Blog: What does 'reverse migration' mean for Fort Wayne's culture?

If you asked someone 10 years ago what brought them to San Francisco, you’d often hear a similar response.

They felt like they never really fit in where they came from. So they left their hometown in the Middle of Nowhere, USA, to search for a more fulfilling, authentic life, and they found that life in San Francisco, where they finally had the public acceptance to let their freak flags fly.

While it might sound trite or stereotypical now, this response created an authentic, eclectic culture of artists and out-of-the-box thinkers in my California hometown for years. But in the last five years, I've noticed this culture drastically changing.

These days, the most common response I hear to "Why did you move to San Francisco?" is "Because a tech company hired me.” Even worse, it's usually followed by a tale about how said company lured some bright-eyed, fresh-faced millennial with the promise of a ridiculously high-paying job in the big city.

Needless to say, this response doesn't sit well with us natives and creatives. San Francisco’s “Second Gold Rush” is pushing its artists and working-class people out and bringing in a whole new breed of citizens who are members of the highest echelons of society. And yet, even tech workers making six-figure incomes are having trouble affording homes in San Francisco.

So when is enough enough?

San Francisco is currently the nation’s most expensive city in which to live, and--depending on which studies you trust--it's quite possibly the most expensive city in the world. Although living there has never been cheap, in the last five years, it's seen such a rapid transformation that it is impossible to ignore the many ways that new money has affected the city.

It shows on every level: From the brand-new, high-rise condos going up on every corner (Was that even there yesterday?) to the significant increases in noise, pollution, and traffic jams. Of course, the demoralizing increases in rent, parking, food, drink, and entertainment are all tell-tale signs, too.

So when I came to Fort Wayne for a few weeks this summer, I was pleasantly surprised with a change of pace. Compared to the most expensive city in the world, Fort Wayne is often listed amongst the nation’s most affordable places to live. But that doesn't mean it's not changing, too.

The Fort Wayne rental market is hot.Rent in Fort Wayne is much cheaper than San Francisco.

Like San Francisco, Fort Wayne has seen rapid culture change in the last several years of a different sort. There are significant downtown projects underway, as well as strong support for local entrepreneurship through financial and community programs. But more than that, there is a palpable excitement here--especially amongst the city’s newest residents and a strong contingent of movers and shakers determined to put Fort Wayne on the map as a fresh hub of innovation and development nationwide.

With all of this excitement and energy focused on moving full-speed ahead, I have to wonder: What will actually happen if Fort Wayne is successful in its efforts to evolve?

While some movement is already underway, let's imagine that this trend goes to the next level, and Fort Wayne becomes the next hot, up-and-coming place-to-be, like Nashville. What changes might this bring to our nation's social and political landscape?

Ironically, the same people who moved to San Francisco to escape the Midwest and "find themselves" might find themselves making the opposite pilgrimage in search of what they may never be able to do in San Francisco: Namely, own a home, and perhaps, start a family. Even so, if these residents do move, they are not going to leave their progressive ideals and big-city mindsets behind.

I was struck by this notion during my visit to Fort Wayne when I stumbled upon the “Strong Ladies Arm Wrestling Contest” benefit for the Fort Wayne Center for Nonviolence (complete with costumes and all).

I discovered the event much to my very pleasant surprise one afternoon while dining at Bird & Cleaver, a hip bar on Fort Wayne's Wells Street Corridor with a cool back patio. If I was surprised the other night by the punk show benefiting Planned Parenthood in Fort Wayne, my stereotypical notions of Midwest culture were blown out of the water with this one.

Seeing these ridiculous shenanigans paired with some obvious support and acceptance for people of all types made me feel right at home in the Summit City.

It makes me think that while Indiana, as a whole, might not be ready to be infiltrated by San Francisco's displaced artists and creatives, maybe Fort Wayne is already making space for them.

Don't believe me? See for yourself.

Signup for Email Alerts