Why Ames, IA is a Top 100 Best Place to Live

A special relationship between Ames and Iowa State University gives smart residents a place to call home

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Reiman Gardens in Ames, IA
<p>"One of our largest and most centrally located parks is on university property, and I think that really gives you a good idea of how important the university is to this city. Honestly, we make each other better.”</p>

Ann Campbell
Mayor of Ames, Iowa

Some places are just smarter than others, and while conventional assumptions might suggest a concentration of intelligence in larger metropolitan cities, Ames is the sort of place that confidently insists otherwise. Thanks to a highly engaged community and a nationally recognized research university, Ames enjoys a well-deserved position among the top one-third of the country’s best places to live.

Indeed the benefits of living in a community anchored by a nationally recognized research university are abundant—from affordable housing options, to locally owned eateries and cultural events, residents don’t have to be students to enjoy the perks of college life. As the state’s flagship public university, Iowa State infuses Ames with plenty of college-town personality. ISU’s Big 12 Conference athletics program ensures that Ames is celebrated not only for its first-rate academic programs, but for the spirited fandom its sports teams—and the community—enjoy.

“There’s just a really great collaborative dynamic between the city and ISU,” said Ames Mayor Ann Campbell said. “One of our largest and most centrally located parks is on university property, and I think that really gives you a good idea of how important the university is to this city. Honestly, we make each other better.”

As is the case in many collectively intelligent communities, Ames has consistently invested in its library system, public parks and open spaces. The Ames Public Library, a Carnegie library founded in 1902, completed a large-scale renovation in 2014, more than doubling its size, creating additional meeting spaces and adding an array of new print and electronic resources. Campbell said that library usage has “practically mushroomed” on account of the new enhancements.

Meanwhile outdoors, Ames residents enjoy the city’s 35 wooded parks, 30 miles of bike and pedestrian trails, five golf courses, an aquatics center and an ice rink shared with ISU. The Ames Main Street Farmers’ Market is another beloved attraction, featuring Iowa’s trademark agricultural goodness. The presence of these amenities, though, is a testament to the civic involvement of Ames’ residents—a tightknit community that has deliberately shaped the city’s priorities and efforts, all while nurturing a productive relationship with ISU, where the students account for just a little less than half of the city’s population.

 “We’re very lucky to have a relatively small community, but the advantages of having Iowa State University right here bring us the diversity, culture and intellectual exposure that you’d find in a big city,” said Campbell.

Mayor Campbell also identifies the city’s healthcare landscape as one of the main reasons Ames is such a great place to live. With three acute care hospitals within a 60-mile radius, and a multi-specialty clinic adjacent to one of those hospitals, the distance between diagnosis and treatment is remarkably convenient. Even better, Ames residents spend 16.5 percent less than the national average on health care-related goods and services.  

“People travel from far and wide for those services,” Campbell explained. “I feel really fortunate that Ames residents don’t have to do that. Everything they need is right here already.”

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