Top 10 Cities - Best Places To Live 2011

Introduction

Everybody loves a Top 10 List, and with apologies to David Letterman we have come up with our own, for the 10 best cities to live in America in 2011. This is a timely list, as the current state of the economy has unfortunately made it necessary for many Americans to relocate, but there's more to it than that. There is also the simple fact that life is way too short and should be enjoyed, and a person's surroundings are a big part of what makes that happen.

Our top 10 cities are listed in order of their "AreaVibe". An AreaVibe is a score out of 100 calculated by our unique algorithm, which takes into account the most important metrics for evaluating a city, such as: cost of living, crime rates, education, employment, health & safety, housing, weather, transportation, local businesses and even user reviews. A city has to have a population of over 200,000 to qualify. So without further ado let's get to the list.

1. Plano, TXScore: 85.9/100
Plano, TX Photo © smilebig01 - flickr

We know you're probably thinking something like this right now - "Plano Texas is the top US city to live in? Plano? It sounds like a cleaning product." Well, considering we didn't know much about Plano either, we were interested to find out why this little known city ranked so high.

Kidding aside, Plano Texas is one of the crown jewel cities of America, ranking high in just about all of the criteria that matter. It is one of the most affluent cities in America, with an average median household income of $103,913 (90% higher than the national average) and a poverty level of just 4.3% (65.1% lower than the national average). Not surprisingly, the real estate market is thriving in Plano. The median value of owner occupied homes is $282,100 (compared to a national average of $216,578). Plano is also highly educated, with 81% of residents having completed some college and 53% having completed bachelor degrees (57% higher than the national average).

A downside to Plano is that it is somewhat stuffy and conservative. In a nutshell it is a city run by rich old men (27% of the population is over the age of 45). Salary equality is a concept that has been slow to take hold, as female workers in Plano typically only earn about half of what males do on average ($72,880 vs. $39,813). Finally, a whopping 67% of all residents over the age of 15 are married, so if you are looking for love in Plano you are looking in all the wrong places. Learn more about Plano, TX

2. Austin, TXScore: 82.4/100
Austin, TX Photo © bespam - flickr

The capital of the state of Texas, Austin is the place to be for artistic souls, hippies, and anybody with a zest for the good life. In fact, "keep Austin weird" has become the city's unofficial slogan! Austin has become famous as the live-music capital of the world (with over 800 performance venues), and many other art forms are equally embraced. This is perfectly embodied in the annual South by Southwest Festival, where live concerts, film screenings, performance artists and art exhibitions delight the local "Austinites".

Swaying around a campfire with a bunch of hippies singing Koombaya is fine and dandy, but you still have to pay the bills. No problem in Austin. The unemployment rate is 7.4%, a substantial 22% better than the national average. The average income per capita is $31,895, which amounts to 34% more than the Texas state average and 20% more than the national average. So there is no excuse not to get a haircut and get a real job. The peace pipe can wait until later.

Alas it's not all warm and fuzzies in Austin. While you are walking around high on life, be sure to be aware of your surroundings. Overall, Austin's crime index scores only 4.5 out of 10, which is 87% higher than the national average. The property crime rate is 91% higher and the violent crime rate is 51% higher. Love thy neighbour sounds good but don't be surprised if he doesn't love you back. Learn more about Austin, TX

3. Scottsdale, AZScore: 82.3/100
Scottsdale, AZ Photo © corneveaux - flickr

Scottsdale is a very wealthy city, and one that made its bones on the back of a warm climate and a world class tourism trade. It is certainly a great place to live, so long as you don't get surprised when a retired dentist slices his golf ball right into your front windshield.

The average income per capita in Scottsdale is $55,604 (a robust 109% higher than the national average) and the median household income is $81,627 (49% higher). Additionally, 22% of all Scottsdale residents make more than $100,000, an absurdly high percentage. The real estate market also reflects the level of wealth and is chock full of luxury houses, with the median value of an owner occupied home being $492,000 (127% higher than the national average).

Not surprisingly the tourism industry is the primary employer in Scottsdale, accounting for 39% of all jobs. Scottsdale has more than 70 hotels and resorts boasting 15,000 rooms. Of those resorts 5 are AAA Five-Diamond ranked, putting Scottsdale behind only New York City in that regard. Scottsdale also boasts the highest number of destination spas per capita of any city in the US. The golf courses are similarly world famous, annually ranking in the top 10 in the country and earning Scottsdale the title of "Best Place to Live in America for Golf" from the Robb Report.

While you are breathing in all that Scottsdale has to offer don't be surprised if you choke. The air quality index is notoriously bad (at 101 it is 172% higher than the national average), choked by the all the emission from the BMW's and people starting their BBQ's with $50 bills. Learn more about Scottsdale, AZ

4. Madison, WIScore: 82.2/100
Madison, WI Photo © slambo_42 - flickr

Initially it was hard to muster up the enthusiasm to write about Madison, but then I remembered this city is about beer, and that it has 3 major beer festivals in September alone. I remembered the perfection that is Grumpy Troll Ale and I drank one, and another and another. Eventually I couldn't remember anything...

With a cooler bag in tow Madison is the perfect place for nature lovers. It has a huge number of lakes (both big and small), and an extensive network of dams and glacial streams. Madison also boasts plentiful northern woodlands and state parks, making it a haven for hunters, fishermen, and water and winter sports enthusiasts.

Madison has also earned an excellent reputation for being educated, youthful and liberal. Befitting its designation as a "college town", almost half of all residents (48%) have completed their bachelor's degree, compared to 22% at the national level. A further 20% have completed their master's degree (8% nationally). 47% of the total population falls between the age of 18-39, and they bring with them an enlightened view of the world. This attitude is evident in the fact that Madison is prominently included in Gregory A. Kompes' book, 50 Fabulous Gay-Friendly Places to Live.

An unfortunate by product of sipping heavily on beer and liberal love potion is that some people take things too far. Madison scores just 4.1 on the Crime Index, with a particularly deplorable record when it comes to sex offenders. The state of Wisconsin has 353 sex offenders per 100k, compared to 192 per 100k at the national level (84% higher). Learn more about Madison, WI

5. Lincoln, NEScore: 81.1/100
Lincoln, NE Photo © bsmith4815 - flickr

Named after slain president Abraham Lincoln and centrally located at the 96th meridian (where the Great Plains begin), Lincoln Nebraska is one of the truly great anchor cities of the United States (less than 3 hours from anywhere in the country via direct flight). It is the embodiment of so much that is good about the Middle American way of life, your feelings on in-bred yokelism aside.

Residents of Lincoln pride themselves on putting in an honest day's work, and there is ample opportunity to do just that. The unemployment rate is a paltry 4.7%, substantially lower than the 9.5% national average, while the poverty level is 10.1% (17% less than the national average). The cost of living in Lincoln is also very affordable, on average 11% cheaper than the rest of the country. Basic commodity items are standouts, with beef, milk and eggs all priced at least 18% lower than the national average.

Another redeeming feature of Lincoln is that it provides some of the cheapest and cleanest energy in America. Lincoln enjoys one of the lowest electric rates in the country, and the overall energy cost index is 11% lower than the national average. The clean energy translates into excellent air quality, and the pollution index is 93% lower than the national average. In Big Sky Country you can actually see the stars.

Ironically for a city named after one of the forefathers of Emancipation, there are very few African Americans in Lincoln. To some this is a sign of stifling conservatism. 89% of residents are white and 90% are practicing Christians. Feel free to go out dressed like Marilyn Manson and start a bonfire with your bible, but don't expect to be welcomed with open arms. Learn more about Lincoln, NE

6. Honolulu, HIScore: 80.3/100
Honolulu, HI Photo © paytonc - flickr

Honolulu is often called paradise on earth, and with good reason. It has some of the best beaches and surfing in the world, the Mecca of which is Waikiki Beach, a 2 mile stretch of pristine sand and turquoise water studded with hotels, restaurants and bars. In addition to the vibrant surfing scene (and eye candy that goes with it) you will find many people swimming, canoeing and scuba diving. Fuelling all of this is the absolutely perfect weather in Honolulu. What more need be stated than the fact that the average temperature is 79 degrees in July and 73 degrees in January, with an average annual precipitation of 20.1 inches.

If you can tear yourself away from the beach there is ample opportunity to find employment in Honolulu. The unemployment rate is 5.8%, compared to a national average of 9.5%. And if you work hard, put some money away and find yourself lucky enough to own a home you will be sitting on a goldmine. The median value of an owner occupied home is $840,845, an astounding 288% higher than the national average.

A downside to Honolulu is that it is extremely expensive, with a cost of living index of 166 (66% higher than the national average). The grocery index is 60% above the national average, with basic commodity items like milk (105% higher), eggs (70% higher) and bread (160% higher) particularly inflated. The never ending stream of tourists is also an annoyance to locals, as they are subjected to the sight of bloated, obnoxious, and half soused slobs in hideous Hawaiian shirts day in and day out. Learn more about Honolulu, HI

7. Dallas, TXScore: 80.1/100
Dallas, TX Photo © ludophoto - flickr

Dallas was the setting of the TV series Walker, Texas Ranger, which showcased the insane talents of the legendary Chuck Norris. You see, Chuck doesn't breathe, he holds air hostage, and he alone gets Dallas on this list.

Chuck aside, Dallas has emerged as a dynamic and exciting city with much to offer. Foodies rave about the local culinary scene, with Dallas being home to more than 7,000 restaurants (several of which rank amongst the best in the country). Dallas hosts the largest working farmer's market in the US, boasting 1 million plus visitors annually. Those in search of cultural enlightenment will also feel right at home, as the Dallas Arts District is the largest urban arts district in the country and one of the most impressive in the world.

Dallas is also a city of opportunity and a cultural melting pot that has been shaped by the racial diversity of the population. Dallas counts only 50% of its population as white (compared to 70% at the national level), with 25% African American and an extensive Hispanic community (31% of locals speak Spanish). To many proud locals this diversity represents the core of American values. Finally, those looking to break into the real estate market will find plenty of affordable housing, with the median home asking price coming in at $129,675 (32% cheaper than the national average).

A negative aspect of Dallas is that it is far from the safest place to be. It has an overall crime index that is 97% higher than the national average and a violent crime index that is 159% higher. Unless you are personal friends with Mr. Norris, be mindful of dark alleys in Dallas. Learn more about Dallas, TX

8. Colorado Springs, COScore: 80.0/100

Among its varied attributes, Colorado Springs is home to both the US Air Force Academy and the US Olympic Training Centre. If you ever want to see a jarhead and a ski jumper side by side in a bar, Colorado Springs is for you.

Located in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado Springs offers some of the most spectacular scenery that America has to offer. Walking through The Garden of the Gods - a park of large red sandstone formations - is a mystical experience. And while you're taking in all the beauty you will also be breathing some of America's cleanest air. The air quality index is a mere 4, compared to a national average of 37 (89% lower), and the overall pollution index is 89% lower.

The layout of Colorado Springs makes it very easy to get around. Sightseers can go from the mountains to the city in minutes, and many of the best restaurants and shops are centrally located on Academy Boulevard. If you are fed up with the workday rat race Colorado Springs is your ticket. The median travel time to work is just 23 minutes, 11% less than the national average. Want to reduce it to zero minutes? Fine and dandy. 3.8% of Colorado Springs residents work from home, 25% more than the rest of the country.

Younger people in search of love may not be as enthralled with Colorado Springs. 58% of the population is married and 52% have children. There may not be many options, but there's always that young ski jumper getting tipsy at the bar. Learn more about Colorado Springs, CO

9. Seattle, WAScore: 79.9/100
Seattle, WA Photo © cpierry - flickr

For too long now Seattle has been associated with 90's grunge music, the Starbucks coffee chain and an inept football team. Kurt Cobain was so upset by this that he decided to sing his final tune into the barrel of a shotgun. Take heed Kurt, it's time to set the record straight.

Seattle is one of the most hip and exciting cities in America, the powerhouse of the Pacific Northwest. The local live music scene has always been booming, and now the nightclubs have caught up (Seattle is often called the Miami Beach of the west). The food is outstanding, much aided by the abundance of fresh seafood and the influence of the large Asian population (13% of all residents). The proximity to the ocean and sandy beaches draw swarms of joggers, skaters, scuba divers and volleyball players. The mild, temperate climate (average temperature in January exceeds 42° degrees) allows these activities to go on year round.

The real estate market in Seattle has remained healthy. Homeowners delight in the fact that the median home value is a robust $521,200 (132% higher than the national average). Landlords bring in a median rent of $1,190, compared to $799 on average nationally. Seattle residents are also an enlightened bunch, with 47% having completed a bachelor's degree (one of the highest percentages in the US).

Unfortunately as Seattle's status has risen so too has the cost of living index (22% higher than the national average). Particular sting is felt in doctor and dentist fees (21% and 29% higher than the national average respectively). Between this and your $9 Mochafrappa Chai Latte Caramelmachiato you may find yourself begging for change on the nearest street corner. Learn more about Seattle, WA

10. Virginia Beach, VAScore: 79.6/100
Virginia Beach, VA Photo © wdwbarber - flickr

Those who understand Virginia Beach, those who get it, often do the same thing. They walk the beach as the sun starts to set, listen to the waves wash up on the shore, breathe deeply and smell the sea, and smile with the knowledge that there is absolutely no better place on earth to be.

Virginia Beach is one of the crown jewels of the Atlantic coast, the kind of place many people feel they must experience at least once. Blessed with the longest pleasure beach in the world, the resort city's oceanfront is studded with hundreds of hotels, motels and restaurants. A wide variety of activity takes place, including surfing, kayaking, swimming and yachting for the more well to do residents. The climate in Virginia Beach is ideal, with very mild winters (44 degrees in January) and hot, humid summers (78 degrees in July) with warm evening breezes.

Tourism is the driving force of the Virginia Beach economy ($857 million spent annually) and creates many opportunities for employment (14,900 jobs per year). The unemployment rate is 7.6% (20% lower than the national average) and the poverty rate is an outstanding 6.5%, which is 47% better than the rest of the country. Befitting the genteel demeanour of the city itself, Virginia Beach is a very safe place to live, with a violent crime index of only 240 per 100k (30% less than the national average). When it comes to raising a family there are certainly worse places to be.

As is usually the case in a place like Virginia Beach your enthusiasm for a tourist driven economy will depend on what side of the table you are sitting on. If you are giving the orders that's one thing, but if you are the one whose livelihood depends on some bad tipping and Viagra popping creep, Virginia Beach may not be all peaches and cream. Learn more about Virginia Beach, VA

You can refer to our Best Places to Live report for real-time, up-to-date and interactive top 100 best and worst list of cities. The report is sortable, and it allows you to discriminate by the population as well as your preferred state.

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