Raleigh, NC, quality of life is good - 9/3/2012
I have lived here since 1958, so I feel qualified to make a few comments. These are mostly responses to what others have said on this site, and I hope if you are thinking of moving here--you will find this post helpful.
Like most southern cities, Raleigh has many people who attend church regularly and some of these people are very conservative and judgmental. If you don't want to attend church, though, no problem. I'm a liberal Democrat and not very religious, and no one has ever questioned my stance...at least not that I was aware of:) I can tell you that there are plenty of liberal Democrats here.
Inside the Beltline Raleigh is mostly populated by natives. It's extremely gorgeous and very pricey. I wish I could afford to live there. But if you are worried about people not being nice to you because you are from somewhere else, I can tell you that you are more likely to be happy in north Raleigh, Cary, or Apex. I really love Apex; my sister has lived there for a long time.
Schools: they are in a period of instability and I don't think anyone knows what will happen with the public school system. I am not really up on the public school system as I sent my kids to a private school in north Raleigh. This school had kids from all over the world and from several different religious backgrounds, but most of the students were either Christian or Jewish. This school, Ravenscroft, is truly a shining gem, and my children were very well prepared for college. In the past, the public schools of Enloe, Broughton, and Leesville Road have been great high schools, but since the system was changed a few years ago, I'm not sure if that is still true, or, more accurately, I am not sure if you could buy a house and then be positive of where your child would go to school. We had a great system of magnets and charters, but there was a successful movement to try to make neighborhood schools the norm, with the result being that there is now a big mess. It was felt that the neighborhood system just threw us back to the days of segregation; I am not sure of exactly what the current situation is, but buyer beware and do your due diligence. If you go somewhere like Apex, you are probably safer school wise because Apex is rather removed from Raleigh, so maybe the problems would be fewer. I can say unreservedly that Apex is a great place to live.
Downtown Raleigh has recently been revived and it is very nice. There are plenty of downtown condos as well as historic homes.
To the person who complained about our not having much food variety, we have tons of restaurants that are NOT big box restaurants, and we have a lot of different ethnic foods represented.
There are also a lot of cultural events. Keeping in mind that we are not NYC, we have a lot of music from our symphony to local jazz and blue grass. We have tons of movie theaters, and there are also a lot of plays put on, from traveling Broadway troupes to local college presentations.
We have nice parks and recreation areas...I know of several lakes where you can rent a boat and go sailing.
I don't know what the crime statistics are, but I can tell you that I have felt very safe here and I don't know why anyone wouldn't. It's not 1940, so we keep our doors locked and use common sense. If I were thinking of moving here, I would not even give crime a thought.
We are part of the Research Triangle Park, along with Durham and Chapel Hill. Tons of newcomers come here for IT jobs, and I think that many of them locate in north Raleigh, Cary, or Apex...or Morrisville.
We have very good public universities in NC, with UNC-Chapel Hill being the flagship. NC State University is in Raleigh and it is a great school, especially for science, math, and IT type majors. It has a fantastic School of Design. I am a graduate of Chapel Hill and THAT is one of the most gorgeous places in the USA, and if money were no object, I would live in one of the beautiful old parts of Chapel Hill and commute to my job in RTP or even Raleigh. Coming from that direction, you would have favorable traffic on I-40 as most commuters are coming from the opposite direction. And Chapel Hill has great public schools, free bus service, and great health services.
Having said that, Raleigh also has great access to health care. UNC and Duke are each about (depending upon what part of Raleigh you are coming from) about 25 minutes away. (We also have very good hospitals here in Raleigh). Durham is also beautiful but it has a significant crime rate, so be very careful about location if you buy there. My husband is a Duke grad and even he says to be careful in Durham. But you should be fine if you stay in a good neighborhood, IMO. I don't think I would want to put kids into the Durham public schools. Apex or Chapel Hill would be safer choices.
Raleigh has nightlife if you want it, but I don't, so can't comment on it except to say that there is an active nightlife scene. My kids are grown now and one lives in Asheville and the other lives in Shanghai, but they had plenty of nightlife choices when they lived here. They were taught to take taxis if they had been drinking, and it is pretty easy to do, though we don't have fleets of them cruising the streets-you have to call on your cell for a pick up.
Raleigh is slightly over 2 hours to the closest beach, and NC has absolutely gorgeous beaches. It is about 4 hours to the mountains, and there is skiing there in the winter, but it is mostly on artificial snow and not like skiing in Vermont or another great ski area. Still it is there and relatively close if you just have to have a ski fix.
People here are very engaged in watching ice hockey and basketball. We always have hope for football glory from Chapel Hill or Duke, but we usually end up feeling like Charlie Brown after Lucy snatches away the ball. Why did we believe, yet again?
The cons of living here, IMO, I am getting to. I have to qualify by saying my husband, who is from OKC, would not agree with these cons. Although most people say they like the climate,I am not really a fan. Maybe I am just spoiled and don't know any better, but I think it is mostly gray in the summer and in the winter. We rarely get snow, and I wish we could count on at least one good snow per year. The spring is very short; you almost go from winter to summer--however the springs and falls are beautiful. The sky is blue and clear. If it does snow, it is completely embarrassing to see how everyone responds to it by emptying store shelves and closing schools as the first flakes arrive. We don't have great road clearing trucks (we do have snow plows but apparently not enough of them)--
The traffic on I-40 leading to RTP is horrible, and I have driven all over CA, so I do have something to compare it to. I was stalled on the freeway in LA and realized that it actually looked much like I-40 during rush hour. That is one reason you might want to live in Chapel Hill and come at it from a different direction if RTP is going to be where your job is. That said, if you can avoid rush hour, there is still a lot of traffic, but it's not like sitting in a parking lot.
I realize this has been long, but I wanted to try to add a balanced response to some of the misinformation I've seen here. I hope this has helped you as you consider your upcoming move to this area.