Methodology: Top 100 Best Places to Live
How did we develop this list?
Making a Best Places to Live list is part art and part science, but we wanted to lean as much on the science as we could. In our 25 years of working with communities throughout the United States, we’ve learned a lot about what makes a city a great place to live and work. But we wanted other perspectives as well. So we partnered with the research team at Richard Florida’s Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management to help us put together our Index.
Together, we plotted out our data points and tweaked our methodology. We also wanted your perspective. It’s easy to think about what makes a top city from a theoretical point of view. But we needed to know how the various aspects of livability impacted everyday lives. Ipsos Public Affairs, one of the leading global market research firms, conducted an exclusive survey for us so we could find out.
This list isn't based on hunches from our editors. This list is based on what Americans value most in their communities.
Livability.com and our partners spent months collecting and poring over data and methodologies from public sources like the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as leading private-sector sources including Esri, Walk Score and Great Schools, and nonprofits like the Center for Neighborhood Technology and Americans for the Arts. We were advised in the project by a stellar panel of experts in livability-related fields.
We analyzed data on more than 1,700 cities throughout the United States. For our ranking, we focused in on the small to mid-sized cities with populations between 25,000 and 350,000. The results were then weighted based on the priorities set forth by you and your fellow citizens based on our 2,000-person, demographically-balanced survey.
We wanted the list to celebrate cities that were livable for everyone. We know any list like this is going to create some argument. You’ll wonder why your city isn’t on the list or why it isn’t ranked higher – unless you live in Palo Alto. Those 65,000 people will be very happy with their ranking. No one can make an unassailable methodology, but we want ours to be as transparent as possible. Let us know what you think.
We focused on four guiding principles:
Start with the basics: A city needs good schools, hospitals, airports and infrastructure, low crime, and a good climate. Then add amenities like parks, golf courses, farmers markets, and arts and culture. Finally, the natural and built environment come into play as well.
Affordability is about more than just cost. Income comes into play as well. We factored in a series of variables about spending on broad categories like housing, transportation, health care and food, as well as data about income to ensure we were finding cities where livability isn't a luxury but is the norm.
The more options a city offers, the more they can be livable for everyone. For example, by looking at the percentage of commuters who don't drive alone, you can gauge if there are transportation options. Broadband access is almost universal among U.S. cities, but in some there aren't many options for providers. We rewarded cities that offer residents the most flexibility.
Finally, having all of these great things is important, but so is using them. Esri provided us with lifestyle variables that allowed us to see which residents were making the most of their opportunities in their cities.
The data we measured across eight pillars of livability included:
Access to parks, farmers markets, golf courses and natural amenities, as well as the weather and the role of arts in the community.
Immigration and diversity of race, ethnicity and age.
Income, income growth, income disparity, employment, population growth and the share of the population working in what Richard Florida refers to as "Creative Class" jobs.
Great Schools rankings, colleges and universities, and percentage of people with high levels of education.
5. Health Care
Access to hospitals and average spending on health care and related items.
Housing costs, affordability, age of the housing stock, percentage who own vs. rent and percentage of vacant property.
Broadband providers, commute time, Walk Score, transportation costs and affordability, and the percentage of people who get to work by some means other than driving alone.
Crime rates, air quality, community involvement, and the percentage of people who vote and take part in organized religion.
Click on any of the links and you’ll be taken to a longer, more detailed story about why and how each of those subjects matter to livability.