Where are the best—and most affordable—places to live in the United States? A new report from Niche, a data-driven platform with ratings and reviews of cities across America, has the answers.
The 2023 Best Places to Live in America report includes a number of categories: the best cities (urban areas with a population of 100,000 or more), the places with the lowest cost of living, the best city for young professionals, the best neighborhoods and more.
This is the ninth year that Niche has issued the Best Places to Live in America report. “Our rankings are a great starting point and resource for anyone considering a move, big or small,” said Ryan Bell, the principal strategist at Niche. “With seemingly endless options and so many things to consider, the search for a new place to call home can be overwhelming.”
Compare this year’s list to the best (and most affordable) places to live in America in 2022, as well as the cheapest places to live in the U.S. in 2021.
Every year, Niche ranks the locations by using data from sources ranging from the American Community Survey (provided by the Census Bureau) to the FBI, in addition to millions of resident reviews. The company also looks at factors like affordability, the local housing market, neighborhood diversity and public schools, to name a few.
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So what is the best city to live in America? Coming in at the top of the list is Cambridge, Massachusetts in the Boston area. The city is also the best city for young professionals (and has been in the number one spot on that list since 2018). Cambridge also has three neighborhoods on the list of the best in America: Cambridgeport, The Port and Riverside.
Cambridge performs exceedingly well in several factors. “First, there’s the higher education rate, which drives success in the overall Best Places to Live ranking, Best for Young Professionals, Best for Families and Best for Retirees,” said Bell. “Education rates have been shown to positively impact employment, housing and schools in any given place, and those are all major factors to consider when you move somewhere new. Cambridge also benefits from having very strong universities, which contribute to the higher education rate, employment opportunities and access to amenities provided by the universities.”
“A couple of unique criteria in our Young Professionals ranking include Millennials below poverty and young professional newcomers, and Cambridge showed improvement in both those factors as well as higher education rate and overall score,” said Bell. “Cambridge is also famously home to several world-renowned universities, including MIT (our number one Best College in America in 2023) and Harvard (our number three), making it an appealing choice for young professionals.”
Other driving factors behind Cambridge’s ranking include school quality, diversity and exceptional performance in user reviews, nature and outdoors, health and fitness, nightlife and walkability.
Niche’s rankings are unique in that they combine quantitative data with feedback from real residents. “With extremely high scores in both of those categories, it’s clear that Cambridge is an incredible place to live across the board,” said Bell.
The only weak factors for Cambridge: housing, affordability and weather. “While those are undoubtedly very important, Cambridge’s excellent scores in other factors propelled it to the number one spot after years on the rise,” said Bell.
In its report, Niche also ranked the cheapest places to live in the U.S. At the top of the list this year is Brownsville, Texas. Brownsville has been steadily rising in Niche’s Lowest Cost of Living ranking over the past few years, placing number six in 2021, number three in 2022 and finally, number one in 2023. “To capture the top spot this year, Brownsville improved in many factors, including the home value and monthly housing cost (for both owners and renters) to income ratio, consumer price index for gas and grocery items, and median effective property tax,” said Bell.
Fort Wayne—which was the cheapest place to live in 2022—went down several slots this year. “While Fort Wayne is still a highly affordable city by our measures, it did see declining scores in a few key factors from last year to this year,” said Bell. “Its median rent, home value to income ratio, median home value and consumer price index (CPI) of grocery items all increased. Those changes were certainly not limited to Fort Wayne, but with such slim margins at the top of the rankings, minor changes can be the difference between number one and number seven.”
The best neighborhood in America is Colonial Village in Arlington, Virginia. “Colonial Village has seen quite the rise in the past few years,” said Bell. “It was number 27 in 2021, number 13 in 2022 and now it’s number one in 2023. With key improvements in our grades for cost of living, housing, diversity, jobs and shortest commute, Colonial Village has proven itself to be the best neighborhood to live in America.”
For the first time, Niche’s rankings include data recorded during the pandemic and released through 2021. “As we know, the pandemic had a material impact on employment, housing and a variety of other areas that are included in these rankings,” said Bell. “Since the factors sourced from the American Community Survey are a five-year average, these changes are controlled in a sense, but some of the pandemic’s impact is sure to be seen.”
Nevertheless, there weren’t many surprises on this year’s report, according to Bell. “As we would expect, towns that perform well in many of the overall factors rank well,” said Bell. “Generally, towns and neighborhoods with highly ranked schools and districts, and towns and neighborhoods with a high percentage of residents who have received a bachelor’s degree or higher, will perform very well in the rankings.”
Niche’s report also reveals some macro trends, including emerging parts of the country like Pennsylvania. “For affordability and housing—two of the biggest concerns for those looking to move, now more than ever—towns in Pennsylvania make up considerable portions of each national top 100,” said Bell. “In fact, the towns and neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area are some of the most affordable in the country, and the towns in Philadelphia improved in affordability this year.”
The report also shows the best places for diversity. “California, New York and Washington towns take up the most space at the top,” said Bell. “And for schools it’s Illinois and New York.”
Read on for the lists of the best cities to live in the U.S., the most affordable places to live, the best neighborhoods and the best cities for young professionals. Or head to Niche.com, where you can see the healthiest cities, the best spots for families, the best “places” (defined as a non-rural town with a population of 1,000 or more), the best suburbs and more.
Best Places to Live in the U.S.: 10 Best Cities
- Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Arlington, Virginia
- The Woodlands, Texas
- Naperville, Illinois
- Columbia, Maryland
- Berkeley, California
- Irvine, California
- Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Overland Park, Kansas
- Bellevue, Washington
Best Places to Live in the U.S.: 10 Most Affordable Cities
- Brownsville, Texas
- Wichita Falls, Texas
- South Bend, Indiana
- Erie, Pennsylvania
- Fort Wayne, Indiana
- Evansville, Indiana
- Akron, Ohio
Best Places to Live in the U.S.: 10 Best Neighborhoods
- Colonial Village — Arlington, Virginia
- Hyde Park - Spanishtown Creek — Tampa, Florida
- City Center — Santa Monica, California
- Cambridgeport — Cambridge, Massachusetts
- North Quarter — Orlando, Florida
- Harbour Island — Tampa, Florida
- Mid-City — Santa Monica, California
- The Port — Cambridge, Massachusetts
- University South — Palo Alto, California
- Riverside — Cambridge, Massachusetts
Best Places to Live in the U.S.: 10 Best Cities for Young Professionals
- Cambridge, Massachusetts
- San Francisco
- Washington, D.C.
- Arlington, Virginia
- Berkeley, California
- New York City
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