It’s the list that every city aspires to be on: the “Best Places to Live” list. CNN Money is the latest in a series of news outlets this year to release its annual list of the best places to put down stakes and settle down for a while.
What qualifies a city as a best place to live? According to this list, it’s a mix of plentiful job opportunities, good schools and health care, low crime and lots of things to do. Though the criteria might be different for other lists like it, most measure some aspect of affordability, accessibility, safety and amenities.
Whether you are looking for a place to start a career, raise a family, launch a business or retire, you can find a list to guide you to the best places for it. But how close do these lists come to capturing what really draws people to the cities where they choose to live?
It’s true that business climate, quality of life, education, health, and arts and culture all help define cities and make them stand out, but as for which ones are the best at attracting people as a result — well, it might be simpler than you would expect.
According to New Geography blogger and economist Aaron Renn, most cities are successful at attracting people in the following cases: when a company is recruiting them for a specific job or career opportunity; when they grew up in the area and want to return or still have family there; or when they migrate from the surrounding region or a smaller town nearby.
This is the typical model of attraction, Renn says, but some cities also excel at “aspirational attraction,” which happens when people decide to move to a place outside of their area, despite not having a job offer or a historical or family connection there. People are usually drawn to aspirational cities for one of these three reasons:
Industry. People aspiring to work in niche industries are often drawn to very specific locations. Musicians, for example, often move to Nashville. Actors flock to Los Angeles. Techies trek to the Silicon Valley.
Lifestyle. Ecotourists are enchanted by Portland. Live music junkies love Austin. Artists are attracted to Asheville. Plenty of people aspire to move to a city because they enjoy the way of life there and want to participate in it.
Reputation. Especially during tough economic times, cities known for their booming job or housing market can lure people based on reputation alone. Their quality of life may be on par with other places, but the possibility they offer is the magnet. Think Sun Belt boomtowns, or lately, anywhere in Texas.
What attracted you to the city where you live? Was it for practical or aspirational reasons? How can cities become places where people aspire to live?