Ask most people which city they would most want to live in and usually their answers would be shaped by such realities as proximity to their jobs and what they can afford. But suppose you could choose to live anywhere you wanted regardless of cost? What if you could live in a city that offered a wealth of culture, entertainment, good schools, low crime, and plenty of green space? Many people might opt for obvious choices such as New York or San Francisco, but great as they are, data reveal other cities are even better.
Businessweek.com spent months working with data that would help us to identify the best cities in the U.S. We looked at a range of positive metrics around quality of life, counted up restaurants, evaluated school scores, and considered the number of colleges and pro sports teams. All these factors and more add up to a city that would seem to offer it all. When we began the process we had no idea which cities would come out on top. The winner? Raleigh, N.C.
Raleigh No. 1
To most residents of Raleigh, it may not come as a surprise that their city earned the title of America’s Best City. Raleigh shows the cultural graces that go along with anchoring the so-called Research Triangle, home to North Carolina State University, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Among its many attributes the city sports 867 restaurants, 110 bars, and 51 museums, according to Onboard Informatics, as well as a thriving social scene, good schools, and 12,512 park acres, equal to several times the green space per capita in cities like New York and Los Angeles, according to the Trust for Public Land. It also offers a great deal on nights and weekends—from concerts and opera, to the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and college sports, to the 30,000-square-foot State Farmers Market.
Raleigh may have a population of only about 400,000 and span about 144 square miles, yet data show it still offers a lot, if only in a smaller package. True, Raleigh may not be the center of the tech universe like San Francisco, a hub of higher education on the same scale as Boston, or a vibrant 24-hour metropolis like New York, but all those cities also offered higher unemployment, a dearth of parks, worse public education, and other negative factors that weighed against them.
“We’ve always said, you can find about every amenity that you want, even in a city of our size,” says James Sauls, director of Raleigh Economic Development, a partnership between the City of Raleigh and the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.
Better, Not Bigger
With help from Bloomberg Rankings, Businessweek.com evaluated 100 of the country’s largest cities based on 16 criteria including: the number of restaurants, bars, and museums per capita; the number of colleges, libraries, and professional sports teams; the income, poverty, unemployment, crime, and foreclosure rates; percentage of population with bachelor’s degrees or higher; public school performance; park acres per 1,000 residents; and air quality. Greater weighting was placed on recreational amenities such as parks, bars, restaurants, and museums per capita, educational attainment, school performance, poverty, and air quality. As living in great cities can be expensive, affordability was not taken into account.
The data for this ranking came from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sperling’s BestPlaces, GreatSchools, Onboard Informatics,RealtyTrac, Bloomberg, and the Trust for Public Land.
After Raleigh, the next highest-ranked cities were Arlington, Va.; Honolulu; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Irvine, Calif. Larger cities placed lower: New York was 14th, while Los Angeles ranked 53rd and Chicago 75th. The highest-ranked city with a population greater than 1 million was San Diego, at seventh. Washington, D.C., which has 588,433 people, came in sixth. Since some criteria were evaluated on a per population basis, places did not necessarily score higher for having a larger number of establishments or amenities.
By Venessa Wong