When people consider popular places in America, they often think of big cities like New York City or Denver. However, a new study focuses on the best small cities and towns across the U.S., and the factors that make them great places to call home. The study examined cities in the 50 smallest TV designated market areas with populations less than 100,000. The findings highlight the unique allure of these communities, often overshadowed by their bustling urban counterparts.
The study, conducted by All Star Home, assessed cities based on four key metrics: community, affordable living, safety, and education. These metrics were graded on a 100-point scale, with community being the most crucial, accounting for 50 points. For this metric, the study considered factors such as state-level diversity, the presence of historical buildings, the number of farmer’s markets within 30 miles, and the average winning percentage of high school football teams.
Researchers used range of reputable sources for their data, including FBI Crime Data, Zillow Home Values, the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Park Service, and the United States Department of Agriculture.
It’s worth noting that the criteria for the 50 cities examined means there are cities on the list from Western or Southeastern states.
Best Small Cities: It’s All About The Empire State
Smaller cities in New York State—Elmira, Corning, Utica, and Binghamton—dominated the top four spots. These cities excelled in terms of community score, which took into account diversity by state, proximity to farmer’s markets, historical buildings, and more. For example, all four cities scored a 66% in state-level diversity, a rate bested only by California and Texas.
Additionally, these cities had relatively affordable home values, making them attractive for those seeking a balanced lifestyle.
The list also featured other cities like Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Bowling Green, Kentucky; Hannibal, Missouri; and Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville distinguished itself with 99 registered historic spots, perhaps owing to its past as the home of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. Bowling Green, a college town, received high marks for its high school football teams’ winning percentages, possibly inspired by the presence of a Division I NCAA football team in the town.
While not every city excelled in overall ranking, some stood out in specific categories. Marquette, Michigan, for instance, reported an average of just 48 crimes per capita, making it one of the safest cities alongside Weston, West Virginia, and Montrose, Colorado.
In terms of education, Binghamton boasted the lowest student-to-teacher ratio, with approximately 10 students for every teacher. On the opposite end of the spectrum was El Centro, California, with a ratio of 22 students for every educator.
As for affordability, cities like Greenville, Mississippi; Keokuk, Iowa; Greenwood, Mississippi; and Bluefield, West Virginia, all had home values under $100,000, highlighting them as cost-effective choices for potential homebuyers.
While the study aimed to provide an empirical basis for ranking hometowns, it acknowledged the limitations of capturing the essence of “small-town charm“—acts as simple as delivering a home-cooked meal to a neighbor or mowing their lawn. The report encourages people to spread that charm, whether they live in a small town or a big city.