Best Places to Live the American Dream

The American Dream. Your own house, a white picket fence, a spouse you love, two and a half kids, a dog, and a job that pays adequately in something you do well. The American Dream means a little something different to everyone. However, Money Magazine tried to pinpoint the best place to live the American Dream, taking into account factors like job availability, school quality, street safety, crime level, entertainment options and even charm to come up with a list of the best small cities in America. Here is the Top 10.

Apparently, Money didn’t take weather or playing golf for only half of the year into account in its surveys (two highly-ranked criteria for my personal list of best places to live), because Eden Prairie, MN topped the list of top places to live among small cities in America in the 2010 survey. The Twin Cities suburb with 64,000 residents boasts an unemployment rate four points below the national average, very little crime, great schools and parks that boast 125 miles of jogging and hiking trails and 17 lakes that are just as good for ice skating in the winter as they are for swimming and fishing in the summer. The Minnesota Vikings like what they saw in Eden Prairie, so that’s where the team built its practice complex and business offices.

At No. 2 are fittingly the two neighboring suburbs of Columbia and Endicott City, MD. Located just 30 minutes from Baltimore and 60 from D.C., these suburbs with a combined population of 155,000 rely upon nearby government employers to maintain an unemployment rate of just 5.2 percent. A true melting pot with a mixture of races, Columbia and Endicott City have an extremely low rate of housing foreclosures. While much of the area is quaint and wooded, it offers all of the benefits of access to two large metropolitan areas in terms of eating and entertainment options between D. C. and Baltimore, including six teams in the four major North American professional sports.

The only thing holding back No. 3 Newton, MA is the high median home price – a three-bedroom house costs an average of $600,000. Other than that, the suburb of 82,000 that’s only a 30-minute train ride from downtown Boston is about perfect, with a quaint New England atmosphere that can’t be faked and an unemployment rate not as heavily affected as the rest of the area. Moreover, education is so important in Newton that the new high school came it a price tag of $197 million!

What’s not to like about No. 4 Bellevue, WA? Recent employment influx from Microsoft, Expedia, Verizon and T-Mobile have pushed the amount of jobs in Bellevue over its population of 124,000, holding the unemployment rate down to 5.8 percent. The city also features a rare combination of nature – with 74 parks – and culture with a philharmonic orchestra, a fine arts museum, a children’s theater, and a botanical garden. Moreover, Bellevue is a good place to live for everyone, with almost one third of the population foreign born and almost one quarter of Asian descent.

McKinney, TX grabs the fifth spot on the Money Magazine list of top cities because it distinguishes itself from other Dallas suburbs that also feature affordable home rates, good schools, and low crime and unemployment rates with a quaint downtown shopping and restaurant area that’s been around since the late 19th Century – a huge rarity in an area where a historic building is anything that predates the Kennedy assassination. While McKinney has grown like gangbusters recently, quadrupling in population in the past 20 years and up to 125,000 residents, its schools remain among the highest-ranked in the state of Texas.

The highest ranked city on the list that isn’t a suburb of a larger metropolitan area, Fort Collins, CO, comes in at No. 6. With an employment base bolstered by Colorado State University, the city of 155,000 might very well be the most beautiful place to live on the list. It’s a sportsman’s paradise with fantastic biking and hiking trails, beautiful mountain streams for fishing, and the country’s best skiing. The only downside to Fort Collins is a cash-strapped educational system throughout the state of Colorado that’s hit the quality of the area’s schools hard.

No. 7 on the list heads right back to the suburbs, with Kansas City satellite community, Overland Park, KS. This city of 175,000 has been able to continue to thrive despite its largest employer, Sprint, laying off 3,000 employees from 2007-09. The reason is that it features one of the state’s best school systems. Overland Park also boasts a beautiful three-hundred acre arboretum and botanical garden, a 12-field soccer complex and a bi-weekly farmers’ market.

The big draw of No. 8 Fishers, IN is affordability. With median home price at $155,000, it’s within the price range of many Americans, while remaining safe and a great place to raise a family. The Indianapolis suburb of 69,000 is also growing with 1,600 jobs added last year.

Ames, IA is akin to Fort Collins, in that it is not a suburb of another area, and, as the home of Iowa State University, it’s also a college town grown into a city. With more than 9,000 employees working at the university, the No. 9 community on the Money list boasts the best unemployment rate among the top 10 at just 4.3 percent. Is that heaven? Nope, just Iowa. The city of 60,000 offers all of the benefits of the big city with the homey feel of the Midwest.

Once just a hillbilly town, Rogers, AR has been put on the map, and rounds out the Money Magazine top 10 list of cities to pursue the American Dream thanks to Wal-Mart, located just down the road in Bentonville. Many of the retail behemoth’s executives settled in Rogers, turning it from the boondocks into a bastion of culture and strong schools.