There’s been a big shift in society over the past two years with Americans moving in droves and seeking out a better quality of life and more affordable places to live. “The pandemic triggered a new set of possibilities—suddenly, many individuals and families found themselves more mobile than ever before, and in the past two years they have continued to think hard about where they really want to live,” says Luke Skurman, CEO and founder of the Niche.
So where are the best—and most affordable—places to live in America? A new report from Niche has the answers.
Niche has released its fifth annual list of the Best Places to Live, which includes a number of categories, including the best cities in America (urban areas with a population of 100,000 or more), the places with the lowest cost of living and more. Niche ranks the locations by using data from sources ranging from the U.S. Census 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.
So what is the best city to live in America? Coming in at the top of the list for the second year in a row is The Woodlands, a master planned community just outside Houston. “When you look at all the factors we chose for our best cities ranking, The Woodlands is extremely well-rounded,” says Ryan Bell, the principal strategist at Niche. “It had high scores in each category, including weather, overall affordability and the quality of its public schools.”
This is not the first time that The Woodlands ranked so high in the best cities in America report. Besides coming in at the top of the list in 2021, The Woodlands was second on the list in 2020 and fourth on the list in 2019. “Niche’s best cities rankings also incorporate real ratings from people who live there, so the residents’ love and appreciation for their home certainly helped The Woodlands hang on to the number one spot for two years running,” says Bell.
Another thing going for The Woodlands: opportunities for employment. “Our county, as a whole, is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation and our community has turned into a regional center for jobs,” says Gil Staley, CEO of The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership.
School was also a big factor: The Woodlands is served by The Woodlands High School, part of Conroe Independent School District. “Both are highly ranked and prepare students well for success after high school, with many students interested in and moving on to top colleges,” says Bell.
In its report, Niche also ranked the most affordable cities. At the top of the list was Fort Wayne, Indiana, which also took the top spot in three previous years: 2021, 2019 and 2018. “To take the number one spot, Fort Wayne had to have strong performance in several factors we take into account for the lowest cost of living rankings,” says Bell. “In particular, housing and rental affordability in comparison to incomes in the area, are Fort Wayne’s strongest factors for affordability this year.”
Locals in Fort Wayne also gave it high marks. “Fort Wayne is a lovely place to visit and live. I’ve lived here for six years now and still haven’t seen everything,” said one resident. “It’s family friendly and just friendly in general. It’s a small city compared to most, but there’s much to do. It’s full of history and rivers.
In addition to these rankings, Niche also has lists of the best neighborhoods, the best cities for young professionals and more. Read on for these lists 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.
The Best Places to Live in America: 10 Best Cities
These are the top 10 best cities to live, according to Niche’s report. To see how the rest of the cities in the U.S. ranked, you can access the full list here.
- The Woodlands, Texas
- Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Naperville, Illinois
- Arlington, Virginia
- Overland Park, Kansas
- Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Columbia, Maryland
- Berkeley, California
- Plano, Texas
- Irvine, California
The Best Places to Live in America: 10 Most Affordable Cities
Here are the top 10 cheapest places to live; you can access the full list here.
- Fort Wayne, Indiana
- Wichita Falls, Texas
- Brownsville, Texas
- South Bend, Indiana
- Dayton, Ohio
- Toledo, Ohio
- Evansville, Indiana
- Buffalo, New York
- Beaumont, Texas
- Akron, Ohio
The Best Places to Live in America: The Best Neighborhoods
These are the best neighborhoods; you can access the full list here.
- City Center — Santa Monica, California
- Cottonwood Creek South — Richardson, Texas
- Hyde Park – Spanishtown Creek — Tampa, Florida
- Harbour Island — Tampa, Florida
- Radnor/Fort Myer Heights — Arlington, Virginia
- Ocean Park — Santa Monica, California
- University South — Palo Alto, California
- Park Lake/Highland — Orlando, Florida
- Mid-City — Santa Monica, California
- Sammamish Valley — Redmond, Washington
The Best Places to Live in America: The Best Cities for Young Professionals
Here are the best cities for young professionals; you can access the full list here.
- Hell’s Kitchen, New York City
- Nolita, New York City
- Telegraph Hill, San Francisco
- Center Square, Albany, NY
- Showplace Square, San Francisco
- Downtown Orlando, Florida
- Arena District, Columbus, Ohio
- The Port, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- South Lake Union, Seattle, Washington
- Murray Hill, New York City