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I. Why this site?

After reading Rand McNally and numerous other "livable city" ratings, I decided to create my own. But this is a livable city guide with a difference: one that answers the simple question "where can I function without a car and still feel relatively safe?" Specifically, I rate American cities based on various indica of transit/pedestrian-friendliness and on their crime rates. 

In particular, this page rates cities which one of us considers sufficiently major to research- admittedly a somewhat arbitrary criterion, but one which includes almost all of the largest cities and a few mid-sized cities as well.

My method can be applied to any unit for which crime statistics,housing cost data, and transit usage statistics are available - that is, units ranging from metropolitan areas to the smallest suburban municipalities (although not for most unincorporated suburbs or for neighborhoods within a city, since crime statistics are rarely available for them).


II.  How I calculate- Crime, Transportation, and Cost of Living


A.   Crime (1/3)


Half of my rating is based on grades for two indicia of crime: (1) murder rates per 100,000 and (2) robbery rates per 100,000.  Why those two?  I picked murder because murders are more frequently reported to police than other crimes, and thus murder statistics are more reliable than those for other crimes.  I picked robbery because robbery (a) is more likely to involve strangers than any other violent crime and (b) is fairly serious- especially if you walk a lot, since robberies are often street crime in the most liberal sense.  (I used to include burglary, but I don't think it really adds that much).  Statistics for each city are from City Data (www.city-data.com) .


B.  Transportation (1/3)


My goal for this element was to calculate the ease of pedestrian/transit commuting.  (I didn't include bicycling because (a) finding statistics for bicycling is harder than finding statistics for other modes and (b) bicycling for commuting is quite rare in most big cities).


(NOTE: after I created this site, I found an article with bicycle statistics for a few cities:

http://www.utrc2.org/research/assets/176/Analysis-Bike-Final1.pdf )


I use three statistics to calculate the ease of pedestrian/transit commuting:


1.   % of workers using transit as a % of poverty rate (from the 2000 Census). Why is poverty a factor? Because I don't want to give high grades to places where people use transit because they are too poor to own cars. So if 10% of commuters in your city use transit, and the city has a 25% poverty rate, your transit/poverty ratio is 40% (which as explained below equals a C-).


2.  total transit market share (since if I only use (1) it leads to absurd results in dealing with low-poverty suburbs, e.g. if a suburb has 1% transit use and 1% poverty).


3.  % of commuters walking to work. This factor captures not only the walkability of a city, but also the health of its downtown, since most suburban business districts are not particularly walkable. Also, using this statistic allows my ratings to reflect the virtues of small towns (which tend to have no public transit but are too small to need very much of it, and which therefore have lots of walkers). 


These statistics come from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (http://factfinder.census.gov).   To find statistics for a city not listed below, click on the "Fact Sheet" link on the left, then look to the right to see a blank where you can enter a city and state.  Once you have found the city of your choice, look under "Economic Characteristics."


C.   Cost of Living (1/3)


In the past, I have not always considered cost of living.  But some commentators have argued that there is a trade-off between pedestrian-friendly development and cost of living; where government favors sprawling development, more land gets opened up for development and prices are cheaper, while in denser cities, more people are priced out of urban locations.  To take account of this argument, I decided to see to what extent it was possible for a city that scored well on my other variables to have housing prices that were not ridiculously high.


(Having said that, I think some of the results below are pretty bizarre, and remind me why I don't really think cost of living deserves so much weight- having said that, if I wasn't single I might think differently.


So to reflect my ambivalence about this measure, I added ratings without cost of living, which are basically half crime and half transportation as measured above).


I combine the ratio of:


1.  Regional median family income (available at 

www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/10smadb/btables.pdf  )
Why regional income, you might ask?  Because housing markets are regional; people priced out of the city move to suburbs and vice versa.
to
2.  Mean housing prices (at the City Data site referenced in my discussion of crime statistics above).

For example, median family income in Albany, NY is $70,200.  Mean house value is $191,200.  So its housing to income ratio is about 2.7 to 1, a B+ grade (see below). 

D.  What I didn't rate

I thought about trying to find some measure of the stress of living in a city as big as NYC, but I decided not to because everyone has different tastes in this matter, and since I have never lived anyplace bigger than DC I am not sure what mine are.

I decided climate was just too subjective to rate; I simply did not feel comfortable rating the climate of anyplace I had not lived.

Economic climate varies from year to year to a much greater extent than crime or auto dependency, so I decided not to rate that variable.  (And frankly, if I have a job, I am not sure that the economic strength of the region affects a place's day-to-day livability -- especially for people like myself, whose work forces me to switch metropolitan areas when I switch jobs).

Cultural amenities tend to track size and transit use pretty well.

And besides, if you want to throw in added variables, all you need do is take the rankings in the latest Rand McNally cities guide, assign letter grades to THEM, and presto! you have your own ratings system that includes jobs, cost of living, etc.

  

III.   Letter grades

After digging up all these numbers, I assign cities grades in each category - the two crime categories (murder and robbery), the three transit categories, and the cost of living ratio, and then give a number grade based on weighing each category (crime, transit, cost of living) equally.  If you think I gave one of the categories too much weight, reweigh them and come to your own conclusions!

I then assign letter grades as follows:

Murder: 0=A+  up to 1 per 100,000 residents = A, 1-2.5= A minus, 2.5-5 = B plus, 5-10 = B, 10-15= B minus, 15-20 = C plus, 20-25 = C, 25-30 = C-, 30-35= D+, 35-40 = D, 40-50 = D-, over 50 = F

Robbery: 0-10 per 100,000 people = A+ , 10-50 = A, 50-100 per 100,000 = A-, 100-200 = B plus, 200-300 = B, 300-400= B minus, 400-500 = C plus, 500-600 = C, 600-700 = C minus, 700-800 = D plus, 800-1000 = D, 1000-1100 = D minus, over 1100 = F


Transit market share as percent of poverty rate = under 5% of poverty rate = F, 5-10% = D-, 10-20% = D, 20-33% = D+, 33-50% = C-, 50-75% = C, 75-100% = C+, 100-125% = B-, 125-175% = B, 175-200% = B+, 200%-250%=A-, 250-300%=A, over 300% = A+

Transit market share, period = under 1% = F, 1-3%= D-, 3-7%= D, 7-10% = D+, 10-14%= C-, 14-17% = C, 17-20%= C+, 20-25% = B-, 25-30% = B, 30-40% = B+, 40-50% = A-, 50-60=A, 60 or over= A+

Percent of commuters walking to work: under 1% = F, 1-2% = D-, 2-3% = D, 3-4% = D+-, 4-5% = C-, 5-6%= C, 6-7% = C+, 7-8% = B-, 8-10%= B, 10-11%=B+, 11-12%=A-, 12-15%= A, 15% or over = A+


1.5-1 (or lower) ratio between median home price and median family income = A+ (e.g. if median family income is $50K, median home price is 75K or lower)

2-1 to 1.5-1: A

between 2.5-1 and 2-1: A-

between 3-1 and 2.5-1: B+

between 3.5-1 and 3-1: B

between 4-1 and 3.5-1: B-

between 4.5-1 and 4-1: C+

between 5-1 and 4.5-1: C

between 6-1 and 5-1: C-

between 7-1 and 6-1: D+

between 8-1 and 7-1: D

between 9-1 and 8-1: D-

over 9-1: F


To average everything, I translate letter grades into numbers as follows: A+ is 98, A is 95, A- is 92, and so on for the Bs Cs and Ds (that is, plus is 8, minus is 2).  F is 55.


IV.  On to the ratings


(NOTE: crime lists murder grade then robbery grade

transit lists grade for transit market share/poverty ratio, then for percent of commuters using transit, then percent walking to work)


    A. Northeast


Maine- Portland crime  B+/B 86.5

transit and walkability D+/D/B  72.7

cost of living C 75

total score 78.1

(79.6 without cost of living)


Mass.- Boston crime B/B- 83.5

transit B/B+/A   89.3

cost of living D+ 68

total 80.3

(86.4 without cost of living)


Springfield crime double B- 82

transit D D D+ 66

cost of living B+ 88

total 78.7

(74 without cost of living)


Conn- Hartford
 crime C- C+ 75

transit C- C C+ 75

cost of living B+ 88

total 79.3

(75 without cost of living)


RI- Providence

crime B- B 83.5

transit D+ D+ B 73.7

cost of living C- 72

total 76.4

(78.6 without cost of living)


Maryland- Baltimore

crime D C 70

transit C+ B- C+ 79.3

cost of living B+ 88

 total 79.1

(74.6 without cost of living)


Delaware - Wilmington

crime C/D+ 71.5

transit C C- B- 76.3

cost of living B 85

total 77.6

(73.9 without cost of living)


DC- Washington

crime C/C- 73.5

transit A- B+ A- 90.7

cost of living C- 72

total 78.7

(without cost of living 82.1)


NY- Albany

crime B B- 83.5

transit C- C- A- 78.7

cost of living B+ 88

total 83.7

(81.1 without cost of living)


NYC

crime B B 85

transit A A B+ 92.7

cost of living F 55

total 77.6

(NOTE: this is a dramatic example of how much cost of living skews the statistics- without cost of living NYC is at 88.8, and hands down the most livable city in the USA!)


Buffalo

crime C  C- 73.5

transit C- C- C+ 74

cost of living A+  98

total 81.8

(73.8 without cost of living)


Rochester

crime B- C+ 80

transit D+ D+ C 70.3

cost of living A+ 98

total 82.8

(75.1 without cost of living)


Syracuse

crime B- B 83.5

transit D+ D+ B+ 74.7

cost of living A 95

total 84.4

(79.1 without cost of living)


Pennsylvania


Philadelphia

crime C- C 73.5

transit  B- B B 84

cost of living A- 92

total 83.2

(78.7 without cost of living)


Pittsburgh

crime B- C+ 80

transit C+ C+ A- 82.7

cost of living A- 92

total 84.9 (best in the Northeast!)

(81.3 without cost of living)


Harrisburg

crime D+ D- 65

transit D D+ B+ 73.7

cost of living A + 98

total 78.9

(69.3 without cost of living)


THE SOUTH


Virginia - Virginia Beach

crime double B+ 88

transit D F D 61.7

cost of living C- 72

total 73.9

(74.8 without cost of living)


Norfolk

crime B- B 83.5

transit D+ D C- 68.3

cost of living C+ 78

total 76.6

(75.9 without cost of living)


Richmond

crime double C+ 78

transit C- D+ D+ 69.3

cost of living C+ 78

total 75.1

(73.6 without cost of living)


NC- Charlotte

crime B B- 83.5

transit D+ D D- 65

cost of living B- 82

total 76.8

(74.2 without cost of living)


Greensboro

crime B B- 83.5

transit D D- D 64

cost of living B 85

total 77.5

(73.7 without cost of living)


Durham

crime B B- 83.5
transit D+ D D+ 67
cost of living B 85
total 78.5
(75.2 without cost of living)

Raleigh
crime B+ B 86.5
transit D D- D 64
cost of living B 85
total 78.5
(75.2 without cost of living)

SC- Columbia
crime B- B 83.5
transit D D D+ 66
cost of living B- 82
total 77.2
(74.7 without cost of living)

Alabama- Birmingham
crime C- C 73.5
transit D D- D 64
cost of living A- 92
total 76.2
(68.7 without cost of living)

Montgomery
crime C+ B 81.5
transit F  F  D- 57.3
cost of living A- 92
total 75.6
(69.4 without cost of living)

Ms.- Jackson
crime double C 75
transit
F  F  D- 57.3
cost of living A- 92
total 74.8
(66.1 without cost of living)

Lousiana- Baton Rouge
crime D+ C 71.5
transit D- D- D+ 64
cost of living B+ 88
total 74.5
(67.7 without cost of living)

New Orleans
crime F/B 70
transit C- D+ C 71.7
cost of living C 75
total 72.2
(70.8 without cost of living)

Georgia- Atlanta
crime B- C+ 80
transit C C- C- 73
cost of living C- 72
total 75
(76.5 without cost of living)

Macon
crime C+ B- 80
transit D D D+ 66
cost of living A- 92
total 79.3
(73 without cost of living)

Florida- Jacksonville
crime B- B 83.5
transit D D- D- 63
cost of living B 85
total 77.2
(73.2 without cost of living)

Ft. Lauderdale
crime B B- 83.5
transit D+ D D 66
cost of living D 65
total 71.5
(74.2 without cost of living)

Miami
crime B- C+ 80
transit C- C- D+ 70.7
cost of living D- 62
total 70.9
(75.3 without cost of living)

Orlando
crime double B- 82
transit D+ D D- 65
cost of living C- 72
total 73
(73.5 without cost of living)

Tallahassee
crime B+ B 86.5
transit D- D- D+ 64
cost of living B- 82
total 77.5
(75.2 without cost of living)

Tampa
crime B B 85
transit D D- D 64
cost of living C- 72
total 73.7
(74.5 without cost of living)

St. Petersburg
crime B+ B- 85
transit D D- D 64
cost of living 78
total 75.7
(74.5 without cost of living)

Ky- Lexington
crime double B+ 88
transit D- D- D+ 64
cost of living B 85
total 79
(76 without cost of living)
(NOTE: no 2009 Census statistics for Louisville- though if you plugged in the 2000 numbers it would be pretty similar to Lexington)

Tennessee- Knoxville
crime double B- 82
transit 
D- D- D 63
cost of living B+ 88
total 77.7
(72.5 without cost of living)

 
Memphis
crime C+ C- 75
transit D D- D- 63
cost of living B+ 88
total 75.3
(69 without cost of living)

Nashville
crime double B- 82
transit D D- D- 63
cost of living 85
total 76.7
(72.5 without cost of living)

Arkansas
Little Rock
crime double C+ 78
transit triple D- 62
cost of living B 85
total 75
(70 without cost of living)

Texas- Austin
crime double B+ 88
transit D+ D D- 65
cost of living B- 82
total 78.3
(76.5 without cost of living)

Dallas
Crime B- C+ 80
transit D D D- 64
cost of living B 85
total 76.3
(77 without cost of living)

Fort Worth
crime B B 85
transit triple D- 62
cost of living A- 92
total 79.7 (!)
(73.5 without cost of living)

Houston
c
rime B- C+ 80
transit D+ D D 66
cost of living B+ 88
total 78
(73 without cost of living)

San Antonio
crime B B+ 86.5
transit straight D 65
cost of living A- 92
total 81 (best in south!)
(75.7 without cost of living)

MIDWEST

Ohio  

Akron
crime B B- 83.5
transit triple D 65
cost of living A 95
total 81.2
(74.2 without cost of living)

Cleveland
crime C  D 70
transit triple C- 72
cost of living A 95
total 79
(71 without cost of living)

Cincinnati
crime C+ C 76.5
transit C- D+ C 71.7
cost of living B+ 88
total 78.2
(74.1 without cost of living)

Columbus
crime B- C+ 80
transit triple D 65
cost of living 92
total 79
(72.5 without cost of living)

Toledo
crime B- C+ 80
transit D D- D 64
cost of  living A 95
total 79.7
(72 without cost of living)

Dayton
crime C- C 73.5
transit D+ D C+ 70.3
cost of living A 95
total 79.2
(71.9 without cost of living)

Indiana

Indianapolis
crime B- C+ 80
transit D D- D 64
cost of living A- 92
total 78.7
(73 without cost of living)

South Bend
crime double B- 82
transit D D- D 64
cost of living A- 92
total 79.3
(73 without cost of living)

Ill.
Chicago
crime C+ C 76.5
transit B B C 81.7
cost of living C 75
total 77.7
(79.1 without cost of living)

Michigan

Detroit
crime D C- 68.5
transit triple D+ 68
cost of living A+ 98
total 77.7
(68.2 without cost of living)

Lansing
crime double B 85
transit D D- D 64
cost of living A 95
total 81.3
(74.5 without cost of living)

Grand Rapids
crime B+ B- 85
transit D D- D 64
cost of living 92
total 80.7
(74.5 without cost of living)

Wisconsin-

Milwaukee
crime B- C 78.5
transit C- D+ C- 70.7
cost of living A- 92
total 80.4
(without cost of living 74.6)

Madison
crime A B+ 91.5
transit C- D+ B+ 76
cost of living B 85
total 84.2 (best in Midwest)
(without cost of living 83.7)

Minnesota-

Minneapolis
crime B+ C+ 83
transit C C- C+ 75
cost of living B- 82
total 80
(without cost of living 79)

St. Paul
crime B+ B 86.5
transit  C- D+ C- 70.7
cost of living B 85
total 80.7
(78.6 without cost of living)

Missouri

Kansas City
crime  C C+ 76.5
transit D+  D D 66
cost of living B+ 88
total 76.8
(71.2 without cost of living)

St Louis
crime D- D+ 65
transit C- C- D+ 70.7
cost of living A- 92
total. 75.9
(67.8 without cost of living)

Iowa

Des Moines
crime double B+ 88
transit D D- D+ 65
cost of living A 95
total 82.7
(without cost of living 76.5)

Kansas
Topeka
crime double B 85
transit D- D D 63
cost of living A 95
total 81
(without cost of living 74)

Nebraska-
Omaha
crime B  B 85
transit D- D- D 63
cost of living A- 92
total 80
(without cost of living 74)

Lincoln
crime double A- 92
transit D- D- D+ 64
cost of living B+ 88
total 81.3
(without cost of living 78)

Oklahoma-

Tulsa
crime C+ B 81.5

transit D- D- D 63
cost of living B+ 88
total 77.3
(without cost of living 72.2)

Oklahoma City
crime B- B 83.5
transit F  F D- 57.3
cost of living B+ 88
total 75.9
(without cost of living 70.4)

THE WEST

Colorado- Denver
crime B B+ 86.5
transit C- D+ C 70.7
cost of living C+ 78
total 78.4 (about same without cost of living)

New Mexico- Albuquerque
crime B- B 83.5
transit D D- D 64
cost of living B- 82
total 76.5
(73.7 without cost of living)

Utah- Salt Lake City
crime   A  B 90
transit C- D C 70.7
cost of living C 75
total 78.6
(80.3 without cost of living)

Az- Phoenix
crime B  B 85
transit D+ D D- 65
cost of living C 75
(same without cost of living)

Tucson
crime double B 85
transit D D D+ 66
cost of living B 85
total 75.7 (about same without cost of living)

Wa- Seattle
crime B+ B 83.5
transit B C+ B 82.7
cost of living D+ 68
total 79
(without cost of living 84.6)

Spokane
crime double B+ 88
transit D+ D D+ 67
cost of living B 85
total 80 (best in West)
 (77.5 without cost of living)

Oregon- Portland
crime double B+ 88
transit C+ C- C 75
cost of living C-
total 78.3
(without cost of living 81.5)

Eugene
crime A B+ 91.5
transit D+ D C+ 70.3
cost of living C 75
total 78.9
(80.9 without cost of living)

California-  Fresno
crime double B 85
transit D- D- D 63
cost of living C-
total 73.3 (74 without cost of living)

Los Angeles
crime B B- 82.5
transit C C- D+ 71.7
cost of living F 55
total 69.7
(without cost of living 76.3)

Oakland
crime C- D+ 70
transit C+ C+ C- 76
cost of living D 65
total 70.3
(without cost of living 73)

Sacramento
crime B B- 83.5
transit D+ D D+ 67
cost of living C- 72
total 73.8
(75.2 without cost of living)

San Diego

crime double B+ 88

transit D+ D D+ 67

cost of living D- 62

total 72.3
withou
t cost of living 77.5)         


San Francisco
crime B  C+ 81.5
transit A B+ B 89.2
cost of living F 55
total 75.2
(without cost of living 85.3)

San Jose
crime double B+ 88
transit C- D D- 66.3
cost of living D+ 68
total 74.1
(77.2 without cost of living)