Karen Rosenkranz Documents Migration from Urban Centers to Small Towns in “City Quitters”

22 stories seek to explain why people flee energetic habitats for sparser spaces

Migrating from New York City (with a population just over 8.6 million) to Hudson, New York (just under 6,300) could prove shocking for many, let alone someone that feeds off the chaos and cultural collisions found within big cities. But, as author Karen Rosenkranz presents in her new book, City Quitters, more and more people are mustering up the courage to move on from megacities than ever before. “As cities become more expensive places to live, it is getting harder for people to make use of the cultural offer or enjoy the perks of urban life. Long working hours and commutes, pollution, overcrowding, etc, can be really draining. That’s when people start to question the value of living in a metropolis,” Rosenkranz explains to CH. She herself is a resident of London, but sees the value of moving on—even when valuable traits are left behind.

“I think diversity, tolerance and vibrancy are qualities that you are more likely to find in big cities,” she says. “What I love about London (or other megacities) is something quite intangible—the feeling of walking through a buzzing part of town, being exposed to lots of different people and cultures, and feeling part of this mix. It makes me very happy.”

Unfortunately, thanks to social media preoccupation and unbreakable routines, urban diversity is often underutilized. “While it’s a great tool to connect with like-minded people all over the world, I think people are waking up to the fact that social media is not a replacement for real-life interaction,” she emphasizes. “There are great initiatives for community-building in cities, but we often exist in very narrowly defined bubbles, surrounding ourselves with like-minded people in ever smaller niches. We are losing the spaces we share across socioeconomic strata, ages and interests. When people move to small towns or rural areas, they are suddenly confronted with people who are very different to them. It’s a refreshing experience and I think that’s what true community-building is all about.”

One of the book’s first subjects, skate photographer Brian Gaberman, moved from Louisville to San Francisco and then to Sebastopol, California—a town with a population of 7,700. His work was reliant on the city’s streets, wherein he’d photograph skateboarders on any given corner, but when he and his wife welcomed their first child, life in the city changed and became less glamorous. The pair tried moving to a cabin the Redwood Forest, but his commute to the city proved exhausting and the move was isolating for his wife. Once they found Sebastopol, the fit felt right. Gaberman could forfeit his commute in favor of free-time used to tend to their farm and focus on traveling elsewhere for work.

“You have to figure out how you’re going to make a living,” Rosenkranz says of her subjects. “Some professions are more suited to the shift than others, so people might have to start afresh which is exactly the point for some quitting the city. A quieter, rural setting can be a great opportunity to rethink our relationship to people and nature, and establish a healthier work routine. It is a chance to reframe what it means to lead a fulfilling life.”

“It’s getting harder and harder to understand how I ever lived in a city. The more you’re removed from it, the more it seems an unnatural habitat for humans,” Gaberman tells Rosenkranz in the book. This sentiment supports Rosenkranz’s thesis, but she didn’t seek out the city-scorned exclusively to prove a point; the 22 people she interviewed live in 12 different countries and have newly found communities of lifelong countryside residents and city-quitters alike.

“Moving out of the city doesn’t necessarily mean you turn your back on urban life entirely. Having a lively exchange between both realms seems to be the most sustainable approach,” Rosenkranz says. “Some people will be able to get work remotely, others will need to visit the city. But what I noticed is that the longer people live away from the city, the less they seem to depend on it—both professionally and socially.”

City Quitters (€34) is available now from Frame.

Images courtesy of City Quitters / Karen Rosenkranz / Frame