America’s Coolest Cities

rock and roll musician Lou Reed

This July was the hottest on record in the U.S. and 2012 is on track to be our hottest year ever. You better believe Americans are cranking the A/C and heading for the swimming holes.

But when it comes to my “cool cities” study, I’m talking about the other kind of cool.  The sunglasses, Levi’s and t-shirt James Dean cool.

I worked with Forbes with their article to find where the youth of America are headed, where it’s “happening.”  Would you believe Houston comes out on top?  Last year H-town sported a vigorous 2.6% job growth while welcoming over 50,000 new residents to the area, many of them young professionals.

We looked at recreational opportunities, such as amount of green space, golfing and skiing, and pro and college sports teams.

We also used my Diversity Index, which measures the likelihood that someone you meet will be of different race or ethnicity.  Higher diversity translates to a greater number of cool stores, events, and eateries.

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Charity in America – Surprising Insights

Charitable Giving in the United States
Who tops our “Shame Score”?

A report was released today by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, titled “How America Gives.”  The report maps charitable giving by state, city and neighborhood, by analyzing IRS personal income tax data at the zip code level.  Using the amount of charitable deductions, The Chronicle’s report showed which places gave the greatest (and least) portion of their income to charity.  (Actually, the report would be more accurately named “Where America Gives,” not “How.”)

I did a similar analysis about a year ago, using the same data, and I’m pleased to see we reached the same conclusions.  To summarize it simply, the poor give a greater percent of their income to charity than the wealthy, and people are more likely give more in states that vote Republican and are strongly religious.

The states with the highest percentage of claimed charitable contributions are Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina.  The least generous states are New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

I must admit, this is not what I had expected to find.

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Retiring on $100 a Day

senior citizens riding bikes together

Can you really retire in America and only spend $100 a day?  Turns out it’s a lot more possible than you might think.

When I started this recent study with AARP, I’d expected only about 20 or 30 U.S. cities would be this affordable.  But I was surprised to discover that most U.S. metro areas have a low enough combination of housing prices and property taxes to meet this criteria.

So what are the best cities for a $100/day retirement?

Based on things like arts and culture, rich community and great restaurants, here’s the Top 10:

City State Population
1 Spokane WA 471,221
2 Las Cruces NM 209,233
3 Eau Claire WI 161,151
4 Roanoke VA 308,707
5 Morgantown WV 129,709
6 Pittsburgh PA 2,356,285
7 San Antonio TX 2,142,508
8 Omaha-Council Bluffs NE-IA 865,350
9 Grand Junction CO 146,723
10 Gainesville FL 264,275

I’m assuming a 25% tax rate, which will reduce your yearly income of $36,500 to $27,375 spendable income.  That’s $2,281 per month.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses a percentage of 31.5% for the housing component of the Consumer Price Index.  That means that we have $719 per month for mortgage payments and property taxes.

I’m assuming a 20% down payment, which means that with current low interest rates, we can afford a house priced at $192,000.  Of course, putting up the nearly $40,000 (20% of $192,000) for the down payment may be challenging.

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“Millionaire Flight” theory – Don’t fall for it

a world war one or two plane crashes

There have been a number of news stories over the last two years about how the wealthy are fleeing states which have increased taxes on the highest tax brackets.

I’ll show you this line of thinking is not borne out by the facts, and is irrational to boot.

Here’s an example; a new story from the Wall Street Journal  – titled “Millionaires Fleeing Taxes” (August 7, 2012).

The description of the video interview with the reporter (Arden Dale) states “When states raise taxes millionaires move out.”  And the interviewer starts the piece by declaring, “Millionaires are fleeing from taxes!”

Wow, that sounds serious, and certainly very definitive.  Let’s learn more.

Interviewer – “So tell us, where are the millionaires going?”

Ms. Dale – “People don’t want to be taxed… but when we looked the actual numbers, the actual studies of whether ‘Millionaire Flight’ occurs, what we found was that there is no really great statistical data that shows that it does.” (Note: while this is being said, a banner on the screen reads “Millionaires moving to avoid taxes.”)

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2012 Manliest Cities

ernest hemingway with a manly beard and sweater

Time flies!  It’s time again for one of our most popular studies, our fourth annual list of America’s Manliest Cities.

It elicits a chuckle from some folks – but not only is Manliness important, it turns out it’s also quite quantifiable.

We look at things like number of major-league sports teams, nearby NASCAR events, steakhouses and BBQ joints. Prevalence of activities like woodworking, fishing, bowling, and home improvement also translated into higher rankings. On the flip side, “unmanly” things like minivans, sushi restaurants and home decor stores hurt cities’ “Manly” score.

Once again the South and the Midwest dominated the top spots. Here’s the full list, along with how each city changed its ranking from last year:

1. Oklahoma City, OK (▲ 2 spots) 26. Salt Lake City, UT (▼ 7 spots)
2. Columbia, SC (▲3 spots) 27. Columbus, OH (▼9 spots)
3. Memphis, TN (▲ 1 spot) 28. Orlando, FL (▲ 2 spots)
4. Nashville, TN (▼ 3 spots) 29. Philadelphia, PA (▼ 9 spots)
5. Birmingham, AL (▲ 2 spots) 30. Grand Rapids, MI (▼ 1 spot)
6. Houston, TX (▲ 3 spots) 31. Detroit, MI (▼ 6 spots)
7. St. Louis, MO (▲ 3 spots) 32. Portland, OR (▲ 5 spots)
8. Toledo, OH (▲ 4 spots) 33. Buffalo, NY (▲ 1 spot)
9. Cleveland, OH (▼ 3 spots) 34. Denver, CO (▼ 3 spots)
10. Charlotte, NC (▼ 8 spots) 35. Baltimore, MD (▼ 7 spots)
11. Louisville, KY (▲ 2 spots) 36. Miami, FL (▲ 8 spots)
12. Cincinnati, OH (▲ 2 spots) 37. Chicago, IL (▼ 13 spots)
13. Indianapolis, IN (▼ 2 spots) 38. Las Vegas, NV (No change)
14. New Orleans, LA (▲ 3 spots) 39. New York, NY (▼ 4 spots)
15. Dallas, TX (▲ 6 spots) 40. Minneapolis, MN (▼ 4 spots)
16. Pittsburgh, PA (No change) 41. Seattle, WA (No change)
17. Atlanta, GA (▲ 6 spots) 42. Harrisburg, PA (▼ 2 spots)
18. Dayton, OH (▲ 8 spots) 43. Washington, DC (▼ 1 spot)
19. Milwaukee, WI (▼ 11 spots) 44. Sacramento, CA (▼ 1 spot)
20. Kansas City, MO (▼ 5 spots) 45. Rochester, NY (▲ 1 spot)
21. Jacksonville, FL (▲ 12 spots) 46. Los Angeles, CA (▲ 4 spots)
22. Richmond, VA (No change) 47. Boston, MA (▼ 2 spots)
23. Tampa, FL (▲ 16 spots) 48. Oakland, CA  (▼ 1 spot)
24. Providence, RI (▲ 3 spots) 49. San Francisco, CA (▼ 1 spot)
25. Phoenix, AZ (▲ 7 spots) 50. San Diego, CA (▼ 1 spot)

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Natural Disaster Risk

You’ve seen the news – Dallas, Texas has been hit hard by major tornado activity.

I can’t say I’m surprised, because about this time last year the New York Times published my rankings of Natural Disaster Risk.

And my top pick of the 379 metros areas in the United States?  Yes, Dallas.

Check out the link to the story.  The New York Times creates beautiful and insightful infographics.

(Click map to expand in new window)

I hope this all this tornado activity and unseasonably warm weather isn’t a precursor to a summer of extreme weather.  Meanwhile, I’ll hunker down here in the soggy Northwest, and feel lucky that the most we usually suffer from are unrelenting gray days and drizzle.

Retirement Relocation

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I was recently interviewed by the AARP about ways to get the most from your assets as you move into retirement.

I noted that a great way to do this is by relocation.  Not on a large scale, like how so many automatically move to Florida or California, but on a micro-scale.

I’m talking about 50 or 60 miles, to just outside a major metro area.  You’re still close enough to get most of the benefits of the city, but avoid the premium prices of real estate and other goods and services in its heart.

This way, you can keep all the friends and routines you’ve built up over the years and extract up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity from your housing investment.

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Positive U.S. Education

Asian children in a classroom working

I use a lot of metrics to measure and rate the quality of life in different cities and towns.  I haven’t seen anyone else use this particular measure but I think it provides a good insight into the sociological health of a place.

So, I was heartened to read about a trend in New York City.

Where the cost of living (and private schooling) is amongst the highest in the world, some of the wealthy are opting to send their kids to public schools.  There’s a twist as well – it’s foreigners who are leading this charge.

Why do they do it?

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Sexual Health

a trojan brand condom

This year marks the 6th annual Trojan Sexual Health Report Card study that we do, and it’s one of the ongoing projects I’m most proud of.  Each year it garners more attention and continues to gain momentum as a source of positive change.

It’s emerged as the only independent evaluation and comparison of on-campus sexual health info and resources for U.S. universities, covering over 30% of all enrolled undergrads nationwide.

We look at the hours of operation for student health centers, the availability and cost of contraceptives for both sexes, peer groups, STD testing, and how sexual assaults are handled.

One of the greatest strengths of the study is that there’s no endorsement of any particular lifestyle, rather the advocacy and promotion of informing students.  It’s about education, which is fitting at our country’s places of higher learning.

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A Cost of Growth

In the study of cities, getting bigger is usually seen as desirable if not inevitible.  So interesting issues are raised when growth starts to bring with it some questionable effects.


Austin, Texas has been a sanctuary for pickers, singers and painters for generations.  The problem is, the creative class is starting to get squeezed out.

People move to Austin because it’s so cool and hip, but the influx has pushed the cost of living UP and the artists OUT.

Now Austin is the priciest place to live in Texas.  The fancy $500,000 condos must be the target of the famous “Keep Austin Weird” slogan on the back of every VW van down there.

It’s a tricky chicken-and-egg situation when prosperity rides into town with unaffordability as its sidekick.  Austin is stepping up admirably, though – the city has spent $55 million on affordable housing in the past five years.

There’s an article all about it on the NPR site: