Top 30 Cities
En español | What makes a city "livable"? Sure, there’s the price or quality of housing, but how easily can you get around the place? Do its services benefit residents of all ages? Does it help you thrive? To find the standouts, AARP devised a Livability Index in 2015 and used it to rate U.S. localities on 60 criteria in seven categories: housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement and opportunity. Click the arrow to meet our top 10 finishers in three groups: large, medium and small.1 of 31
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1. San Francisco
Large (population 500,000 and above). There’s nothing like a green scheme to make a town feel red-blooded: The City by the Bay is on track to reduce its carbon emissions by 25 percent just two years from now.2 of 31
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Large (population 500,000 and above). Everyone complains about Beantown traffic, and now someone’s done something about it! A city partnership with the navigation app Waze lets you check real-time road conditions throughout Boston3 of 31
Large (population 500,000 and above). Of perks and parks: When your mind tires of hanging out in a coffee shop — 1 per every 2,500 residents, rumor has it — feast your eyes on the water and mountain views from a Seattle park or bike path.4 of 31
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Large (population 500,000 and above). “Milwaukee’s finest” may be this novel civic-improvement program: Older residents are eligible for low-interest loans from the city to make essential home repairs.5 of 31
5. New York
Large (population 500,000 and above). Who saw this coming? Apparently the Big Apple wants to help you “make it there,” for the city now lists 59 initiatives devoted to improving the living standards of its older residents.6 of 31
Large (population 500,000 and above). Residents 65 and older qualify for free or reduced-fare city-transit rides. And there’s still no charge for running up and down the “Rocky Steps” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.7 of 31
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7. Portland, Ore.
Large (population 500,000 and above). With parks and transportation within easy walking distance, the city became an inaugural member of AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly Communities. (For the lighter side of local life, watch the sitcom Portlandia.)8 of 31
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Large (population 500,000 and above). A $10 million city initiative supports the development of affordable housing. Outdoors types will appreciate Denver’s bike score of 71, which lands it in the "very bikeable" range.9 of 31
9. Washington, D.C.
Large (population 500,000 and above). Few outsiders realize what a cycling hub the city has become: Ridership jumped 80 percent between 2007 and 2010, and D.C. now boasts 76 miles of bike lanes. About 3.1 percent of all workers here — seventh highest in the nation — bike to their jobs.10 of 31
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Large (population 500,000 and above). Charm City consistently scores high on neighborhood cohesion and pride. To encourage local homebuyers, B-HiP — the Baltimore Homeownership Incentive Program — offers a variety of financial sweeteners.11 of 31
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1. Madison, Wis.
Medium (population 100,000 to 500,000). Top rankings for air quality and a great parks-to-people ratio put Madison at the top of many green-city lists. And how cool is this? Special snowplows clear the bike paths in winter.12 of 31
2. St. Paul, Minn.
Medium (population 100,000 to 500,000). Far from feeling inferior to its urban sibling, Minneapolis, St. Paul revels in its lower prices, unpretentious eateries and easy access to the countryside. The city also helps developers rehabilitate structures left vacant by foreclosures.13 of 31
3. Sioux Falls, S.D.
Medium (population 100,000 to 500,000). “Our 21-mile bike trail, which loops the city, is our crown jewel,” says Sarah Jennings, state director for AARP South Dakota. A fringe benefit of the trail: clear views of downtown’s unspoiled historic core.14 of 31
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4. Rochester, Minn.
Medium (population 100,000 to 500,000). The Mayo Clinic makes this a company town — and explains Rochester’s highest hospital-satisfaction rate among AARP’s livable cities. But will the planned Destination Medical Center destroy the small-town vibe?15 of 31
Medium (population 100,000 to 500,000). Combine the city’s high number of parks, lakes and maintained trails with its low population (400,000), and you almost don’t need the new 11-mile light-rail line that’s spurring economic development.16 of 31
6. Arlington, Va.
Medium (population 100,000 to 500,000). Diversity, nightlife and smart growth (if you don’t count the Ballston neighborhood) are all draws here. Want proof? The Rosslyn Bikeometer, located on the Custis Trail just west of Lynn Street, tallies some 4,500 riders per day.17 of 31
Courtesy Iowa State University
7. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Medium (population 100,000 to 500,000). The city is making vegetable gardens out of empty lots in struggling neighborhoods. Oh, and that silly Ed Helms movie of the same name? They shot that in Ann Arbor, Mich.!18 of 31
8. Lincoln, Neb.
Medium (population 100,000 to 500,000). The city’s rock-bottom jobless rate, now at 2.5 percent, is just one of the dynamics drawing immigrants and refugees from Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar and Vietnam. In 2013, Lincoln was named one of the top 10 “Most Welcoming Cities in America” by the nonprofit Welcoming America.19 of 31
9. Fargo, N.D.
Medium (population 100,000 to 500,000). Fargo the movie was filmed out of state, but that hasn't hurt the reputation for excellence of cultural icons such as the downtown Theatre B and the restored 1926 art-deco Fargo Theatre.20 of 31
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Courtesy La Crosse Tribune
1. La Crosse, Wis.
Small (population 25,000 to 100,000). What one resident dubs "a pretty happening place for its size" also boasts a cost of living that’s almost 7 percent lower than the national average. Downtown, Grand River Station offers retail space and apartments customized for artists and entrepreneurs.22 of 31
John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal
2. Fitchburg, Wis.
Small (population 25,000 to 100,000).
A round-trip bus ride to the senior center in this Madison suburb costs only $1. For trips to medical appointments, the rider sets the cost.23 of 31
3. Bismarck, N.D.
Small (population 25,000 to 100,000). Residents over 60 or with disabilities are eligible for door-to-door bus service. Indeed, you know a town is "Midwest nice" when Sperling’s Best Places uses the phrase "clean and pleasant but plain and quiet" to describe it!24 of 31
Christopher Mertes/AP Images
4. Sun Prairie, Wis.
Small (population 25,000 to 100,000). With easy walking and mixed uses, Liberty Square and Cannery Square show the city’s commitment to communities. Claim to (low-key) fame: Jimmy the Groundhog bit the mayor’s ear at last February’s Groundhog Day festivities.25 of 31
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5. Duluth, Minn.
Small (population 25,000 to 100,000). The American Lung Association ranks this city of 86,000 in the nation’s top 10 for clean air. In 2014 Outside magazine named it "Best Place to Live in the U.S." for such features as the Duluth Traverse, slated to become one of the planet’s "largest urban mountain-bike trail systems."26 of 31
Amanda Brown/State Department
6. Union City, N.J.
Small (population 25,000 to 100,000). Cuban political émigrés have earned Union City the nickname "Havana on the Hudson." And you know a place has arrived when it hosts its own film fest each fall — in this case, the NoHu (North Hudson) International Short Film Festival.27 of 31
7. Grand Island, Neb.
Small (population 25,000 to 100,000). The numbers add up nicely here: The median house price is $125,400. The cost of living is 11.4 percent lower than the national average, and Grand Island’s OpenData initiative has made the city’s budgeting process more transparent.28 of 31
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8. Kirkland, Wash.
Small (population 25,000 to 100,000). The city’s Complete Streets Ordinance, enacted in 2006 to make local roadways safe for walkers and cyclists, has yielded 41 miles of bike lanes, making it that much easier to reach Kirkland’s popular waterfront parks.29 of 31
Courtesy The Gazette Cedar Rapids
9. Marion, Iowa
Small (population 25,000 to 100,000). The vibrant Uptown Marion neighborhood has been singled out for its skillful blend of economic development and historic preservation. (Think brew pubs, stitching studios and "chocolate walks.")30 of 31
10. West Bend, Wis.
Small (population 25,000 to 100,000). Public works of art punctuate the Riverwalk, which snakes three miles through downtown along the Milwaukee River. (If it’s snowing, duck inside the Museum of Wisconsin Art.)31 of 31
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