that much of a house in the bigger citys. GENESIS HEALTH CLUBS, the best per cost. They give alot for the cost. Go to the Rock road location. In Chicago you will spend $125 a month they are only $59 a month. THIS IS A STEAL if you care about your health.
    We are no “major” city but some of us that reside here are educated, and yea, no museum, concerts, stuff like that to really brag about but the people I know are truely happy. Thats what counts. Heres one for you big city folk: AHHHHHH HAAAAAAA KANSAS! Yea, I knew you’d like that one. “Acta Non Verba”

  17. d

    July 28, 2008 @ 8:12 pm

    17

    I lived in Wichita my whole life. I also complained my whole about how much I hated it there. So when i was 21 i had my chance to leave and took it. I have now been away for 6 years . I have lived in NJ, Honolulu, San Francisco, the Oregon Coast and have spent a lot of time in Seattle.
    I am pleased to say that I will be moving back to Wichita in 09. I was excited to be gone for about the first 2-3 years. Then I started seeing the flaws of other cities. I never had any problems with the other cities(money, friends, entertainment), but the longer i was away the more i understood that Wichita has something unique. I can’t put into words what it is. but i think if you keep an open mind and move away you will see it too.

    My advice to people who complain is simple. Leave! It’s that easy, leave! You might come to the same conclusion I did and come back or you might find somewhere else you like better. It does no good to stay and complain. If you are in Wichita and complaining you are simply scared.

  18. Jordon

    February 13, 2010 @ 2:02 am

    18

    I live in Wichita, Kansas and have for most of my life. Actually, a smaller town called Wellington which is about 35 miles south of Wichita. It really is not too bad here..It is a city with a small town feel. Seems as if our economy is more stable than most others. I have traveled abroad even though I am only 19 years old. Been in Tampa, LA, Denver, Dallas, and I can honestly say I prefer Wichita…As for the ladies, that is what college is for…And i go to Butler which has an endless supply for me…Bring them to the house in bunches and bam…Wichita has all i need.

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