Livability is a big word with many meanings. And it is becoming more important as more of us work remotely. Amanda Ellis, Editor in Chief of Livability.com, in this interview shares what the term means nowadays and why smaller cities and towns in particular are thriving with regard to attractiveness for talent and investment. Plus: get to know some of her all time favorite locations in the USA.
Amanda, at Livability.com you explore what makes small-to-medium sized cities great places to live. What led to the creation of the portal, and what motivated the look at small cities in particular?
Our company began a few decades ago creating high-quality print publications on behalf of communities, which we still do! Almost 15 years ago, we developed Livability.com as a digital component of our brand. Today the site reaches millions of people each year with content about the wonderful small to mid-sized communities across the U.S.
I’ve only been at the helm of Livability.com for a year, but I know our leadership initially decided to focus on smaller cities after noticing a gap in information about the many great U.S. places outside of the large metros. They also saw opportunity for our content to provide location-specific relocation information and support communities’ talent attraction goals by finding the good in every community, and praising it (“Find the good and praise it!” is our motto!)
Having observed urban livability since 2010 – are there any success ingredients which you have witnessed time and again, in terms of what makes small and medium sized cities attractive for those seeking a new home?
Affordability is a big one! As awesome as big cities can be, affordability is not something they’re known for.
Not only are small and mid-sized cities more affordable, they’re also better positioned to offer quality of life aspects larger cities aren’t always able to.
Things like: less traffic, shorter commuting times, cool attractions and things to do that are less touristy, less competitive housing options (as a rule – of course that’s been crazy all over in the last year or two!), more living space for your money, less competition for entrepreneurship resources… and that’s just to name a few!
Your annual Top 100 Best Places to Live is a who is who of towns going the extra mile in offering attractive services and community amenities. Which towns are currently the rising stars?
Be on the lookout for our 2023 list, which we’ll unveil in early summer! I can’t scoop that, but our most recent list with data from 2022 featured Madison, WI as our No. 1 city (their second year at No. 1!).
We saw many great Midwest cities make the 2022 list, but every region of the country was represented, including 36 states. We create our Top 100 list each year using a proprietary algorithm taking into account a range of factors including local economy and housing, amenities, health care, education and transportation, to name a handful.
Are there any trends you have observed over the years, with regard to livability criteria?
Criteria important to remote work have become more important in recent years – variables like the availability of broadband, easy access to airports, growth of high-wage, skilled jobs and more. High speed internet availability has of course become increasingly important since we launched Livability.com years ago.
In light of inflation, people have become more generally cost conscious (you can read more about that in our research).
Housing affordability and availability has become something with more variability in recent years and something people examine when it comes to moving decisions, coupled with the amount of space they can get for their money (i.e. folks are more willing to spend more on housing if they can get a porch, outdoor space, extra rooms, etc.)
Outdoor hobbies have also emerged as something people prioritize, especially the ones they picked up during the pandemic. This is an emerging factor in people’s location decisions.
A less important factor to some? Proximity to an in-person work environment, commuting distances and rush hour traffic, as more people now work remotely.
Your advice to economic developers or city brand managers on how they can enhance livability?
Of course you always want to be thinking about what you can improve, but in my view, the biggest priority should be embracing and emphasizing what makes your community special. Whether it’s the great outdoors, a unique music scene, crowd-pleasing weather … you know right off what those aspects are and playing those up is a great first step to enhancing livability and perceptions of livability in your community.
Across North America – which are your 10 all time favorite towns or cities, in terms of their livability, reputation and quality of life?
We truly believe every place has something special to offer, so I won’t call this list favorites, but here are a selection of some amazing places from our latest Top 100 Best Places to Live that we know exemplify some of these great qualities:
- Madison, Wisconsin
- Franklin, Tennessee
- Asheville, North Carolina
- Charlottesville, Virginia
- Appleton, Wisconsin
- Quincy, Massachusetts
- Reno, Nevada
- Ames, Iowa
- Castle Rock, Colorado
- Grand Forks, North Dakota
As I mentioned above, our Top 100 is based on data, so while these places are subjectively awesome, they were recognized because they ranked well based on our algorithm.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
At Livability, we’re not only experts on what makes our nation’s small to mid-sized cities great places to live, but on how communities can effectively market themselves to businesses and talent alike.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell your own place’s story when you’re so close to it, but our turn-key content services – both print and digital – can help with both the storytelling and extending your reach to people looking to move, retire to or work remotely from a new place.
We also produce a good bit of free and relevant industry content for chamber, economic development and talent attraction professionals, including the Inside America’s Best Cities podcast, Let’s Talk Talent monthly newsletter and regular research on American relocation habits.
We love ideas for these and hearing about what you’re doing, so please don’t hesitate to reach out! We’re also always happy to take on speaking opportunities on talent attraction and retention, placemaking and more.
Thank you, Amanda.