2018 Top 100 Best Places to Live: Ranking Criteria

The LivScore for each city is a composite of more than 40 data points. Those data points were grouped into the eight categories below. The methodology gives an overview of how we calculated the score. But why did we focus on demographics, amenities, education and others? How do they actually influence livability? How can transportation make a city a best place to live? Read these stories for a more detailed discussion.


Cities have to get the basics right in order to be a great place to live. That’s both common sense and something we see clearly in the American Livability Survey data that supports this Best Places to Live list. If a city doesn’t have varied and affordable housing, low crime rates, a strong economy and accessible quality health care, it’s not going to rank well on our list. It boils down to wants and needs. A city and its residents need those things to feel safe and secure.


Demographics questions can really be summed up by Sesame Street. One of the classic show’s most memorable songs got to the heart of a key issue: “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” The recurring segment introduced children to the complexity of cities and the variety of people and jobs needed to make a city work: letter carriers, grocers, newspaper vendors, librarians and plumbers. Underlying all of this was the idea that we are not alone.


While our list is a Best Place to Live list, it’s nearly impossible to separate where we live from where we work. Even if you’re not in the workforce, the economics of an area deeply impact its livability. Having a strong economy in a city means it can invest in all of the infrastructure, amenities, schools and health care that we know make a city a livable place. 


Moves are often triggered by changes. Retirement is a time when many pick up and find a new community to call home. Likewise, a great new job opportunity can lure someone to a new city or state. But for many, one of the key times in life to move is as your children are starting school or moving from elementary to middle or high school. If there’s a sense that the current school district won’t adequately meet junior’s needs, parents will often uproot if they have the means. 

Health Care

Livable communities are healthy communities. We’ll explain that more a little further on, but let’s begin by looking at the variables we measure as we compute the Health component of the LivScore.


Our ranking focuses on cities – specifically small to mid-sized cities. Cities are basically the answer to “where are you from.” We live in cities, and those cities shape who we are and what we become. But within the city, we live in neighborhoods, and we live in homes, condos and apartments. A list of great places to live should focus on the places we call home in the places we are from.

Social and Civic Capital

Ask any mayor what makes his or her city great, and you’ll get a variation on this theme: The people. Ask a CEO what makes a great company, and you’ll get a similar answer about company culture and great, engaged employees.

Transportation and Infrastructure

There’s a reason that road rage is a term you hear but never sidewalk rage. Few things can downgrade the quality of day-to-day life in a city or town than traffic. It’s clearly bad for your mental health: rage. Turns out, it’s bad for your physical health as well. Commuting by car, alone, is still by far the most prevalent means of getting from home to work and back. All the podcasts and satellite radio options can’t change the fact that it’s really bad for your health.