A/D/O by MINI | City Quitters

City Quitters

Creatives are increasingly swapping urbanity for life in the country.

Designers are intrinsically tied to cities. They tend to live in urban areas due to a combination of education and job opportunities, access to cultural institutions and resources, and to be surrounded by networks of like-minded, typically liberal individuals. But the financial burden, relentless pace and overcrowding of places like London, New York and Berlin – and an increasing homogeneity between them all – is driving more and more of those working in creative fields to search for an easier life.

And they’re finding it in the countryside, said London-based trend forecaster and author Karen Rosenkranz, who spoke to 22 individuals and couples that have relocated to rural spots. She compiled their stories in a recently released book, City Quitters, which offers a glimpse at the potential for professional success in places with less than 10,000 inhabitants.

Among the "city quitters" is Nadia Rivelles, whose studio is in Götzwiesen. Photo by Mario Kiener

Rosenkranz’s research into this trend began after witnessing it first-hand. “I've noticed in my immediate network that creative people were moving into the country,” she told The Journal. After doing some digging, she found that this was not isolated just to her friendship group, or to London. “Everywhere you have major big cities, it’s happening,” Rosenkranz said, citing cost as the main factor for uprooting. “People who move to the city have to work multiple jobs to pay the rent. That kills their creativity – there’s no time or energy left to do creative projects.”

Her book includes case studies from 12 countries and five continents, profiling some who have hopped around various large cities before settling in rural regions, and others who have foregone metropolises in favor of mountain cabins. From Mumbai to a village in Goa; from San Francisco to a tropical Japanese island; from São Paulo to the middle of the Amazon – all of the “creative pioneers” interviewed found benefits in dramatically upheaving their lives and moving to remote locations.

Uscha Van Banning and Barny Carter opened a homeware store in Byron Bay. Photo by Anwyn Howarth

Lower living costs, more space, better access to nature, and a resurgence of creative inspiration  were among the advantages listed by those featured. “In the city you’re constantly bombarded, and it’s hard to find a quiet moment or time for reflection,” said Rosenkranz. “That is a lot easier when you live in a small town or the countryside.”

“People also benefit from living closer to nature,” she continued. “Suddenly they realize that there are changing seasons, changing daylight, and they start to work to those rhythms more.”

The trend has only become possible in the past decade thanks to the rise of digital tools, and vast improvements in global communication networks – as part of the wider shift towards nomadic living. Anyone can work remotely thanks to email, physical materials for production can be ordered online, and friends and family can stay in touch through social media. However, some of the creatives prefer to live entirely off-grid and run successful businesses without the help of the internet.

Beekeeper Paul Webb in Somerset, UK. Photo by Claudia Rocha
Architect Amita Kulkarni moved her studio from London and Mumbai to Goa. Photo by Fabien Charuau

Although a certain few prefer disconnect and solitude, a large portion of “city quitters” still find themselves congregating in groups. “It’s not just people are moving to remote places on their own, but you see these little hubs of creativity and innovation popping up around,” said Rosenkranz. Removed from urban bustle, but with large enough populations to satisfy social needs, these creative communities are springing up in places like Hudson in Upstate New York, and Frome in the southwest of England.

A benefit of living in pockets like this within small towns, according to those Rosenkranz spoke to, is the opportunity to converse and exchange with people that perhaps had different opinions and political views than typical urbanites. This can be creatively stimulating, they said.

“You have this perception that cities are so diverse, but actually most of us live in very narrow bubbles,” Rosenkranz added. “In a small place you have to interact with people that are very different from you… this is actually a very refreshing and healthy experience.”

Architect and artist Riccardo Monte moved to Ornavasso, Italy. Photo by Mario Curti

Urban populations are continuing to rise exponentially, and the vast majority of creatives remain in a handful of the world’s largest cities. But as these places become even more expensive, cramped and stifling – an escape to the country will likely become ever-more appealing to those seeking a better quality of life, Rosenkranz said.

“I can’t see cities becoming more affordable, especially for young creatives, it’s really a tough environment. More people are questioning the value of living in the city, with mental health issues and anxiety seeming to increase. Or health problems from pollution. As cities are getting bigger and denser, this is only set to continue.”

City Quitters by Karen Rosenkranz is published by Frame.

Main image shows a lightweight timber structure created during a workshop led by architect Mariana de Delás. Copyright Gartnerfuglen and Mariana de Delás.

Text by Dan Howarth.