Living Large in the Small City
By Martin Brown
Americans have always been known for their ability to create a better life. Undoubtedly this is rooted in the fact that we are for the most part a nation of immigrants. Whether your family traces its roots back to the Jamestown Settlement, the 19th Century European waves of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Greece, and many other nations, or more recent arrivals from Latin America, Asia, India, and elsewhere; we all share the common thread of seeking a better life. An ability to shake off the roots of family and familiar surroundings and to strike out in search of the better life defines the courage common to all American immigrants.
Every year Money magazine presents a list of America’s top 100 small towns. This year’s list, presented in their August 2008 issue, followed the same criteria of previous years defining small cities as having a population of 50,000 to 300,000 people.
To refine their statistical search, Money screens out cities with large retirement communities; where income is more than 85% and less than 200% of the state’s median income; places with high crime, large population declines, and significant unemployment.
Having done that, Money searches the remaining database of 260 small cities and factors in job growth, cost of living, affordable housing, school scores, cultural amenities, racial diversity, and general ease of living: traffic congestion, public services, and so on. Having done all that, their selection committee makes site visits to access the statistically intangible things that are still important to all of us. For example: Is this a friendly, and welcoming place?
This year’s number one city is Plymouth, Minnesota. Close to Minneapolis, it has lots of green open spaces, a friendly and diverse environment, and great schools. It’s big negative? You guessed it, you can freeze several times over during its long cold winter.
Not a fan of the cold? Not too worry, checkout City #4, Irvine, California. The plus is great weather, schools, green space and much, much more. The negative is that even in a slumping housing market home prices are still high here. And, of course, beyond Plymouth and Irvine there is everything in-between.
For example, Round Rock, Texas is just 17 miles from the liberal epicenter of the state, its capitol city Austin. Round Rock has affordable homes, premium outlets, good schools, and lots of open space including 64-mile-long Lake Travis.
Or, if you are truly a lover of the great outdoors, checkout Fort Collins, Colorado sixty miles North of Denver. This city has experienced a boom in high tech jobs, its one of America’s most progressive cities on the environment, and it has a charming downtown with four microbreweries and two-dozen restaurants. This outdoors paradise even boasts a public bike library where residents and visitors can checkout a bike for free for seven days. Finally, for those who hate the summer heat, Fort Collins average July temperature is 69 degrees. Of course if you don’t like cold temperatures in the winter, this is not your ideal spot.
If you are feeling pinned down in by a community that is not to your liking, then broaden your horizons. From Franklin Township, in New Jersey, to Sunnyvale, California, this is a country filled with opportunities for you to pursue a better life where housing is affordable, public schools are excellent, and the job market offers real chances for growth and professional satisfaction.
To find that sweet spot, you need to do your own research. If you’re interested in the life of a small city and ready to make that leap, Money’s list is an excellent place to start. But to know for sure, hit the road and check out some of these places on your own. This is a great time of year to do just that. The weather is great in most places, airports are much quieter than during the summer months, and airfares are at their lowest point of the year.
Or, as Southwest Airlines says, “You are now free to move about the country.”