America's Best Places to Live 2003
Challenging times bring about difficult decisions and often cause us to hold on tighter to those things that are most important to us. How does where you live affect those people and activities you treasure most? As world events give our lives new perspective, it's important to live in safe, comfortable places that reward our hard work and encourage our dreams.
We rated 331 metropolitan areas in categories that are especially relevant to Americans today, including cost of living, crime rate, education, home prices and weather. After all the results were calculated, a few remarkable cities emerged as America's Best Places to Live in 2003.
1. Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC
Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill has the warmth and charm of a small southern town, while still being large enough to provide all the amenities of big-city living. Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill's scores are above average in nearly every category. The city has the second-best health score in the nation, thanks to great air quality and affordable health care. The citizens of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill are a smart bunch—91% of its 312,000 residents have graduated from high school, and nearly 19% have a four-year college degree. A healthy economy and a low cost of living cement Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill's ranking as America's Best Place to Live.
2. Denver, CO
Denver is a great place for those concerned about the economy. The city has a low unemployment rate and affordable housing. Denver is winning the battle against the air pollution problem that threatened in the 1990s, and its 554,636 residents now breathe some of the cleanest air in the country. The ninth-safest big city in the country, Denver has a low violent crime rate. The climate is comfortable, with little rain and no noticeable humidity. There's also great recreation indoors and out, including world-class theater, opera, dance and of course, skiing.
3. San Diego, CA
If you're looking for the perfect climate, San Diego may be for you. Just 20 miles north of Mexico, San Diego gets little precipitation, very few extremely hot or cold days, and lots of sunshine. San Diego's economy is excellent, too, with a low unemployment rate and continuing job growth. It's a good place to own a home, thanks to rapid home appreciation, low property tax, and a low property crime rate. With the Pacific Ocean in their backyard, San Diegans also enjoy good air quality, lots of options for outdoor recreation, and a vibrant fine arts scene.
4. Punta Gorda, FL
Located on Florida's Gulf Coast, Punta Gorda has the best economy score in the nation. Current and future job growths are both excellent, the unemployment rate is very low, and the cost of living is affordable. Florida's tax structure can be very favorable—there's no personal income tax. House prices are low and appreciate quickly, and utilities are inexpensive. Punta Gorda's 14,000 residents also enjoy the peace of mind that comes with a very low property crime rate, an extremely low personal crime rate, and low health care costs. Punta Gorda's climate is comfortable and commute times are short. A very poor transit score and a significant lack of recreation options only partially offset the great quality of life Punta Gorda offers.
5. Tucson, AZ
The Sunbelt is the fastest growing region of the United States, and for good reason. Few places can compare to Tucson's natural beauty. Set in the Sonoran Desert, the city's air is amazingly pure, there's little snow and rain, and it rarely gets too cold. To top it off, Tucson gets 287 days of sunshine a year! It's no surprise that this warm, sunny city has many spas, resorts and golf courses. The economy is also excellent in Tucson, with very low health care costs and a low unemployment rate. For those looking to start a family, houses can be quite affordable in Tucson.
6. Nassau-Suffolk, NY
The Long Island counties of Nassau and Suffolk are perfect for young families. Just 15 minutes from New York City, the area is extremely safe, and the educational climate is one of the best in the country. Nassau-Suffolk has extremely low property and violent crime rates. The school district spends over $11,000 annually on each student, the most of any district in the nation. This commitment to schooling is reflected in the high graduation rate and the low pupil-to-teacher ratio. Nassau-Suffolk is also a good place to buy a home. Reasonably priced homes can still be found, and appreciation has lately been better than average. The economy is good in Nassau-Suffolk, though it's closely tied to that of the New York City metro area. Nassau-Suffolk's 2.78 million residents enjoy extremely clean air as well as the recreational and cultural options of the Big Apple.
7. Madison, WI
There's a lot to get excited about living in Madison. Home to the University of Wisconsin, Madison has one of the highest education scores in the country. The percentage of high school graduates is very high, and there is a very low pupil-to-teacher ratio. Madison's economy is in great shape too, with an extremely low unemployment rate and a low cost of living. If you're thinking about home ownership, houses in this city of 200,000 people are inexpensive and appreciate quickly. Madison is also an attractive choice for those who are concerned with health and safety. Health costs are low, and there are very low personal and property crime rates. The air is very clean and it never gets too hot in Madison, but you will have to endure some very cold winters.
8. Danbury, CT
Living just 70 miles north of Manhattan, Danbury's 75,000 residents enjoy one of the lowest personal crime rates in the country, as well as an extremely low rate of property crime. The economy is booming in the city, which has very good job growth and a very low unemployment rate. The cost of living is very low, and home prices are currently low and appreciating rapidly. Danburians can count on lower than average health costs and cleaner than average air. Danbury makes school spending a priority, and their schools boast a low pupil-to-teacher ratio. Finally, Danbury has a buzzing nightlife, featuring fine dining and a thriving theater and opera community.
9. Columbia, MO
The city of Columbia has an amazing economy, boasting the lowest unemployment rate in the country and an extremely low cost of living. Columbia draws much of its economic stability from the University of Missouri, which enrolls or employs nearly half of Columbia's 85,000 residents. The university's positive influence is also seen in Columbia's impressive high school graduation rate and high percentage of graduate degree holders. The city also has good news for prospective homeowners: house prices and utility costs are low. Additionally, Columbia's climate is mild and comfortable, commute times are short, and there's little crime.
10. Providence, RI
Providence wins this year's award for Most Improved City. For years, downtown Providence had fallen into disuse as more and more citizens chose to make their home in the suburbs and commute to the city for work. Recently though, the downtown waterfront area has been revitalized and Providence has become a model of urban renewal. This is reflected in the low unemployment rate and very high rate of recent job growth. Making Providence even more appealing is low housing costs, good home appreciation, and a low cost of living. The city's 174,000 residents are also safe—there is a very low rate of personal crime and a low rate of property crime. The air is nice and clean and it never gets too hot, though summertime humidity is always a consideration on the Eastern Seaboard. The fine arts scene is also notable, featuring outstanding symphony, theater, and opera events. Providence schools also have one of the lowest pupil to teacher ratios in the nation.
I want to move to Florida one day.