For our third annual "10 Best Places to Live" report, we’ve taken an approach that jibes with the independent spirit of this generation. Even before we opened an atlas, we zeroed in on the reasons why one out of three of us will move this year. Some relocate for work, others for recreation and social scenes, still others for family or peace of mind. With this list, we accommodate all the possibilities.
In picking these locales, we looked at census data, compared statistics on costs of living and economic growth, checked out entertainment options from sports to nightlife, read local papers, talked to industry insiders, and interviewed young people from coast to coast. Some choices were hard. In picking Memphis as the best city to start a band, for instance, we had to pass over up-and-coming scenes in Hamtramck, Michigan (in the Detroit area), and Olympia,Washington. In choosing Crested Butte for outdoor adventure, we had to overlook a host of other summer and winter wonderlands. Sometimes we even had to repeat ourselves, because places we've named before Portland (the best place to start a business) and Austin (the best place to work in technology) just keep getting better.
So whether you’re looking to settle down or just stop over, think of this list as your guide to America’s hottest spots.
Aside from Route 29, which can get quite congested, Charlottesville is mostly self-contained. People shop at the local bakeries or farmers’ markets and know their merchants and their politicians. "The mayor and the city-council people come in and have meetings here," says John Lawrence, 31, of his Mudhouse cybercafe. "You get to know them by name."
The cultural and intellectual core of the city is the University of Virginia, designed by Thomas Jefferson in the 1820s to be a close-knit community of scholars. Nearly everyone knows someone affiliated with WA, which remains the city’s largest employer, General Electric, Sperry Marine Inc., Sprint, and State Farm Insurance help maintain a low unemployment rate 2.7 percent within the city, 1.9 percent in Albemarle County in this mostly professional town. The university also keeps the town stimulated with poetry readings, symphonies, lectures, and art exhibits. And it sets a priority on education that filters all the way down to preschool.
Iva Morris, 30, is among the many young people who decided to stay in C-ville after attending UVA, and now has two children, ages 2 and 4. "We send our kids to a local preschool," says Morris. "A lot of the faculty members send their kids there, and it’s a diverse population, which has big cultural advantages."
Charlottesville’s public-school system is known for its gifted and special-education programs, fine arts, and high SAT scores. For parents who wish to send their kids to private school, the area offers 20 choices. The city also boasts 23 preschool programs, 24 child-care centers, and 66 summer camps and recreational programs, offering everything from horseback riding to juggling to drama.
Ilene Railton, director of the Child Care Resource and Referral Service, says that the tremendous variety of programs is leading many young families to relocate here. "I work near the Downtown Mall," she says, "and I see plenty of strollers parked outside the coffeehouses."
Charlottesville is also the kind of town where a family just starting out can buy a small four-bedroom cottage with a yard for $100,000. For $160,000, they can land a two-story Colonial in a new subdivision with mountain views 15 miles west of town.
So C-ville residents don’t have to look any farther than their own backyards or one of the city’s 25 parks and playgrounds when they want to tangle with nature. But for more rugged adventure, they can hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains or play in Shenandoah National Park (both about 30 miles away) or hit the trails at one of the local horse farms. In wintertime, there’s even skiing at Wintergreen Resort (45 miles).
The alternative scene could have more of an edge, but people come to this quaint town in Piedmont hill country for other reasons. "It’s just incredibly beautiful, for one. The mountains, the hiking, the weather, the culture," says Vickie Gresge, 31, who owns the 1817 Tea Room. "I feel that everyone in Chicago works all year to come to a place like this for two weeks."