Moving to Cambridge - some points to ponder(7 Posts)
Many threads on this board are started by people wondering whether they should move here or not. I thought it might be useful to group together some of big considerations, though obviously everyone's individual circumstances and preferences will differ. Feel free to amend/add thoughts!
The city of Cambridge is around 130k inhabitants. It punches above its weight in terms of reputation, education and cultural activities, but basically it's the size of Worcester or Bedford. If you think of it as a large town rather than a true city, that will give you a better flavour of what it's like.
It is relatively isolated and is smaller than the other regional cities in East Anglia - Norwich and Peterborough (both 180k inhabitants); and Ipswich (160k). All of these cities are about an hour's drive away, the same time it takes to get to Kings Cross on the train.
It is has a very international population, but it's also a very transient population - not just students, but also workers and families. That has an effect on how you might experience community here.
The picture-book images of Cambridge apply to a 1km area in the centre of the city. You won't be living there! City housing is typically either Victorian terraces, C20th suburbs or new build. Demand for housing anywhere in the city massively outstrips supply, so expect to pay a lot for what you get!
It is experiencing severe growing pains - too many cars, especially inbound commuting, and poor public transport options. If you are interested in living in the city, think about whether you will be willing to walk or cycle to keep mobile.
It has an increasingly complicated relationship with the villages surrounding it. Rural residents like their rural surroundings and want to keep them that way; but also want to be able to access Cambridge easily for employment, shopping, schools, leisure, etc. There are big discussions ongoing about how this can be achieved without trashing the city - building mass transit schemes across the Green Belt, congestion charging, lots of ideas, but no clarity yet on solutions. Plan your journey to work carefully!
On the plus side, there are no 'bad' areas and the schools are generally good.
This is great, Dorothy! The stuff about population size is so important to realise. I always look twice when I see the traffic lanes coming in to town marked CITY, because Cambridge really isn't what that word, writ large, generally means to me.
I think quite small variations in circumstance can make for quite big differences in people's experience of Cambridge. For me, moving just half mile to a place with a better bike route to work transformed my sense of wellbeing and made me ten times happier to live here. I also felt a real change in my sense of community when my DC went to school. My work also looms large in my personal sense of community, but others may not or would not want to feel that. All of this, and many other factors besides, will play out in different ways for different people. Looking back, I can divide my life in Cambridge so far into about three broad phases, and I'd have described it as a place quite differently during each of them.
We live in one of the villages just outside and feel we have the best of both worlds - good village community, good facilities without the cost, traffic and squeeze of living in Cambridge itself while still being close enough to nip in and benefit from all its goodness. It really is a small town which happens to have a big university and therefore punches well above its weight.
In terms of the wider countryside, its not a great location if you enjoy hill walking / mountain biking / coastal activities / large lake (e.g. sailing) activities, all of which are a good couple of hours drive away even without the usual awful traffic. The immediate countryside is fairly nondescript. The fenland to the north has its own sense of place, the raised waterways are fascinating (in my opinion).
You can get away without a car if you are near the centre of Cambridge. But everywhere else you are really car dependent. Buses to villages tend to stop at 6pm.
Museum and music facilities are great. Leisure is a bit more lacking although improving, e.g. ice rink about to be built. Unfortunately the soft play burnt down! Crime in general is low though. Lots of playgrounds that are reasonably well maintained, and new splash zones. Beyond the city there are a couple of national trust places with great children's activities, and a growing number of country parks.
I'd recommend choosing where to live based firstly on where you work (as close as possible that your budget will allow!), secondly on where your activities are (e.g. if you really want to swim lots, swimming pools are located in the centre and north), and only thirdly on schools as they are all generally good.
Cambridge seems to have a higher than usual amount of community and cultural events. There is generally something happening on one of the green spaces in the city centre at the weekend, eg food fairs, arty things, film festivals, music, museum outreach. People are motivated and have time to to create community action groups, so for example near me there are groups which support the library, local park, community garden and annual festival, all of whom put on public events. We rarely wonder what there is to do.
Great thread - again, thoughtful comments. Coming from experiences in both major American metro areas and tiny northern Canadian communities, I am thinking Cambridge will be a gilded mid-way.
Thanks for all the information, helps in our planning.
In some ares it has a real village feel, even in the centre and the sense of community is very strong even if people move in and out (which they do). Children play in the streets, in and out of each other's houses and gardens, street parties, events and a real sense of it takes a village to raise a child. People are very welcoming, friendly and used to difference. This is most often the case when it comes to the international feel but also to quirkiness and neurodiversity. It means it is normal to walk around and not hear English.
There are some very wealthy areas, and some where there is genuine poverty. There is very little social housing and many people are being priced out of where they grew up. This creates tension.
It is very crowded, tourist numbers are through the roof in the last couple of years and that is also creating tensions between different groups. It is not just the roads that are overcrowded the street are too and it can be a frenetic as London in the centre. pavements are terrible, wheelchair access very difficult due to listed buildings. There is a lot of building work all the time which can block access.
As above, the key issue with Cambridge is transport and parking (don't assume you can park at work always check as often workplaces have about 10 spaces for a whole office and need 2-3 for visitors. We have 7 spaces for a 45 people office and are well served compared to many. However we don't offer parking for staff, increasingly areas in the city are residents parking or very expensive paid for parking but the public transport infrastructure is terrible. As with many others most people cycle, but we are now short of cycle parking.
Statistically it is very dry, with little rain but it doesn't feel that way. If the wind comes from the north it can have terrible wind chill and most visitors we get are always complaining how cold it feels for somewhere in the southern part of England.
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