It has a reputation for barbecue, wide-open spaces and thriving cities, but Texas is best known for its size.
Indeed, the largest state in the continental U.S. not only trumps others in land mass, but it is also No. 2 in the nation when it comes to population and population growth. And in the biggest state, growth is happening in the biggest cities.
According to a report about the most recent U.S Census Bureau estimates, seven of the 15 fastest-growing cities with populations of 50,000 or more are located in Texas. The state, which saw an overall population growth rate of 5.4% from 2010 to 2013, is seeing growth spikes as high as 9.2% in Austin, as millennials continue to flock to cities.
In a state overflowing with pride, the question of a “best city” is an area of debate. Looking at a variety of data sources, NerdWallet ranked the 50 largest cities in Texas on quality-of-life indicators to determine the best places to live.
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Crime. Using data from NeighborhoodScout, we gave every city a crime-risk index, ranging from “most safe” to “least safe” based on the quartile determined by the crime score.
Housing and demographics. Looking at data from the U.S. Census Bureau, we used homeownership rates, commute time and unemployment rates to measure a city’s housing and economic health.
Education. We used data from SchoolDigger.com to assign every city’s public school system a percentile score compared with the rest of the state.
Walk Score. Using data from Walk Score, which measures accessibility by walking to a city’s amenities, every city was assigned a number up to 100, a perfect score.
Best places to live in Texas
1. The Woodlands
The Woodlands, a census-designated place, is an across-the-board great place to live, with top marks for education and lower crime and unemployment rates. The community is about 30 miles from the 163,037-acre Sam Houston National Forest, which is a bonus for nature enthusiasts. There’s only one area where The Woodlands scores poorly: transportation. The community had one of the worst walking accessibility scores on our list, as well as a longer commute time of 31 minutes.
As one of our large communities with lower crime in Texas, and with the third-best education score on our list, it’s no surprise that Allen comes in near the top of our rankings. It appears homeowners agree, since 78% of households in Allen own their homes — a much higher rate than the median of 59.9% for large cities. The Dallas suburb prides itself on its arts and culture, from a quilters guild to the Collin County Ballet Theatre. The community is also home to National American University-Allen and Collin College.
On the northern outskirts of the Dallas area, Frisco makes our list on the strength of its high homeownership rate of 75.5%, and schools that rank in the 92nd percentile, which is the second highest on our list. Frisco residents have a commitment to fun, with cricket and football leagues, and for those seeking other options, there’s a Frisco Summer Fun Guide. Frisco also has miles of biking and hiking trails.
4. Sugar Land
Houston area residents have already discovered Sugar Land is a great place to live if the homeownership rate of 81.3%, second on our list only to Missouri City, is any indication. Also contributing to Sugar Land’s high ranking is an unemployment rate of 3.7%, a school system in the 87th percentile and this list’s highest grade of “most safe” when it comes to crime risk. In 2012, 93% of residents in Sugar Land rated their quality of life as “excellent or good.”
Returning to north Dallas, McKinney is a city that’s no stranger to high praise for its livability. The city takes pride in its motto of “unique by nature,” which refers to its historic downtown, charming neighborhoods, hills and streams. McKinney also scores well for its low unemployment rate of 3% and a crime-risk score of “most safe” in a place that has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. for the past decade. Recently, the city made national headlines after a video of police responding to a disturbance at a pool party prompted accusations of racism and excessive force when a white officer was seen pushing a black teenager to the ground and pulling out his weapon.
A growing community in the southern Houston area, Pearland is a low-crime community that received the list’s highest grade for safety, and 95% of residents in Pearland said in a recent poll that they feel safe in their neighborhood. Pearland’s strengths help spur residential and commercial growth: the city had an unemployment rate of 3.6%, and a homeownership rate of 79.7%. Pearland has earned recognition as a “Tree City USA” for its efforts to “preserve and enhance the urban forest. ”
The largest community in our top 10, Plano scores very well in this list’s transportation metrics. The city’s walk score of 36 — likely due to the 35 miles of trails in Plano — and commute time of 25 minutes are both among the best scores in our top 10. Plano’s active community includes flag football and softball teams as well as a commitment to volunteering. The city’s schools ranked in the 75th percentile when compared with districts statewide, and it received the “most safe” rating for crime risk.
8. League City
League City, 25 miles south of Houston, is notable not just for its quality of life, but also for its growth — the population increased 8.9% from 2010 to 2013, which is 3.5% more than the state’s average. The city’s 10-year plan to build on this growth includes waterfront development and revitalization of the central historic district. League City has an unemployment rate of 4.1%, and the school system ranks in the 76th percentile.
9. Missouri City
Southeast of Houston, Missouri City is historically known as one of the first communities in the state with a large middle-class black population. Today, the city’s population is 41.8% black, which is much higher than the 11.8% average in Texas cities. The community’s ranking of “most safe” highlights the lower crime risk in a city where the homeownership rate is 84.5%, the highest on our list.
Rounding out the top 10, Carrollton is a city of 122,000 about 19 miles north of Dallas. Its proximity to the metroplex means Carrollton residents have the shortest commute time on the list at 24 minutes. Along with its short commute, the city earned a Walk Score of 34, the second highest in our top 10. The city houses the headquarters of a number of companies including Halliburton Energy Services, Motel 6 and STMicroelectronics. But Carrollton hasn’t fully seen the benefits of its corporations: the unemployment rate of 5.1% is the highest in the top 10.
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Best places to live in Texas data
|Walk Score||Homeownership rate||Unemployment rate||Commute time in minutes||SchoolDigger percentile ranking||Score|
|1||The Woodlands||101,423||Most safe||17||73.7%||3.0%||31||93.3||80.15|
|4||Sugar Land||80,755||Most safe||24||81.3%||3.7%||28.9||87.1||71.06|
|8||League City||86,136||Most safe||16||74.1%||4.1%||29.1||76.2||61.99|
|9||Missouri City||68,244||Most safe||22||84.5%||5.0%||29.1||56.3||60.04|
|18||Round Rock||104,070||Most safe||21||59.5%||6.1%||24.2||65.7||47.69|
|22||San Angelo||94,812||Less safe||29||60.3%||4.6%||15.7||44.4||44.68|
|24||Wichita Falls||104,402||Less safe||28||58.2%||4.2%||14.6||45.2||43.71|
|31||Corpus Christi||308,993||Least safe||36||57.3%||5.1%||19.4||37.1||35.38|
|43||San Antonio||1,359,033||Least safe||34||55.7%||5.5%||23.3||41.0||29.45|
|45||Fort Worth||761,092||Least safe||32||58.5%||6.2%||25.9||36.6||26.37|
Crime data. Crime data is 30% of our score. For each community, we looked NeighborhoodScout’s per capita crime index, which uses the seven crimes compiled by the FBI in its Uniform Crime Reporting program: homicide, rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. We grouped the index, with scores from 0-100, into categories of “most safe,” “safe,” “less safe” and “least safe.” Read about NeighborhoodScout’s index here.
Education. The 2014 SchoolDigger ranking of school districts is 20% of the score. SchoolDigger assigns a 0-100 rank based on state standardized test scores. Find out about SchoolDigger’s methodology here.
Housing and demographics. Using the most-recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, we analyzed 2013 homeownership rates, unemployment rates and median commute times for 40% of our score.
Walk Score. For 10% of our score, we looked at Walk Score’s 0-100 rating for the communities analyzed. Read about Walk Score’s methodology here.
The Woodlands, Texas, image via iStock.