In Defense of Los Angeles as a Best Place to Live

March 25, 2014 at 4:37 pm EDT

Over on the Curbing Cars blog, writer Adam Rubenfire asks the ever-popular question "Which city is the best for getting around?" It's a great question, and one that deserves a great answer. I'm just not sure this post is it. Here's why.

Mr. Rubenfire takes a quick survey of top cities lists, including Livability's Top 10 Best Downtowns list, and notes that Los Angeles appears on very few of the lists he looked at. He then extrapolates that "Los Angeles seems to be loved by many, but it’s possible that its decentralized map and dependency on cars make it less attractive for city lovers."

As you can imagine, this is a topic we take rather seriously around here. Leave aside for a moment that he's looking at best places to live lists (and some more focused on certain topics) and then making the non-apples-to-apples comparison of whether it's a good transit city. First, let's look at his evidence.

Photo: Justin Vidamo/Flickr Photo: Justin Vidamo/Flickr

Our Downtowns list he cites is focused on small to mid-sized cities, so L.A. wasn't in the consideration pool. If you look at our overall Top 100 Best Places to Live, you'll see several cities in the L.A. area like Whittier, Alhambra and Burbank. Further, while that list was also focused on smaller cities, we did run the data for the larger cities as well, and L.A. scores quite highly on our list of Top 10 Largest Cities for Livability.

Why?

L.A. is diverse both in its residents and its economy. It might not have the greatest public transit, but it does have public transit and many rely on it to get around. Commute times for transit riders, as in many cities, wind up being longer than for those who drive alone. While I'm not arguing for more driving, it can certainly be an efficient (if not sustainable or economical) mode of getting around for many. In addition, L.A. enjoys a great climate, culture, amenities, colleges and universities, hospitals and all of the other perks and drawbacks that come with living in one of the largest cities in the U.S. Is it the be-all, end-all urban mecca? Probably not. But that doesn't mean it's a bad place to live or a bad place to get around. Other cities he mentions, like San Francisco, Portland, et cetera, also score well on our list.

So don't count out L.A.

But then Mr. Rubenfire adds this statement: "If you’re looking for information on America’s best cities, here’s a word of advice: Specialized lists, like those geared toward bicyclists, foodies or families, are going to offer the most reliable information. While the overall 'best cities' rankings are more arbitrary, specialized lists tend to have more credibility due to the author’s expertise and a more narrower focus."

That's a lot of generalization without much to back it up. Yes, there are plenty of arbitrary-seeming best places to live lists. But as with all things, readers should consider the source, whether looking at a specialized list or an overall best places list. We like to think that our ranking criteria and methodology are pretty sound. Without calling out specific bad examples, many "specialized" lists are far more arbitrary than overall lists and are also created by people who aren't necessarily experts.

We believe that the overall livability of a city should be considered even in the specialized lists. If it's a great city for biking, but overall a not-so-great city, would you really want to live and bike there? And what would you do all of the time you're not biking? Further, bikers are often foodies and can even be parents. Choosing a city based only on one attribute might work for some, but probably not for the overall population.

Finally, none of this really has anything to do with transit, which was his initial question. While we haven't done a list quite like that, it wouldn't be too hard to do, and it's likely that even L.A. could crack the top 10. Perhaps it can be the subject of a later blog post.

What do you think: Would you like us to do a list of transit cities?

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