Top 10 Downtowns


The best downtowns transform the way we live, linking communities and engaging residents.

Ranking Criteria

  • Vacancy rate
  • Projected population growth
  • Affordability
  • Recent housing gains
  • Number of parks
  • Number of arts-related businesses
  • Resident engagement
  • Population density
  • WalkScore
  • Daytime population

In the past two decades there has been a resurgence in America’s downtowns. This redevelopment isn’t just taking place in our largest metropolises. Small towns and mid-size cities are also experiencing a renaissance. The key in many places has been the expansion of housing options in previously retail-dominated stretches – which helps food and retail businesses survive and compete against their mall counterparts on the outskirts along the highway.

The 100 Best Places to Live in America 2016

The cities and towns on our Top 10 Best Downtowns all exemplify the best trends in redevelopment. Some, like Alexandria, Va., are centered around a historic district that has survived for literally centuries. Others, like Pittsburgh, Pa., have seen their fortunes come and go and now come again. Still others, like Evanston, Ill., seem to be just now hitting their stride and coming into their own.

So how do we choose the Top 10?

As with all our lists, we start with the data on more than 2,000 small to mid-size cities. Using figures provided by Esri, the Census Bureau, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other sources, we look for places with low vacancy rates, new development and an influx of people into those new space. We look for the culture and nightlife that make cities great places to spend time outside the house – are there farmers markets, arts, parks, and do people take advantage of them by dining out and going out? Is this place growing and thriving both in terms of rising population and rising incomes? Are people there both day and night to give the town a feeling of vitality around the clock? And finally we add in factors that we typically include in all our lists, including the city’s Walk Score, measures of affordability and a diversity index. We want to find places that can work for everyone. We include some population parameters – we’re looking for places that are more than just a quaint Main Street.

The 10 Best Small Towns in America 2016

Once we’ve crunched the numbers to create a shortlist, our editors hone that down to the Top 10 based on our research, experiences and a desire to create a list that’s diverse in terms of geography and size of the cities. As we report out the list, further changes can be made to the lineup and the specific order. The resulting list, therefore, is a combination of art and science brought to you by Livability's editorial team. 

Now it’s your turn. How do you think we did? Any unsung gems we missed? 

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