Livability’s third annual ranking of the best small to mid-sized cities in the U.S.
They ranked more than 2,000 cities with populations between 20,000 and 350,000 to come up with the third annual Top 100 Best Places to Live. This is a data-driven list based on more than 40 data points. This year they are proud to have collaborated with world-renowned urbanist Richard Florida and assistant clinical professor Steven Pedigo from the Initiative for Creativity and Innovation in Cities at NYU School of Professional Studies, the new data partners EMSI and stellar board of advisors in shaping the proprietary methodology and the framework by which they rank the cities. See if your town made this year’s list (or the 2015 and 2014 rankings). Get ready to plot your next move, and make one of these best places your best place.
600 = The city’s overall score, based on the weighted sum of the eight component scores.
LIVABILITY SCORE : 674
Rochester’s rise to the top of our Best Places index has been steady but not surprising. The city first appeared on the Top 100 Best Places to Live 2014 as the seventh best city, then climbed to No. 2 on 2015’s index. New scores for Rochester’s schools, civil engagement, health-care scene and, most notably, its diverse range of affordable housing, pushed it to the top spot. Home to the renowned Mayo Clinic, Rochester is experiencing an economic boom that is bringing in thousands of new residents and new businesses and giving those who live here an expanding assortment of entertainment options.
2. Bellevue WashingtonLIVABILITY SCORE : 670
Lakes and mountains surround Bellevue, Wash., a Seattle suburb of more than 120,000 residents, while a tapestry of lush parks provide residents with abundant outdoor recreation options. Bike paths and sidewalks make getting to and from the city’s many festivals, museums, restaurants and music venues easy. A range of amenities provides many things to do in Bellevue. About 40 percent of the city’s population are minorities, which contributes to an overall diverse range of lifestyles and ideas. Bellevue schools have been recognized among the top in the country by major media outlets. This makes the third time the city has appeared on this list. Find out more about why Bellevue is a Top 100 Best Place to Live.
3. Madison Wisconsin
Not only does Madison have one of the top rated health-care systems in the country, it also has a high performing school system and strong economy. The University of Wisconsin, and a handful of other schools, gives Madison a large student population, but being the state capital means this city offers some serious culture. There are always things to do in Madison. The city’s 33 percent minority population creates diversity that pairs well with an urban/suburban vibe. Madison has been at or near the top of the Best Places index for three years in a row. Read more about why Madison was the Top 100 Best Place to Live in 2015.
4. Santa Barbara CaliforniaLIVABILITY SCORE : 651
A collection of beaches, mountain views and resorts help make Santa Barbara a popular tourist destination. Those same amenities, great schools, a highly ranked health-care scene and strong economy make living in this California city feel like a dream come true. Great farm-to-table restaurants, unique shopping experiences, plenty of outdoor recreation options and fantastic weather keep Santa Barbara residents on the go. See where Santa Barbara ranked on last year’s list.
5. Boulder ColoradoLIVABILITY SCORE : 649
Known as one of the best cities for liberals, Boulder spoils its 100,300 residents with pristine natural surroundings, a strong farm-to-table restaurant scene, and dynamic arts and cultural attractions. Each season brings more things to do in Boulder. Many of the city’s highly active residents plan their days around hikes, rock climbing, mountain biking and fishing. Schools in Boulder rank high, which has helped the city appear on the Top 100 since 2014.
6. Palo Alto CaliforniaLIVABILITY SCORE : 646
Those fortunate enough to live in Palo Alto enjoy a city that surpasses most quality of life standards. A long list of amenities starts with a 31-mile dark fiber ring around the city that provides ultra high-speed Internet. Residents enjoy many things to do in Palo Alto, like playing in impressively designed parks and open spaces and dining in unique restaurants. Palo Alto’s residents are politically active, socially minded and strongly support the city’s highly rated schools. It’s no wonder Palo Alto has held such a high ranking when it comes to measuring livability. You can read why Palo Alto has been a Top 100 Best Place to Live three years and counting.
7. Bismarck North DakotaLIVABILITY SCORE : 645
Located on the east bank of the Missouri River, Bismarck offers residents a large park system with walking and biking trails, a growing economy, and attractions like Dakota Zoo, the Kirkwood Mall in downtown and a pair of excellent golf courses. Newcomers find much to like in Bismarck’s affordable housing market and excellent health care. The city’s largest employer, Sanford Health, provides jobs to about 25,000 people, but the city’s economy revolves around the small businesses in Bismark. The city’s tallest building is the 19-story, art deco North Dakota State Capitol.
8. Ann Arbor MichiganLIVABILITY SCORE : 643
Education is a high point when it comes to analyzing the quality of life factors that make Ann Arbor one of the best places to live. The University of Michigan, which has 43,000 students, makes Ann Arbor a perennial candidate for our annual ranking of the best college towns and plays a big role in the city’s economy and culture. More than 150 parks, the Huron River, a large assortment of restaurants and shops give those living in Ann Arbor numerous options when it comes to staying entertained. See why Ann Arbor was named one of the Best Cities for Liberals.
9. Iowa City Iowa
Highly ranked schools and a strong health-care system have helped Iowa City make multiple appearances on our Best Places to Live list. But to get the full story on why Iowa City is a Top 100 Best Place to Live, look at this town’s college, the University of Iowa, which helps set the cultural tone. The city’s large assortment of arts and entertainment options draw in new residents, while affordable home prices keep them here.
10. Sioux Falls South DakotaLIVABILITY SCORE : 640
A range of neighborhoods, great schools and entertainment offerings draw newcomers to Sioux Falls, a city that ranks high in health care and amenities. A collection of more than 70 parks and greenways, including Falls Park which features an impressive waterfalls, help residents stay active. The city’s economic leaders include hospitals, banks and telecom companies. Empire Mall, a 1.3 million-square-foot shopping center, draws millions of visitors from across the Midwest. Read more about why Sioux Falls is a Best Place to Live.
11. Walnut Creek CaliforniaLIVABILITY SCORE : 639
The Art and Wine Festival in Walnut Creek highlights the city’s impressive food scene. Restaurants and residents that strongly support farmers markets helped Walnut Creek earn a spot on our list of the Best Foodie Cities. Beyond great places to eat in Walnut Creek, the city provides residents with top-notch schools, a bevy of entertainment options and lots of recreational opportunities. Residents are politically active and engage in many community events.
12. San Mateo CaliforniaLIVABILITY SCORE : 638
Among the most diverse cities in Silicon Valley, with a 43 percent minority population, San Mateo contains a rich assortment of historic buildings, parks and restaurants. Technology and finance companies anchor the economy in San Mateo, which is home to Franklin Templeton Investments and GoPro. Sustainability efforts are a priority for city leaders, and many residents use local buses and a commuter rail service to get to work. See where San Mateo ranked on our Top 100 Best Places to Live 2015 list.
13. Fort Collins ColoradoLIVABILITY SCORE : 638
From its thriving microbreweries to its mountain views and hiking trails, Fort Collins has an enticing assortment of amenities that draw talented workers to the high-tech companies located here. Those companies include Hewlett Packard, Intel and National Semiconductor. Colorado State University plays a major part in the city’s economy and entertainment scene, while schools in Fort Collins rank high. It’s been picked as one of the Healthiest Cities. Taking into account the city’s strong health-care options, diverse range of homes and recreational options, it’s easy to see why Fort Collins is one of the top 100 Best Place to Live.
14. Overland Park Kansas
Another three-time city on the Best Places index, Overland Park provides residents with excellent schools, great recreational facilities, entertainment options and a stable economy. As one of the best cities for families, Overland Park offers children a safe environment to explore while inspiring them. Top employers in Overland Park include Sprint, Johnson County Community College and Black & Veatch, a global engineering, consulting and construction company. See where Overland Park ranked on the 2015 list of the Top 100 Best Places to Live.LIVABILITY SCORE : 636
Hailed as one of the best cities for new college grads, and general job seekers for that matter, Fargo continues to build on the benefits of having diverse economy and affordable cost of living. If you’re looking at why Fargo is a best place to live, consider first the colleges like North Dakota State University, which anchor the city’s strong educational scene. With outdoor attractions, museums, theaters and restaurants, Fargo delivers a strong entertainment package with many things to do.
16. Rapid City South Dakota
Located between Badlands National Park and the Black Hills mountain range, 25 miles northeast of Mt. Rushmore, Rapid City gives residents amazing outdoor amenities, a vibrant arts scene and many affordable housing options. Nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base and Camp Rapid, a U.S. Army National Guard post, are among the major economic forces in Rapid City, which also has a growing manufacturing sector and excellent health care. Parents praise schools in Rapid City, which is known as “The City of Presidents” thanks to its collection of life-sized bronze statues of each American president.
17. Rockville Maryland
The quaint character and excellent schools found in Rockville appeal to the many prospects moving here to join innovative biomed and technology companies that lead the local economy. Rockville’s Town Square area features more than 50 shops and restaurants, which helped it land on our list of the Top 10 Foodie Cities. The city’s festivals and large library also play a big part in why Rockville is a Top 100 Best Place to Live.
18. Ashland OregonLIVABILITY SCORE : 631
The small city of Ashland holds many charms, from a collection of preserved and restored historic buildings to inner-city bike trails and green spaces. The city hosts an annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival that draws thousands of visitors, and Ashland is home to Southern Oregon University. Ashland’s restaurants, art galleries and performance venues keep residents entertained. Take a look at where Ashland ranked on the 2015 Top 10 Best Places to Live.
19. Santa Cruz CaliforniaLIVABILITY SCORE : 631
Known as a surfing hotspot, Santa Cruz offers a laid-back lifestyle with access to redwood forests, lakes and, of course, beaches. Even those who don’t partake in the city’s most popular activities – surfing, sailing, diving and paddleboarding – find plenty of ways to stay entertained. Santa Cruz features several performance venues and a bevy of restaurants. See where Santa Cruz ranked as a Best Place to Live in 2015 and where it landed on our list of the Best Spring Break Cities.
20. Olympia WashingtonLIVABILITY SCORE : 630
The Puget Sound, Capitol Lake and Capitol State Forest are just some of the natural amenities surrounding Olympia. Evergreen State College and Saint Martin’s University form the base of the city’s excellent educational system. Animal Fire Theater and Harlequin Productions are just some of the theatrical options available in Olympia, which has a thriving arts scene. See where Olympia ranked on last year’s list.
This feature originally appeared in Livability.