It’s that time of year again: U.S. News & World Report’s recently unveiled Best Places to Live in the USA again and has placed a Texas city at the top of the list — but despite a recent No. 1 accolade, it’s not Houston.
For the third year in a row, Austin topped a list of 125 of the most populous metros in the country. According to U.S. News, the city must “have a good value, be a desirable place to live, have a strong job market, and a high quality of life.” Value may be relative, but the other boxes — check, check, check.
The Live Music Capital of the World is also the only Texas city to make it into the top five. Denver, Colorado, took silver, and Colorado Springs took bronze, with Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Des Moines, Iowa, securing four and five, respectively. Dallas was the next Texas locale to hit the list, coming in at No. 21. Houston follows later at No. 30.
In the report, Houston is lauded as a city that “attracts people with an entrepreneurial spirit and those who want to work at some of the country's largest companies.” The oil and gas sectors are noted, as are manufacturing and medical, as well as the job bounce-back from the recession. “As the country recouped, Houston was able to gain all of its lost jobs back and has gone on to add two jobs for every one lost.”
Houston also gets a nod for its diversity and low cost of living relative to income, and — no surprise here — robust dining scene, with more than 11,000 restaurants. In fact, the high praise makes one wonder if the Bayou City shouldn't have scored considerably better than No. 30.
So how’d Austin get to No. 1 on the list? How does any city get on this list?
U.S. News surveyed 2,000 American residents to weigh various factors about their cities. “These factors include quality of the job market, housing affordability, if people are actually moving to the areas, net migration, [and] desirability as well,” explained U.S. News Real Estate editor Devon Thornsby.
Quality of life is a huge component of the methodology. Things like high school education quality and average morning commute time factor into that category. Even with the city’s ongoing struggles with affordability and mobility, the pros still outweigh the cons for Austin residents.
Austin, with its technology boom, slew of universities, migration from other parts of Texas and the country, and general desirability, is caught in a perfect storm.
But other cities provide a good warning. “The biggest factor keeping places like New York City and Los Angeles from getting on the list is cost of living,” Thornsby said. “As a ranking that’s trying to help anyone make a decision, we have to take a realistic look at what people can afford there.”
Thornsby credits Austin’s “three-peat” win in large part to how much cheaper to live Austin still is than in Silicon Valley or New York City, where many of our transplants come from, as well as the overall culture.
“A lot of young professionals love the idea of being able to live in a part of the country that isn’t already so established with professionals,” she said.
Well and good, but it's not a stretch to imagine H-Town much higher on this list next year.