The Twenty Best Small Cities in America, Including Three in Colorado

Additional photos and more below.
Additional photos and more below.

Denver gets a lot of love from list-makers, as witnessed by the community being named the best place to live in America by U.S. News & World Report earlier this year.

But Colorado is hardly a one-city state.

As evidence, eyeball WalletHub's roster of 2016's Best Small Cities in America. The site analyzed 1,268 towns with a population of between 25,000 and 100,000, and three from Colorado were among the twenty highest scorers — the only state in the country to achieve this distinction. And plenty of other Colorado cities landed in the upper reaches of the rankings.

Below, count down the photo-illustrated top twenty, featuring WalletHub data. That's followed by a Q&A with WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez, who offers more insight into the excellent performance of small cities in Colorado, as well as a complete methodology. Click to see the complete survey.

Castle Rock, Colorado.
Castle Rock, Colorado.
YouTube file photo

Number 20 (tie): Castle Rock, Colorado

Total score: 66.48
"Affordability" rank: 151
"Economic Health" rank: 72
"Education & Health" rank: 31
"Quality of Life" rank: 429
"Safety" rank: 130

Carmel, Indiana.
Carmel, Indiana.

Number 20 (tie): Carmel, Indiana

Total score: 66.48
"Affordability" rank: 16
"Economic Health" rank: 68
"Education & Health" rank: 35
"Quality of Life" rank: 686
"Safety" rank: 27

Leesburg, Virginia.
Leesburg, Virginia.

Number 18: Leesburg, Virginia

Total score: 66.5
"Affordability" rank: 242
"Economic Health" rank: 44
"Education & Health" rank: 46
"Quality of Life" rank: 318
"Safety" rank: 213

Parker, Colorado.
Parker, Colorado.
YouTube file photo

Number 17: Parker, Colorado

Total score: 66.61
"Affordability" rank: 61
"Economic Health" rank: 24
"Education & Health" rank: 14
"Quality of Life" rank: 648
"Safety" rank: 100

Cedar Park, Texas.
Cedar Park, Texas.

Number 16: Cedar Park, Texas

Total score: 66.66
"Affordability" rank: 128
"Economic Health" rank: 8
"Education & Health" rank: 182
"Quality of Life" rank: 505
"Safety" rank: 206

Los Altos, California.
Los Altos, California.

Number 15: Los Altos, California

Total score: 66.72
"Affordability" rank: 351
"Economic Health" rank: 83
"Education & Health" rank: 92
"Quality of Life" rank: 234
"Safety" rank: 36

Dublin, Ohio.
Dublin, Ohio.

Number 14: Dublin, Ohio

Total score: 66.73
"Affordability" rank: 9
"Economic Health" rank: 80
"Education & Health" rank: 413
"Quality of Life" rank: 244
"Safety" rank: 66

Sammamish, Washington.
Sammamish, Washington.

Number 13: Sammamish, Washington

Total score: 66.78
"Affordability" rank: 77
"Economic Health" rank: 64
"Education & Health" rank: 89
"Quality of Life" rank: 1,185
"Safety" rank: 13

Saratoga, California.
Saratoga, California.

Number 12: Saratoga, California

Total score: 66.83
"Affordability" rank: 209
"Economic Health" rank: 21
"Education & Health" rank: 100
"Quality of Life" rank: 464
"Safety" rank: 62

Saratoga Springs, New York.
Saratoga Springs, New York.

Number 11: Saratoga Springs, New York

Total score: 66.87
"Affordability" rank: 832
"Economic Health" rank: 210
"Education & Health" rank: 211
"Quality of Life" rank: 26
"Safety" rank: 372

Continue to count down WalletHub's ten best small towns in America for 2016, including the top-ranked finisher from Colorado. Also on hand is an interview that drills deeper into data from the three Colorado communities that made the cut.

 

Southlake, Texas.
Southlake, Texas.

Number 10: Southlake, Texas

Total score: 66.98
"Affordability" rank: 1
"Economic Health" rank: 335
"Education & Health" rank: 299
"Quality of Life" rank: 303
"Safety" rank: 54

Brentwood, Tennessee.
Brentwood, Tennessee.

Number 9: Brentwood, Tennessee

Total score: 67.29
"Affordability" rank: 20
"Economic Health" rank: 78
"Education & Health" rank: 249
"Quality of Life" rank: 363
"Safety" rank: 32

Milton, Massachusetts.
Milton, Massachusetts.

Number 8: Milton, Massachusetts

Total score: 67.33
"Affordability" rank: 278
"Economic Health" rank: 420
"Education & Health" rank: 3
"Quality of Life" rank: 389
"Safety" rank: 42

Holly Springs, North Carolina.
Holly Springs, North Carolina.

Number 7: Holly Springs, North Carolina

Total score: 67.51
"Affordability" rank: 22
"Economic Health" rank: 19
"Education & Health" rank: 224
"Quality of Life" rank: 833
"Safety" rank: 43

Kirkland, Washington.
Kirkland, Washington.

Number 6: Kirkland, Washington

Total score: 67.94
"Affordability" rank: 692
"Economic Health" rank: 4
"Education & Health" rank: 149
"Quality of Life" rank: 359
"Safety" rank: 222

Brookfield, Wisconsin.
Brookfield, Wisconsin.

Number 5: Brookfield, Wisconsin

Total score: 68.4
"Affordability" rank: 47
"Economic Health" rank: 226
"Education & Health" rank: 9
"Quality of Life" rank: 190
"Safety" rank: 241

Littleton, Colorado.
Littleton, Colorado.

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Number 4: Littleton, Colorado

Total score: 69.23
"Affordability" rank: 600
"Economic Health" rank: 53
"Education & Health" rank: 171
"Quality of Life" rank: 20
"Safety" rank: 300

Leawood, Kansas.
Leawood, Kansas.

Number 3: Leawood, Kansas

Total score: 69.48
"Affordability" rank: 2
"Economic Health" rank: 130
"Education & Health" rank: 36
"Quality of Life" rank: 634
"Safety" rank: 89

Princeton, New Jersey.
Princeton, New Jersey.

Number 2: Princeton, New Jersey

Total score: 69.63
"Affordability" rank: 937
"Economic Health" rank: 2
"Education & Health" rank: 216
"Quality of Life" rank: 71
"Safety" rank: 30

Westfield, Indiana.
Westfield, Indiana.

Number 1: Westfield, Indiana

Total score: 69.93
"Affordability" rank: 29
"Economic Health" rank: 1
"Education & Health" rank: 49
"Quality of Life" rank: 1,117
"Safety" rank: 94

Here's a Q&A, conducted via e-mail, with WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez about the Colorado communities that made the top twenty.

Westword: Could you briefly explain the main categories on which the communities are being ranked? What are the key factors in each of these categories? And how do they combine to give an overall picture of the best small cities in the country?

Jill Gonzalez: For this report, we analyzed 1,268 cities across five key dimensions including: 1) Affordability, 2) Economic Health, 3) Education & Health, 4) Quality of Life and 5) Safety. Then we compiled thirty key indicators of livability corresponding to each key dimension in order to determine which small cities outshine the rest.

For the Affordability category, we focused on housing costs and general affordability (cost of living and median income). When it comes to Economic Health, we looked at the unemployment rate, poverty levels, population and income growth.

In terms of Education & Health, we analyzed the school system, graduation rate, insurance coverage and the overall health of residents. For the Quality of Life category, we focused on metrics ranging from the average commute time to number of restaurants and number of department stores. The Safety category focuses on the violent-crime rate and property-crime rate."

What did your study find that was best about Littleton, the top-ranked Colorado community? And also the area in which the community most needs to improve?

Littleton ranked highly mostly due to its Economic Health and Quality of Life. In terms of Economic Health, Littleton has reached full employment, having a low unemployment rate at just 3.6 percent. Also, the city has one of the highest income growths in the country at 15 percent between 2009 and 2015. However, it could improve its affordability, as it has quite a high cost of living.

How about Parker? Its biggest attributes and largest challenges?

Parker ranked among the top 5 percent of analyzed cities and offers one of the best Education and Health systems in the country. It has a high percentage of residents with a high school degree or higher at almost 98 percent. Almost 95 percent of its population has health insurance coverage, and it has the lowest percentage of residents reporting poor or fair health at just 7 percent. Even so, just 0.4 percent of its residents walk to work, which could be improved for both health and environmental reasons.

And Castle Rock?

Castle Rock ranked within the top twenty cities due mostly to its Education & Health systems. Again, the city has the lowest percentage of residents reporting poor or fair health at just 7 percent, a low obesity rate at 17 percent and a low percentage of the population reporting no physical activity at just 11 percent. Still, just 0.5 percent of its residents walk to work, which could be improved for both health and environmental reasons.

There are quite a few other small Colorado cities that wound up in the upper reaches of your list: Broomfield, Lafayette, Loveland, Wheat Ridge. Is there something that all of these cities have in common? Is there a general way of characterizing why so many Colorado small cities scored well?

Colorado cities tend to have a healthy economic environment and offer their residents great quality when it comes to education and health. Simply put, it's a healthy state, implying longer and happier lives.

Methodology

To determine the best small cities in America, WalletHub’s analysts compared 1,268 cities across five key dimensions: 1) Affordability, 2) Economic Health, 3) Education & Health, 4) Quality of Life and 5) Safety. For our sample, we selected cities with population sizes between 25,000 and 100,000 and considered only the “city proper” in each case, excluding cities in the surrounding metro area.

We then evaluated the dimensions using thirty relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing the most favorable conditions for small-city residents.

Finally, we calculated overall scores for each city based on the weighted average across all metrics and used the results to construct our ranking.

Affordability — Total Points: 20

• Housing Costs: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
Note: This is a composite metric of median home price divided by median annual family income and average two-bedroom rent divided by median annual family income.
• Cost of Living: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
• Median Household Income: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
• Homeownership Rate: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)

Economic Health — Total Points: 20

• Unemployment Rate: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
• Percentage of Residents Living Below Poverty Level: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
• Population Growth: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
• Income Growth: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)

Education & Health — Total Points: 20

• School-System Quality: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s School Systems ranking.
• High School Graduation Rate: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
• Percentage of Residents with at Least a High School Diploma: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
• Percentage of Population with Health-Insurance Coverage: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
• Premature-Death Rate: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
Note: This metric measures “Average Years of Potential Life Lost” rate.
• Poor or Fair Health: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
• Low Birthweight: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
• Adult Obesity: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
• Physical Inactivity: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)

Quality of Life — Total Points: 20

• Average Commute Time: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
• Percentage of Residents Who Walk to Work: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
• Mean Hours Worked per Week: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
• Number of Restaurants per Capita: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
• Number of Bars per Capita: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
• Number of Clubs per Capita: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
• Number of Coffee Shops per Capita: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
• Number of Museums per Capita: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
• Number of Performing Arts Centers per Capita: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
• Number of Fitness Centers per Capita: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)
• Number of Department Stores per Capita: Full Weight (~1.82 Points)

Safety — Total Points: 20

• Violent-Crime Rate: Full Weight (~10.00 Points)
• Property-Crime Rate: Full Weight (~10.00 Points)



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