America's most livable cities
Job opportunities, low crime and thriving local culture make these cities great places to call home.
Pittsburgh ranks No. 1 on Forbes.com's list of most livable cities. // © Jan Tyler/Getty Images
Each year, Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business attracts some of the brightest master's degree candidates in the country. But the admissions staff occasionally has to sway prospective students who wonder why they should relocate to Pittsburgh.
"Pittsburgh has a really great cultural scene. We have a great ballet and a great symphony that travels the world and performs to packed houses, and there's a restaurant scene that's much more diverse than it ever was when I was growing up," says Wendy Hermann, director of student services for master's programs and a Pittsburgh native. "And it's an easier sell, now that the Steelers and Penguins won their respective titles."
Indeed, Pittsburgh's art scene, job prospects, safety and affordability make it the most livable city in the country, according to measures studied by Forbes. The city has rebounded from its manufacturing past. Disused steel mills have been repurposed into multimedia art centers, and amid a struggling national economy, Google Pittsburgh — a test site for the company's new high-speed broadband network — has expanded its offices to accommodate more hires.
Pittsburgh's strong university presence — the city has more than a dozen colleges or campuses — helps bolster its livability. In fact, the key to finding the easiest places to live may be to follow the students. Most of the metros on our list — including Ann Arbor, Mich.; Provo, Utah; and Manchester, N.H. — are college towns.
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"Universities are large employers in their cities," says Alexander Von Hoffman, senior fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. "In the long term, not only do you have that employment, but you have an educated population and you have a large, youthful population which tends to be a consuming population."
Behind the numbers
In compiling our list, we measured five data points in the country's 200 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas: unemployment, crime, income growth, cost of living and artistic and cultural opportunities.
To find out where jobs were available and incomes were steadily growing, we ranked cities both by their rate of income growth over the past five years and the current unemployment rate, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The stronger the income growth trend and the lower the unemployment, the higher each city ranked. Jobs don't mean everything, though: A city is more livable if a family's income goes further. Using cost of living data from Moody's Economy.com, we ranked cities higher that had lower costs for everyday goods.
Some places are inexpensive, but still not desirable, so we included a measure for crime, using the Federal Bureau of Investigation's and Sperling's Best Places reports on the number of crimes per 100,000 residents, ranking low-crime cities higher. We also considered a thriving local culture crucial to livability, so we gave higher rankings to cities that scored highly on the Arts & Leisure index created by Sperling's Best Places. We averaged the rankings for each of these metrics to arrive at a final score.
The college bump
Ogden, Utah, No. 2 on our list, is home to Weber State University. Unemployment in the metro is below average, and incomes have increased by 3.4% over the last five years. Provo, Utah, a city 80 miles away and our No. 3 most livable, is home to Brigham Young University, the country's largest private college. The metro has the highest five-year income growth, 5.2%, of all the cities measured. No. 9 Lincoln, Neb., home to the University of Nebraska's main campus, boasts the lowest unemployment rate, 4.9%, of all the metros we surveyed. Unemployment is also at a low 5.9% in No. 5 Omaha, Neb., home to a University of Nebraska campus and roughly a dozen other colleges.
Rust Belt renaissance
Cities once driven by jobs in steel manufacturing, railroads and textile mills suffered as those industries dried up in the 1970s. But it's a mistake to write off places like Pittsburgh; Harrisburg, Pa.; and Manchester, N.H., Nos. 1, 5 and 7 on our list, respectively.
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Manchester, once dominated by textile mills, is revitalizing itself, converting its maze of mills and foundries into medical centers, museums and apartment buildings that now drive the local economy. The city has the second-lowest crime rate of all the metros we surveyed, incomes have grown 3% in five years and, at 7.7%, its unemployment rate is below the national average.
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In only a few of our most livable cities does population growth match prospects for employment and inexpensive living. Provo saw an 8% population boom between 2000 and 2006, and the head count in Omaha rose by 7.2% over the same period. In most of the cities on the list, however, the population has shrunk, or grown only by meager percentages, suggesting that word about the quality of life there hasn't yet gotten out. Being a well-kept secret is just fine for some residents.
"I'm a big proponent of Pittsburgh," Hermann says. "But I don't want to spread the message too much."
The top 5 most livable cities
Provo Utah?!?!?! Cultural??? BUAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHHA!!!!!!!
Guaranteed those income level increases are significantly affected by the rampant multi level marketing (aka pyramid schemes) companies down there.
I've lived in the" Burgh" as some call it, for a few years as an educator. I'm a young professional and i found the area to be VERY DEPRESSING. This list is so out of wack that words cannot explain!! Pitt has an Over abundance of abandoned houses with reams of poverty stricken" hoods" and streets that literally lead to NO WHERE but dead ends. I would NOT recommend moving to this DEAD END town. The housing stock is old, run down and on top of crumbling HIlls and dirty valleys....CRime is bad as well the economy.... don't believe this report ask someone about the "Hill district" I for one am GLAD I GOT OUT!....SMH
I am from Pittsburgh, and have lived in several other places then moved back to the region (I live a bit North of Pittsburgh now) so I thought I would give my two cents. Some of these comments strike me as a bit off.
1. First, on the weather--it is not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. It is often cloudy, but we get plenty of hot sunny days in the summer, and the fall is really beutiful. While it can be humid the south is way worse-- even DC has much worse humidity that Pittsburgh
2. Property values have been stable. Pittsburgh has slightly declining population but in no way is the central city or the region in decline. In fact several of the local city neigborhoods are definately improving.
3. Pittsburgh has successfully made the transition from "rust belt" industry to high tech/medical research university based knowledge economy.
4. Those comments about lack of ethnic diversity are just plain off. Maybe in the small towns outside of the city. But Pittsburgh has vibrant ethnic communites from both the early 20th Century immigrants-- Poles, Slovaks, Germans, Italians Irish etc and from newer immigrant communities: East Asia, South Asians, Latinos etc. As well as a substantial African-American community.
5. I agree that the city's nightlife is behind, people are freindly but there is a parochial nature in some of the small towns and neigborhoods.
Regarding the comment about ethnic diversity and Pittsburgh. I have never been to pittsburg however, as an African American looking for a better way of life for me and my family, ethnic diversity is not at the top of the totum pole for relocating to a quality city environment. Actually what i tend to find is that where there is ethnic indiversity there tends to be a neutrality for reasonable living. I could care less whether or not my neighbor watches reruns of All-In-The Family, Chico and the Man, Sanford and Son, or the Jeffersons. The only ethnic diversity i need is Starbucks or DD.
How is this the most liveable city? This has to be a biased report, I can't wait to move and leave this area. I have lived all over the US and never have seen a place that lacks diversity. Pittsburgh is dirty, old, and backwards. The job market sucks, almost everyone is surviving on welfare. The people-- well lets just say that I met alot of people that have never left "the westmoreland county" there entire life...use your imagination. As a Latina, I have experienced alot of racism here. If your gonna move here, just know this side of PA is nothing like the other side like Philly.
AMERICA IS NOT A FREAKING COUNTRY!!! IT'S A CONTINENT!!!
Why don't you gringos get that once and for all!
Stupid article should have read something like "USA's most livable cities" if you were only planning to include USA's cities.
I live here in Pittsburgh. I have also lived in Boston, Augusta Ga., and Baltimore. Pittsburgh is as good as any other city really, except I have to agree that it is sooo cloudy for much of the year.
I work in the downtown area as a social worker with the city's poorest. I find that Pittsburgh is no worse off than any other city where I have lived. Better off really that Augusta and Baltimore when it comes to public transportation.