Seriously? You live where?

February 4, 2013 at 7:00 am CST

Nearly 30 percent of Americans live in small to mid-sized cities with populations between 25,000 and 200,000.

Dear God, why?

These places don’t have skyscrapers. They don’t have world-class museums campuses. They don’t have the vast resources of people, infrastructure and human capital that big cities do. Some of them are even suburbs.

At least it’s really easy to take that view from here, in Chicago.

And how on Earth did those areas grow more than twice as fast between 2000 and 2010 as larger cities and almost three times as fast as the top 50 cities, according to my analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Why? Because big cities often come with big trade-offs. Sure, we have a lot of amenities, but Chicago also just spent more than $30 million to settle two lawsuits related to police misconduct – money that could have been better spent addressing the huge spike in murders in 2012 or the uptick in gang graffiti in my neighborhood. It could also have helped provide adequate heating, cooling and power to our public schools.

There are problems everywhere. No place is perfect. However, some places are trying hard. There are also solutions, opportunities, and perhaps even a heightened sense of urgency to get the problems in our cities – large and small – fixed and fixed for good.

That’s what this blog is all about.

Looking forward, we’ll be talking about what big and small cities can learn from each other and discussing the issues that relate to the concept of “livability.” We’ll praise the good, particularly in smaller towns. Topics will include crime, education, equality, diversity, walkability, sustainability, economic growth, and more human discussions of social networks and community. We’ll be talking to authors, thought leaders and civic leaders.

And we’ll be talking to you.

We’ll be curating content from a variety of sources and disciplines, as well as adding our own thoughts and research to the discussion.

Among other discussions, we’ll talk about how we are developing our new Livability Index. There must be a reason why Little Elm, Texas, grew sixfold in just 10 years. We’ll dive into the numbers and see how that compares to other cities. In the end, we’ll have a quantitative and qualitative ranking of the great places to live and work. We’ll also be developing tools to help you find the place that might be most livable for you, personally. Our goal is to be as open, transparent and data-driven as possible during the process.

We invite you to chime in with your ideas, and we hope to feature some of your thoughts and feedback in the blog as we proceed.

Sure, I’m writing this from Chicago, but I’m writing it from a neighborhood called Wicker Park. With a population of roughly 25,000, it’s in many ways a city unto itself. It has high-density retail and residential areas all working together. It’s very walkable. Busses run in every direction, and it’s only a few stops on the el from downtown and from one of the world’s busiest airports. The el station has indoor bike racks and opens to a street with a delineated bike lane. The drug store chain Walgreen Co. recently opened a new flagship store with an incredible adaptive reuse of an old bank building including a "vitamin vault."


The Walgreens store in Chicago The Walgreens store in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood -- an example of an adaptive reuse of a former bank building. -- Photo Matt Carmichael

My point is that many of the aspects that make communities of all sizes livable can be found all around, including in the city you have deemed so livable that you call it your home.

I’m curious where that is and what you love about it. Feel free to contact me directly in the comments or through our social media channels. I look forward to the conversation.

Matt Carmichael

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