If you’ve just moved to a new city, you’re probably trying to get to grips with how to get around, which roads to avoid, which neighborhoods might be sketchy and where to spend your leisure time. In some places, this might be a relatively simple task – if your city is compact, like Philadelphia, it’s easier to get a handle on roughly where everything is and the best way to get around. If, on the other hand, you’ve just moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, it’s quite likely that you’ll never really get to know your city, or even where your city ends and other cities – Burbank, Inglewood, Long Beach – start.
If you’ve moved to a much smaller place, the task might be that bit easier – after all, there are fewer places to go, right? But that means your city is less likely to have everything you need, and so you’re going to have to find out about neighboring places too, if you really want to feel like you know your adopted home.
One of the best ways to get your bearings is to use the internet. Google Maps, Bing, Yelp and many other sites host maps and satellite photos of pretty much the whole planet, so you can get an idea of what’s nearby and search for the kinds of places you need to know about – hospitals, supermarkets, gas stations and so on. Some of them even allow you to zoom right down to street level, which gives you a better idea of what a street or area is like. If you’d just moved to L.A. and were thinking about taking a short stroll down East Fifth Street, between San Pedro and Crocker, Street View might just dissuade you. But photos have their limitations. After all, looks can be deceptive. After all, the street level photos might lead you to believe that a casual walk down East 103rd Street between South Central Avenue and Compton Avenue, perhaps taking in Ted Watkins Memorial Park, might be a nice thing to do at sunset. You might need to do a separate search along the lines of “What’s Watts, LA, like?” or “best places to walk in LA”.
Of course, a lot of the information on the internet is outdated or plain wrong. Where you see a photo of a field, there may now be a shopping mall. What was a run-down, dangerous area ten years ago, might have been gentrified to the point where you can’t afford to live there, now. That’s why you’re better off asking people, getting different opinions. Bear in mind that these opinions are all subjective – ‘near’ and ‘far’ are quite different between Manhattan and Montana.Likewise with ‘safe’ in Honolulu and Detroit.
You could always spend time in your car, driving around, trying to get a feel for the place. Just make sure you have enough gas to get out of the area should it start to look threatening. If you choose to ride public transport – the most popular choice in a city like New York City, ask ahead before you start getting off at random stations to walk around. Don’t rely on what you think you know – somewhere like Midtown Manhattan might be more dangerous than Harlem, depending on who you are, what time it is and so on.
One interesting way to get to know your city better is to get yourself a drone from http://www.rotorcopters.com/, fit it out with a camera and start exploring at your own pace, from the comfort of your couch. It’s a great way to see the local area both at scale and close up. Be aware that some cities may have laws restricting the use of drones and you should always respect privacy laws.
Finally, stick around. It takes time to build up a clear impression of a place. Plus, lots of places are in a constant state of change. Businesses come and go, the economy booms and then goes bust, gangs move in and out, regeneration and gentrification happen. There are probably more opinions about any one place than there are people living there. Try to have a positive outlook and take pride in your new hometown.