Having moved into our Chapel Hill home nearly a month ago, I now have some reasonably concrete thoughts about life here. The biggest impression made on me so far is the area’s dichotomy between being a large metropolitan area of two million people but having a really small town feel.
Durham may feel a little more like a bustling city and Raleigh surely does, but Chapel Hill feels like a sleepy college town out in the country. There is low enough light pollution that the stars are dazzling at night even when we just step out on our deck. The area is densely forested – so much so that our home feels like a tree house – and everywhere you look is green, green, green. When we take Max for a walk it isn’t uncommon for us to encounter deer roaming around the neighborhood. Max really, really wants to volunteer to help keep the deer population in check.
The green feel translates to the people as well. There are farmers markets available every day of the week and they are full of fresh, local, natural foods. Recycling is a big deal here too and it is actually illegal to throw away some recyclable materials. People are very active so I have joined several hiking meetup groups to meet others and explore the natural beauty all around.
Despite this small town, country feel, we are a 20 minute drive away from a major international airport (Raleigh-Durham), 15 minutes away from the largest research park in the country (Research Triangle Park), and very near multiple hubs of startup activity. I’ve found the people here to be very friendly and welcoming, not just on a personal level but also in providing access to the business community.
The area reminds me of Houston in many ways. Many of the locals seem to be non-natives, having moved here for school or work. This endows the region with a strong diversity of culture, opinion, and industry interest. Like Houston, the area also has incredibly low cost of living, which extends from the low real estate prices to the multitude of inexpensive, healthy, delicious food options.
In some ways, however, Chapel Hill is completely unlike Houston. At least twice since we moved in the temperature has reached down into the 60s F at night – don’t they know it’s August?? And, although people here complain about traffic, they apparently have no idea what real traffic is. I’ve been out on the major through-ways during what passes for rush hour here and you almost wouldn’t know that you were driving during a peak time.
On the subject of transportation, there is very good public transportation here. The municipal buses run all over the place (with UNC Chapel Hill as the main hub) all day and are completely free. Katie and I are now a single car family (I have left my car in Houston because I am still spending so much time there.) and, even so, her car doesn’t get much use. She is able to walk and/or take the bus to school and I can bus around to most places as well.
There are many aspects of the area that we still haven’t explored. For example, there is a thriving craft beer scene here that I would love to get to know. A few hours to our west is great mountain hiking and a few hours to our east are some good beaches – hopefully we will have a chance to check those out soon.
In the meantime I’m still spending a great deal of time in Houston, which reduces my bandwidth for North Carolina exploration. I’m teaching two entrepreneurship courses at Rice University this semester and steering my Houston-based startup through a critical ramp up to product launch. Still, the little bit I’ve experienced of the Triangle so far has me quite impressed.