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
  • 9

    Somerville, MA

    Population: 78,595
    Photo courtesy of Assembly Row, Federal Realty Investment Trust

    Municipal leaders from as far away as China have visited Somerville, Mass., hoping to learn more about how this city has achieved vibrancy, growth and the “hip” factor. This Boston suburb has quickly become a New England “it” town, attracting a young, creative class of workers who has helped to spur redevelopment in neglected parts of the city. Somerville is filled with residents who bike to work and local markets. They frequent trendy restaurants, tattoo parlors and carry around growlers of microbrew. Some long-time Somerville residents recently told The Boston Globe that they worry the city is getting “too cool.” Real estate agents say prices for homes and office space are shooting up. Politically speaking, most in Somerville support Democrats, making it one of the Best Cities for Liberals.

    At 4.2 square miles, the entire town of Somerville could fit into the downtowns of larger cities. Like many Boston-area neighborhoods, Somerville includes several squares, which serve as the commercial centers of smaller communities. We considered Somerville as a downtown area when analyzing the Top 10 Best Downtowns. Our research shows that Somerville’s median household income is projected to grow by nearly 3 percent over the next five years. Somerville’s low vacancy rate of 3.7 percent shows available properties are getting snatched up fast. Sidewalks and bike paths make getting to the many restaurants, bars and boutiques in Somerville easy. Located between Cambridge and the Mystic River and just north of Boston, Somerville is ideally situated for those looking for an urban area with a small-town feel.