Best Places to Live

2015 10 Best Downtowns

For decades in the U.S., our downtowns were places where we worked. We would drive in during the morning rush hour and drive back out during the evening rush hour. Suburban malls had drained our downtown cores and our Main Streets of retail and department stores. We had essentially sucked all the people out of downtown.

Thankfully, that's changing in cites big and small as downtowns are again being recognized as a place where people can congregate, enjoy shopping and dining, walk, bike and, most importantly, live. Check out our infographic The Demographics of Living Downtown, to get an understanding of the type of people living downtown compared to the suburbs, and how that's changed through the years. 

With downtowns undergoing a resurgence, how did we choose the Top 10 Best Downtowns for 2015? As always, we start with our focus on small to mid-sized cities, and we dive into the data. Our analysis took into consideration increasing housing values and populations to find cities that are growing and thriving. We looked for areas with new construction because cranes are often a great sign of economic and cultural recovery. We found downtowns with vibrant arts scenes and walkable streets. 

Finally, our well-traveled editors weighed in with their own opinions. The data drives our short list, but our journalistic judgment helps determine the final rankings. 

Our list showcases a range of downtowns in terms of size, style and nature. From the riverfront skyscrapers of Pittsburgh to the distributed squares of Somerville, to Evanston's newly condoized city center, these 10 cities are a great cross-section of America's revitalized downtown landscape.

See who made our list of Top 10 Best Downtowns in 2014. 


Ranking Criteria
Vacancy rate
Population increase since 2010
Percentage of new homeowners
Daytime population
Projected median household income
Walk Score
Entertainment options
Arts/Cultural attractions
  • 10

    Evanston , IL

    Population: 75,603
    Photo courtesy of Ian Freimuth, available under a Creative Commons license

    Downtown Evanston, Ill., attracts a high percentage of those in the so called “creative class.” This includes artists, engineers, technology experts and researchers. It’s easy to see the appeal Evanston has. Located near Northwestern University, and within view of Lake Michigan, downtown Evanston offers a highly walkable environment that’s loaded with entertainment options and thriving businesses. The mix of urban sophistication and suburban relaxation, along with social and economic diversity found in downtown Evanston make it a Top 10 Best Downtown.

    Evanston’s downtown distinguishes it from the typical Chicago suburbs. A mix of contemporary condo buildings and post-modern office buildings create an appealing skyline. A high concentration of cultural attractions like theaters, music venues and bars draw people downtown. Three public transportation options, including light rail, and ample, inexpensive parking make getting in and out of downtown Evanston easy. More than 10,000 people work in downtown Evanston, which has seen the addition of nearly 1,200 new condominium units since 2000. More than 38 percent of downtown residents hold graduate or postgraduate degrees.

    More than 25 galleries, museums, concert halls and museums in downtown Evanston provide a rich cultural scene. Nearly 100 cafes and restaurants provide diners with everything from grab-and-go lunches to elegant five-course meals in historic buildings or al fresco at quaint cafés. Brian Huston, chef at popular Boltwood restaurant in Evanston, was recently nominated for a James Beard Award. Nearby beaches on Lake Michigan, paved trails, and a collection of parks give residents plenty of opportunity to stay active and enjoy the outdoors.