Finding the Unicorn: The Quest for America's Most Balanced City

What's would make the perfect city? It would be:

  • Culturally rich, with top education institutions, medical centers, Fortune 500 companies, and cultural institutions like symphonies and museums. It would attract top graduates, and would be growing, emanating with new energy. It would have a vibrant downtown and lots of jobs, and would be recognizable the world over as a model of urban vibrancy.

  • It would also, however, be completely livable, broadly affordable, with a low cost of living and a low-stress quality of life. It would be easy to get around, with short average commutes, lots of choice in housing options, great parks, and a general ease of living in a moderate climate.

While both are admirable goals, few cities in America successfully achieve both. Plenty achieve the first without the second - New York City, for instance - while others achieve the second without the first - Tulsa, for instance. To those who enjoy both culturally exuberant living with lots of entertainment options and white collar employment options as well as easy, affordable living, American cities have work to do balancing their offerings.

To explore this, Capital Frontiers ranked the 53 largest cities in America across several metrics:

  • Cultural metrics: Population growth, Global World Cities rating, Top 100 universities and top 10 medical institutions, Fortune 500 companies, Per capita GDP, Downtown jobs, Downtown built intensity, and overall population density

  • Livability metrics: Housing affordability, average commute times, and average climate

The top 5 cities that excel as cultural hubs but not as livable places:

New York City

  • Cultural ranking: 1

  • Livability ranking: 55

  • Balance ranking: 55

Los Angeles

  • Cultural ranking: 3

  • Livability ranking: 45

  • Balance ranking: 54

San Francisco

  • Average cultural ranking: 5

  • Livability ranking: 46

  • Balance ranking: 53

Washington, DC

  • Average cultural ranking: 13

  • Livability ranking: 50

  • Balance ranking: 52

Chicago

  • Average cultural ranking: 4

  • Livability ranking: 52

  • Balance ranking: 51

The top 5 cities that excel as livable places but not as cultural hubs:

Grand Rapids

  • Average cultural ranking: 50

  • Livability ranking: 13

  • Balance ranking: 50

Rochester

  • Average cultural ranking: 49

  • Livability ranking: 13

  • Balance ranking: 44

Omaha

  • Average cultural ranking: 39

  • Livability ranking: 3

  • Balance ranking: 41

Bakersfield

  • Average cultural ranking: 54

  • Livability ranking: 17

  • Balance ranking: 40

Tulsa

  • Average cultural ranking: 41

  • Livability ranking: 3

  • Balance ranking: 39

The top 5 cities that succeed neither as cultural hubs nor livable places:

Worcester, Mass.

  • Average cultural ranking: 52

  • Livability ranking: 39

  • Balance ranking: 49

Honolulu

  • Average cultural ranking: 32

  • Livability ranking: 49

  • Balance ranking: 47

Fresno

  • Average cultural ranking: 55

  • Livability ranking: 31

  • Balance ranking: 35

Salt Lake City

  • Average cultural ranking: 45

  • Livability ranking: 37

  • Balance ranking: 20

Tucson

  • Average cultural ranking: 53

  • Livability ranking: 30

  • Balance ranking: 21

The top 5 most balanced cities in America:

Cleveland

  • Average cultural ranking: 16

  • Livability ranking: 1

  • Balance ranking: 1

Indianapolis

  • Average cultural ranking: 18

  • Livability ranking: 5

  • Balance ranking: 2

St. Louis

  • Average cultural ranking: 24

  • Livability ranking: 5

  • Balance ranking: 3

Dallas

  • Average cultural ranking: 8

  • Livability ranking: 17

  • Balance ranking: 4

Cincinnati

  • Average cultural ranking: 27

  • Livability ranking: 5

  • Balance ranking: 5

Houston

  • Average cultural ranking: 2

  • Livability ranking: 25

  • Balance ranking: 6

Atlanta

  • Average cultural ranking: 6

  • Livability ranking: 24

  • Balance ranking: 7

Charlotte

  • Average cultural ranking: 15

  • Livability ranking: 17

  • Balance ranking: 7

Columbus

  • Average cultural ranking: 22

  • Livability ranking: 13

  • Balance ranking: 9

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