Where would I go?
There are definitely candidates I like. Austin, Texas has been one… so have San Francisco and San Diego, California. Maybe even somewhere like Helsinki, Finland if I could make it work. But lately I’ve also been drawn closer to home… and considering Denton, Texas. I lived there briefly in the early 1990s and have been visiting quite a bit lately, drawn in by its eclectic residents and bygone-era charm.
Denton sits quietly about 38 miles north of Fort Worth. As Wikipedia describes it,
Denton is a city in the U.S. state of Texas and the county seat of Denton County. As of the 2010 United States Census, its population was 113,383, making it the 27th most populous city in Texas and the 11th-largest city in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex.
One detail I like is that population size. Compare that 100K+ to Fort Worth’s nearly 800 thousand and Dallas’ 1.2 million. Denton feels friendly, unhurried, content.
Following are some details.
It’s a true college town in every sense, and if you drop in to any of the downtown eating/drinking establishments, you’ll see that reflected in the patronage. But while attendance can skew young, I find a general welcoming acceptance in town. At 53 I often feel like “the old guy out” at many meetups around DFW, yet I’ve never felt that at Denton gatherings. There’s a refreshing lack of pretension, and in the ubiquitous purple hair, piercings and tattoos you find people feeling perfectly free to flaunt Texas convention. I’ve shown up at events in attire ranging from typical cowboy to misplaced beach bum and feel right at home every time.
Music and other arts are big in my life, and I’m drawn to cities where creativity is cultivated and cherished. Denton is known worldwide for its music heritage, and that extends to the arts in general. In addition to a growing number of live music venues, two popular music festivals are 35 Denton (which rivals South by Southwest) and the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival. One element I appreciate of these events is the commitment to funneling proceeds to relevant needs, as the DAJF website asserts:
The Festival Foundation uses proceeds from booth rentals and concession sales to support the arts throughout the city of Denton. Arts facilities, service organizations, and preservation projects have all been the recipients of the proceeds from past events, in addition to public art for the enjoyment of all.
I’m also impressed with the drive of local artists and technicians to join the maker movement. The Denton Maker Collective began with a bang, experiencing an impressive ~70 attendees at its first exploratory meetup. As a maker myself I feel at home in this developing community of passionate people, and have committed to helping them get established.
Denton is home to two fine universities, the University of North Texas and Texas Women’s University. Given the fairly low population size, both determine and dominate local culture, particularly UNT. From Wikipedia:
The University of North Texas (UNT), based in Denton, is a public institution of higher education and research committed to a wide array of sciences, engineering fields, liberal arts, fine arts, performing arts, humanities, public policy, and graduate professional education.
Texas Women’s University is smaller and lesser-known than its Mean Green neighbor, but don’t underestimate its importance and impact. Here’s its Wikipedia synopsis:
Texas Woman’s University (historically the College of Industrial Arts and Texas State College for Women, commonly known as TWU) is a co-educational university in Denton, Texas, United States with two health science center branches in Dallas and Houston.
In 1950, TWU became the first nationally accredited nursing program in the state, and that legacy continues today. Despite the name, men have been attending since 1972, particularly for TWU’s health sciences offerings.
Like its larger cousin Austin to the south, Denton leans more liberal than most Texas cities. Many people I know there identify more as libertarian, but they’re supportive of issues typically (and often inappropriately) tagged as liberal. This includes the environment, as evidenced by the citizens’ resounding rejection of fracking in their city and widespread support of sustainable greenery techniques like xeriscaping and permaculture.
Citizens don’t shy away from constructive activism, and look to local leaders like city council member Kevin Roden to maintain and enhance the characteristics that make Denton unique.
It’s impossible to discuss Denton’s job situation without mentioning its largest private-sector corporate citizen, trucking giant Peterbilt. It’s a formidable company but has occasionally reduced employee count in recent years, leading to uncertainty among the ranks. Still, workers tend to rate it well.
At a recent citizen’s forum, white-collar work was high on the minds of attendees. While Denton enjoys a large percentage of independent business owners and freelancers, that’s not for everyone. In many conversations I’ve heard regret over the shortage of higher-paying jobs with benefits. Denton needs to tread carefully here, attracting more “Peterbilts” but naturally balancing that need against the importance of not altering the cultural landscape.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is also a significant employer in Denton County, and frequently posts high-wage openings.
One item of note: Denton County currently enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in its group.
I definitely intend to keep Denton on my shortlist. True, it’s missing the hills and ocean of my beloved hometown San Diego, and the white-collar work situation has room to improve, but the city possesses many attractive qualities. One is that it’s within easy driving distance of my current home, which allows me to visit often and check out housing and employment opportunities. If I stay in Texas, and want the Austin artistic charm without the Roundrock crowds, Denton certainly fits the bill.