Which City Offers the Best Quality of Life?
By: Nishaanth Krishnan (Project Lead), Julia Craciun, Audrey Tey
When looking to settle down, the United States is a vast country with numerous cities to choose from. No matter your background or lifestyle, deciding where to live can be a daunting task. Many want access to the best amenities and job opportunities without foregoing safety or affordability. This balance can be a struggle, as benefits often come with sacrifices such as high costs of living. On top of this, different types of city dwellers have different preferences. This article will reveal which cities can offer you the best quality of life, no matter your lifestyle.
Exploratory Data Analysis
To conduct our analysis, we put together data from numerous sources including Teleport, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We then narrowed our observations to 35 U.S. cities, each with a metropolitan population of over 2 million. Our analysis involved over 20 different variables that affect an individual’s quality of life in urban areas. We included both economic variables and social indicators as listed in the table below:
After gathering this information, we ranked the cities by each variable, with 1 signifying the most preferable and 35 the least.
To further explore what sacrifices are associated with the benefits of living in certain cities, we found pairs of variables with high correlation, seen in the graph below:
As indicated above, we observed that startup rank and traffic rank were the most correlated with a negative trend. Our data indicates that no matter the city, the better the city ranked in terms of startup resources, the more poorly it ranked in terms of traffic. We are unable to find literature on why this may be so, but it is an interesting observation that should be further explored in the future.
However, with the proliferation of both startups and venture capital opportunities, there appears to be a drastic decline in housing. A possible explanation for this is that as more people move to an area for job opportunities, the scarcer housing becomes. Interestingly, our data also indicates that there is a correlation between the amount of housing available and the cost of living. A city with a higher cost of living is likely to see a higher availability of housing. This is an unusual finding, but may potentially be because more people choose to leave the city as cost of living increases. This shift leaves more houses vacant overall.
Next, we decided to look into what variables were associated with the population growth of a city.
We saw that the highest correlation existed between growth and unemployment. As the growth rank of a city increases (more simply, as population growth decreases), unemployment rank increases. This indicates that slow-growing cities tend to have higher unemployment rates, suggesting that people might be leaving cities due to a lack of job opportunities.
Based on the correlations above, we decided to focus our analysis on variables that might be of interest for four different groups of people: jobseekers, entrepreneurs, retirees, and travelers.
But first, let’s explore the overall best cities to live in, regardless of one’s lifestyle.
To calculate the overall rankings for cities, we gave equal weights to all economic and social variables in our dataset. We ranked all cities for each variable, and took the average of all the rankings and sorted the cities from 1 to 35 based on the average rank. Our analysis showed that the three best and worst cities to live in are:
Raleigh came in first by a landslide, while Los Angeles came in last on the other side of the spectrum (a surprise to us!). These results suggest that cities in the Southern and interior Western parts of the country offer the best quality of life, while more established cities along the coasts and in the Midwest tend to be lower ranked.
Recent news exemplifies this trend. The increase in remote work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused many businesses to relocate to places that offer a better quality of life. Major companies like Tesla and Apple have moved many of their business operations to cities like Austin and Raleigh due to increased economic and social benefits. Not only can a person afford to live in such places, but they can now also enjoy more job opportunities and top-tier amenities.
Cities that ranked low in our analysis did so because they did not offer a large amount of value relative to cost. For example, Los Angeles ranks low in areas such as Fortune 500 companies per capita and adjusted median household income. It also struggles with social indicators like traffic and environmental quality. While LA does rank high for leisure and culture thanks to the presence of its stunning beaches and Hollywood fame, its poor performance in other areas heavily outweighs these benefits.
Now, we will break down the analysis for city dwellers of different backgrounds and lifestyles: the jobseeker, the entrepreneur, the retiree, and the traveler.
With many new graduates and individuals looking for employment in the recovering post-COVID job market, we found it imperative to consider cities from a jobseeker’s perspective. Considering factors such as unemployment rates, adjusted median household income, job growth, Fortune 500 companies per capita, and economic performance, we found the final top and bottom three cities as follows:
Surprisingly, the top cities rank near the middle for Fortune 500 growth. However, these cities distinguish themselves from the bottom three through low unemployment rates and increased economic performance scores. Cities ranked highest in this category tended towards the southeastern part of the country. However, cities that ranked near the bottom, such as Las Vegas and Miami, tend to be cities that have economies heavily focused on tourism and leisure, industries that have been badly affected in the past year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
These days, many people are looking to create the next big startup. To discover the best cities for entrepreneurs, we looked at economic performance, the number of Fortune 500 companies, cost of living, access to venture capital, amount of existing startups, and population growth. These are our top and bottom three cities:
Cities that ranked highest for this category were fast-growing metropolitan areas in the southern half of the country. As mentioned earlier, cities like Dallas, Austin, and Atlanta have attracted numerous businesses and people in the past few years from expensive places like California. San Francisco also fell within our top 5 for this category, even though it is among the most expensive places to live in the country. However, its high cost of living is outweighed by its unparalleled access to venture capital and other startup resources. Those ranked lowest were mainly in the declining parts of the Midwest, especially the Rust Belt. This coincides with historical trends observed in this region. It appears that the industrial decline following the fall of the automobile and manufacturing industries in the 1970s continues to impact the region’s inability to recover its once-prosperous economy even today.
Those looking for a nice place to settle down and enjoy their retirement after their job-seeking years would benefit from our analysis for retirees. Considering factors such as leisure, cost of living, healthcare, and safety, we found the final top and bottom three cities as follows:
While the top five cities ranked very low in the cost of living section (aside from Houston), they make up for it with increased averages in the healthcare and leisure categories. Even though the cost of living for the bottom three ranks in the middle, these cities share very low leisure, healthcare, and safety rankings, solidifying their place at the bottom of our list.
Don’t we all love to travel? Whether you want to leave your city for vacation or find cool things to do where you live, this category is for you. We considered travel connectivity, access to leisure and cultural amenities, and safety. After weighing all of these variables equally, we found that the top and bottom three cities were:
The top-ranked choices tend to be highly-populated cities in the eastern and central regions of the country. The lowest-ranked cities fall within the central part of the country and tend to be smaller population-wise. This finding suggests that population is a principal factor in making a city a good travel spot. For instance, larger cities like New York and Chicago tend to have hub airports for major airlines, making it easier and cheaper to travel to those regions. They also have better leisure and cultural amenities.
The cities at the bottom of our ranking shared low scores in both travel connectivity and safety. Cities like Cleveland not only lack major hub airports, but also suffer from high rates of crime. Travelers who are not familiar with these regions risk putting themselves in dangerous situations, making them a poor choice of destination.
The United States offers a wide variety of cities for people of all interests, lifestyles and backgrounds. The cities that did best in our analysis all tended to both have significant economic growth and opportunities, all while sharing stellar amenities. While the search for the perfect city can be difficult, there are many satisfying options out there.