What are the best places to live? Everybody wants to know, and newspapers and magazines are all too happy to provide fresh answers every year… often with dubious methodologies. This week, real-estate giant Redfin weighed in with a focus on where to live happily without blowing your savings.
This article analyzes 170 “affordable” and “balanced” (mix of affordable and high-end housing options) neighborhoods in 20 large US cities. It ranks the neighborhoods according to their walkability – because walking instead of driving is better for your body, your wallet, and the Earth – and their school quality. Based on the authors’ thresholds, only 24 of those 170 neighborhoods achieve the trifecta of not-too-expensive homes, superb walkability, and high-performing schools.
What surprises me most is that fewer than half the cities analyzed have even one neighborhood make the list. Seattle is king, with the best neighborhood overall (University District) and six more places in the top 24. Austin and San Diego boast four great neighborhoods apiece, and Washington, DC has three (including 2nd and 3rd place overall). Chicago and Denver both have two neighborhoods making the cut, and rounding out the list are Houston and Phoenix with one each.
Conspicuously absent: Boston, which is known for its walkability and education. All the neighborhoods that hit on both these targets – North End, South End, Beacon Hill, Back Bay – are much too expensive to be recognized. I suspect my old home of East Boston would make the cut, but the Redfin analysis omits it. The authors do note that “balanced” neighborhoods outperform “affordable” ones; clearly there’s great value in not segregating income levels.
Their analysis seems incomplete, though. Why did the authors choose walkability, affordability, and school quality? The first two promote a low-cost, low-impact lifestyle, but education satisfies a different need, one that’s irrelevant to retirees and couples without children. Moreover, there are so many other factors by which to judge a neighborhood: crime rate comes to mind immediately, and also the proximity to jobs, health care, recreation, and entertainment (which may or may not be covered by “walkability”). And besides forgetting East Boston, it’s too bad they limited the analysis to 20 cities, because they completely miss lots of medium-size cities that would likely perform well: Cincinnati, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Portland, Oregon. But perhaps they just left room to publish a new list next year.