We’ve Found the Best of the Best Cities to Live In
At any given moment, there are at least a half-dozen top 10 lists on my Facebook feed: the best places for school, work, dating, eating, drinking, having kids, and growing old and dying happily of natural causes. (Or, conversely, the crumbling industrial hellscapes that are the best places to get shot, stabbed, and ripped off.)
But how can there be so many spots that are the No. 1 Best Place to Live in America? And how do the list-makers figure that out?
For the most part such places share attributes such as good schools, parks, recreational opportunities, high employment, decent median wages, and lower crime rates.
But the term “best” is not only in the eye of the beholder, it’s also in the eye of the zeitgeist. “In the 1980s, people were looking for the safest place to live,” says Bert Sperling, founder of Sperling’s Best Places, who’s been pinpointing paradises since 1985.
As the birth rate increased, they cared most about schools. And today? “People are most interested in affordable housing,” he says.
To complicate matters, they also want to live in cities again, making some of the most desirable places unaffordable. The other desirable ingredient: diversity of the ethnic, racial, and economic variety.
That’s pretty hard to come by. The harsh reality is that many of these places marked “best” are also wealthy and conspicuously lack diversity. We peered closely at the cities and towns ranked No. 1 to figure out why each one made the list(s).
Where’s the best place to live in all of America? Time says it’s this town of 42,150, which has “a charming downtown” and “top-notch schools.” It has tech jobs and affordability, a rare and welcome combination (though we’ve seen plenty of cheaper towns), plus “a close-knit vibe.”
Median income: $88,558
Average listing price: $397,900
It’s one of the most expensive places to live in the United States, but it also has good schools—well, some of them—relatively low unemployment, and “scores of cultural opportunities for the whole family.”
Boston also got so much snow last winter that the towering piles of garbage-laced ice and slush didn’t entirely melt off until the middle of July. It was also recently voted home to the healthiest real estate market. On paper it’s a diverse place—53.9% white, 24.4% black, 8.9% Asian, 17.5% Hispanic—but it isn’t known for being particularly integrated.
Median income: $53,601
Average listing price: $562,500
Outside magazine’s readers chose this city of 173,000 along the Tennessee River Gorge as its No. 1 best place to live. Granted, the criteria may be skewed considering the nature-loving constituency, but Chattanooga also offers the prospect of tech jobs, cold-brew coffee, and record stores. Affordability? They’ve got it here, though schools need some work. It scores decently on diversity.
Median income: $38,064
Average listing price: $135,000
Good schools? Yes. Crime? Low. Affordable? Not even close. This New York City suburb of nearly 63,000 is one of the wealthiest and most exclusive areas in America. But it also has “a dynamic culture comprising of a symphony orchestra, a natural history museum, a choral society,” and it tops a “best city in which to raise a family” list. A rich family.
Median income: $132,164
Average listing price: $2.5 million
WalletHub rates cities on family friendliness, health and safety, education and child care, and affordability. Overland Park, a Kansas City suburb, gets an 80 on the family stuff, but a lowly 8 on affordability.
Also, many of its cultural attributes (Royals games, a major art museum, the zoo) are located in Kansas City proper, which is ranked as the 90th best city (out of 150) for families, based largely on poor health and safety rankings.
Median income: $71,094
Average listing price: $322,000
Livability names this left-leaning college town of 245,000 the best place to live in America, period. “Madison provides residents with affordable housing, great schools, excellent health care and a wide range of recreational activities and entertainment options.” We hear the nature is plentiful and the food is good, too.
Median income: $53,464
Average listing price: $230,000
This suburb of Dallas was the wealthiest city in the United States a few years back. It has also received numerous “Safest City in America”–type citations, though it gets a B- for “crime and safety.” Access to libraries: C-. But it scores an A+ in education—how Plano does that without libraries is anyone’s guess.
Median income: $82,484
Average listing price: $355,000
Provo is a college town (Brigham Young University) of 114,000, with mountain views, outdoor activities, low unemployment, affordable housing, and a high median income. You want wholesome? It’s also home of the Osmond Family. Provo’s population is roughly 98% Mormon, and it has been named one of the most conservative cities in the nation (it has only four bars), making it sort of the anti-Madison. Provo was also ranked as the nation’s “Most Optimistic City.”
Median income: $39,688
Average listing price: $305,000
This wealthy suburb of Seattle didn’t make it to the overall best places list, but NerdWallet named it the “Best Small City for Families.” It was also ranked a few years ago as “The Friendliest Town in the United States” by CNN Money. Good schools? Sammamish has ’em. Affordability? Um…
Median income: $143,919
Average listing price: $800,000
Ventura, a city of nearly 110,000 set between Malibu and Santa Barbara, may seem like a bargain for a California coastal city (well, compared to San Francisco and Silicon Valley). But while Men’s Journal, putting it top on the list of “Best Places to Live Now,” calls it “refreshingly unpolished,” it’s still pricey. There’s year-round sunshine, good public schools, and plentiful outdoor activities—beach, anyone?
Median income: $65,137
Average listing price: $703,985