10 Best Small Towns8
Traverse City, MI
The ongoing transformation of a former state hospital into a village of shops, restaurants, homes and offices exemplifies the type of innovative enhancement projects occurring in Traverse City, MI. Considered the largest historic preservation and adaptive re-use project in the nation, The Village at Grand Traverse Commons includes the renovation of century-old buildings across a nearly 500-acre expanse of forest and meadow on the city's western edge. Future plans for the development include turning a series of cathedral barns into concert venues, farmers markets and special event spaces.
Though the city has made major improvements to its transportation network, park system and downtown, residents are dedicated to preserving the cozy cottages, quaint buildings and waterfront parks that draw tourists throughout the year. Other strongly supported projects include City Opera House and State Theatre restoration and downtown Front Street beautification. A thriving farm-to-table movement attracts talented chefs who have helped make Traverse City a top "foodie town."
The nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers stunning views of Lake Michigan from the top of massive, naturally occurring sand dunes and tree-covered islands. Clear lakes and streams, verdant forests and golden beaches draw residents to the great outdoors. During late summer, stands selling freshly picked cherries - one of the area's top exports - dot surrounding countryside.
Small businesses and young entrepreneurs helped Traverse City's economy remain stronger than many other Michigan cities during the recession. The city's population grew by almost 2 percent between 2010 and 2012 and the unemployment rate has remained lower than the state average.
Growth rate (2010-12): 1.6%
Size: 8.3 square miles
Median home value: $182,300
Average commute: 14 minutes