What makes a city livable? And more importantly, what makes a city's "livability score" better than another city? (See also: 10 Cities That Revolve Around Credit)
That's a fair question, and one that the American Association of Retired People sought to answer with its AARP Livability Index for 2018.
The index names the top large, mid-size, and small that earn the moniker of one of the most livable cities in the U.S.
In doing so, the AARP index pulls together 50 national data sources to score every neighborhood and community in the U.S. based on seven categories of livability, including affordable housing, public transportation, social engagement and access to health and wellness services, among other things.
Which cities came out on top? And which states hold the most "livable" cities (hint: the home of cheese heads and Packer-Backers top's the state list).
Additionally, the AARP data shows that once a city makes its livability list, it tends to stay there. Of the 30 cities that were on the "best of" list in 2015, the last time AARP rated cities by livability, 19 found themselves on the 2018 list, too.
Here's how AARP ranks the top large cities, the top mid-size cities, and the top small cities in the U.S.:
Top Large Cities
1. San Francisco, Calif.
The City by the Bay ranks number one on the AARP livability index, thanks to high marks for great transportation services and for access to great health care centers.
2. Boston, Mass.
Besides the Red Sox and Fenway Park, deemed a national treasure by certain baseball enthusiasts, Beantown ranks high among the U.S. with clean air and water, and in great neighborhoods, with access to city sites and great local schools.
3. Seattle, Wash.
Like Denver, Seattle offers some of the best health and wellness programs in the US., according to AARP. It also ranks highly in safe and affordable public transportation.
4. Denver, Colo.
Denver ranks among the top cities in access to quality healthcare—and access to great wellness programs for the public.
5. Milwaukee, Wis.
Milwaukee is rated near the top of the list for safe and convenient local transportation, and for good, vibrant neighborhoods with access to work, life, and play.
Top Mid-Size Cities
1. Madison, Wis.
The hometown of the Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, like many college towns, offers plenty of opportunities for civic engagement, charitable opportunities, and solid job opportunities.
2. Arlington, Va.
This suburb of Washington D.C. is known for its affluence and government worker residential base. That's all true, but it also earns high marks on civic engagement, clean air, and great health care services.
3. St. Paul, Minn.
Just like Minneapolis, St. Paul earns high marks from AARP for clean air and efficient public transport options. It also ranks high on civic engagement by residents.
4. Boulder, Colo.
Boulder makes the AARP list for the first time, thanks primarily to a great environmental record, easy access to quality health services, and safe, fun neighborhoods.
5. Minneapolis, Minn.
Great neighborhoods, pristine, clean air, and friendly people earn Minneapolis a spot on AARP's livability list.
Top Small Cities
1. Fitchburg, Wis.
Number one on AARP's "top small cities" list, Fitchburg cements Wisconsin as the best state to live in the U.S. Fitchburg tops the AARP list thanks to solid job opportunities, inclusive neighborhoods, and the kind of friendly, engaging residents that mark the Wisconsin living experience.
2. Sheboygan, Wis.
Sheboygan is yet another Wisconsin city on the AARP list. It offers affordable housing, that clean Midwestern fresh air that so many Wisconsin cities offer, and great public transportation.
3. La Crosse, Wis.
Affordable housing, a clean, healthy environment, and a robust civic engagement aspect make La Crosse another Wisconsin addition to the AARP livability index.
4. Lafayette, Colo.
Lafayette rates high on AARP's quality healthcare and safe and interesting neighborhood benchmarks. It also offers good job opportunities for residents and relatively affordable housing.
5. Silver Spring, Md.
Another affluent D.C. suburb, Silver Spring offers ample access to health and wellness services, tight-knit neighborhoods, and easy access to public transportation—around town and into D.C.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
This article was originally published on July 17, 2018, and has been updated.