Best Small Cities for Families

January 20, 2015 Mortgages, Studies
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Best Small Cities for Families

Many Americans dream of raising a family in a tight-knit, safe community with a white picket fence around a yard for the kids and dog to roam.

When choosing the right place to realize that dream, affordability, growth and family-friendliness are all factors many parents consider. NerdWallet used those metrics to analyze 1,030 U.S. cities with populations of 25,000 to 100,000 to help you find the best small places in the country to raise your children.

Even though you’ll find smaller family-friendly cities in every state, our analysis revealed that some the best are in Texas and Utah. Seven of our top 20 cities are in the Lone Star State near Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin or Houston, and four of our top 20 cities are in Utah, near Salt Lake City.

NerdWallet’s analysis

Our examination also revealed these trends:

Big city, big draw. Nearly all of the top 10 cities on our list are within an hour of major U.S. cities including, Salt Lake City, Austin, Dallas, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale and Indianapolis.

Schools matter. Although we didn’t consider school ratings when determining a city’s score, many of our top cities are known for their excellent public schools.

California dreaming. The state had several cities in the top 50 because of high median incomes, but only one city made our top 20, since the state’s higher median home values had a negative impact on the total score for small cities.

1. Sammamish, Washington

It’s no surprise that this Seattle suburb tops our list, especially after ranking high in our Best Cities for Young Families in Washington and Best Small Cities to Live In. The community is known for its schools, which received top ratings at GreatSchools.org. For families who like to play outside, there are plenty of choices, from Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park to Lake Sammamish State Park and more. Over half of the families in Sammamish have kids under age 18, and households here earn a median income of $143,239 a year, the highest in our top 20.

2. Wylie, Texas

A 45-minute drive northeast of Dallas, Wylie is between Lake Ray Hubbard and Lavon Lake, which both provide plenty of places to swim, bike, hike, fish and camp. Wylie’s public schools received strong ratings at GreatSchools, and the city’s population is growing along with the median income, which increased almost 18% from 2009 to 2013. When you’re not outside, the whole family can find something to do at the Wylie Recreation Center, which includes a climbing wall, fitness facilities and a variety of art, dance, video game design and martial arts classes.

3. Leander, Texas

Living in Leander is a practical option for families who not only want to be near a big city, but who also put a priority on affordability. Commuters can hop on the MetroRail and ride it to downtown Austin. Back in Leander, families will find less expensive housing, good schools and many well-designed local parks. Families with young children visit Cedar Rock Railroad, where youngsters can ride a miniature train through a scenic park as their parents picnic near the Shady Oak Junction Depot.

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4. Kyle, Texas

Like Leander, Kyle is close to Austin, but it’s smaller and more affordable, boasting the lowest home values of our top 20 cities. Kyle is steadily growing, with a population in 2013 of about 32,000, and officials expect the city will be home to 60,000 by 2020. The city’s menu of kid-friendly activities runs the gamut from a disc golf course, to a city pool, sports leagues and summer camps. In the warmer months, on the second Saturday, folks head to Kyle Market Days, where local farmers and vendors converge in the city’s historic City Square Park with a backdrop of live music.

5. Parkland, Florida

Sun, safety and schools make this prosperous Fort Lauderdale suburb a solid place to raise a family. Just east of the Everglades and a 25-minute drive to the beach, Parkland offers endless opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Kids play baseball, football, lacrosse and soccer at Pine Trails Park, where there’s also a monthly concert series and movies for the whole family. Households here earn a median income on the higher side, $126,105 a year, but residents also face relatively more expensive home values.

6. San Ramon, California

San Ramon is known for its highly rated schools, safe streets and an affluent residential population. It’s growing rapidly, having gained 2,300 residents from 2010 to 2014. A new City Hall is rising next to the popular Central Park. Kids here can scramble over rock walls and navigate a zip line at the new Amador Rancho Center Park. Later this year, the city will begin to remedy what it lacks in relation to its neighbors, such as Danville and Pleasanton: a true downtown. This mixed-use area will feature retail, commercial, housing and open space near Interstate 680.

7. Syracuse, Utah

Syracuse is a scenic community, north of Utah’s capital, next to the Great Salt Lake. Given its location, a family outing in Syracuse is best spent hiking, biking, fishing, swimming or exploring Antelope Island, across Farmington Bay. The smallest city on our list by population, Syracuse has a reputation for being family-friendly and was No. 3 on our list of the Best Cities in Utah for Raising Kids. Schools are located near neighborhoods, and it’s safe for kids to walk or bike to school.

8. Lehi, Utah

Lehi sits on the north shore of Utah Lake, near the base of Mount Timpanogos. The location, plus the city’s good schools, affordable homes and activities for families make this Salt Lake City suburb an ideal place to raise kids. Aside from natural landmarks, one of the city’s unique attractions is Thanksgiving Point, where kids can ride ponies and watch a cow milking at the farm, marvel at dinosaur bones in the Museum of Ancient Life and climb through a 40-foot high ropes course at the Museum of Natural Curiosity.

9. Carmel, Indiana

Having ranked first in our Best Small Cities to Live In and Best Towns in Indiana for Young Families studies, it’s no wonder Carmel made our list. With its outstanding schools, a growing population, affluent neighborhoods and Midwestern charm, it’s a comfortable community to settle in. The largest city of our top 10, Carmel has a range of cultural attractions centered around the Carmel Arts & Design District, a stretch of Old Town Carmel filled with galleries, design showrooms, boutiques and restaurants.

10. Bentonville, Arkansas

Bentonville, in Arkansas’ northwest, has a rapidly growing economy — median household income increased more than 32% from 2009 to 2013, the biggest jump for any city in our top 10. The area, which is home to the headquarters of three Fortune 500 companies, Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt, added 8,800 jobs from June 2012-13. Families can also take advantage of the city’s strong school district, which boasts high-performing and nationally recognized schools such as Bentonville High.  

Best small cities for families

Rank City Median household income Median home value Population growth from 2009-2013 Income growth from 2009-2013 Percentage of families with children under 18 Percentage of families with children under 18 in poverty Score
1 Sammamish, Washington $143,239 $569,000 16.65% 9.37% 50.40% 1.90% 69.20
2 Wylie, Texas $82,036 $155,900 18.66% 17.44% 40.30% 4.90% 67.93
3 Leander, Texas $77,766 $154,300 19.79% 12.79% 44.80% 5.30% 67.88
4 Kyle, Texas $76,141 $146,800 17.30% 8.42% 45.90% 3.40% 67.29
5 Parkland, Florida $126,105 $456,200 7.40% 23.27% 38.20% 2.60% 67.06
6 San Ramon, California $126,677 $690,900 50.49% 3.93% 42.80% 3.00% 66.72
7 Syracuse, Utah $83,963 $242,300 15.36% 8.42% 48.90% 4.90% 66.68
8 Lehi, Utah $74,566 $239,200 11.68% 7.52% 54.90% 5.80% 66.54
9 Carmel, Indiana $107,580 $300,400 22.56% 13.97% 33.20% 3.70% 66.10
10 Bentonville, Arkansas $68,470 $163,700 8.79% 32.44% 31.30% 5.10% 65.39
11 Brentwood, Tennessee $134,702 $486,500 7.85% 8.98% 41.50% 2.30% 65.27
12 Pearland, Texas $91,528 $180,000 21.33% 4.21% 37.00% 5.00% 64.76
13 Mansfield, Texas $89,200 $179,600 33.43% 2.00% 35.30% 7.40% 64.71
14 Johns Creek, Georgia $101,829 $316,300 35.28% -4.37% 40.60% 5.70% 64.65
15 Rockwall, Texas $93,070 $184,200 12.82% 15.22% 30.80% 3.90% 64.46
16 Doral, Florida $68,326 $283,900 61.59% -0.50% 38.10% 11.00% 64.42
17 Spanish Fork, Utah $62,073 $185,800 15.78% 5.17% 49.80% 6.50% 64.40
18 Allen, Texas $99,563 $198,600 10.97% 4.05% 40.20% 6.80% 64.10
19 Riverton, Utah $82,373 $260,300 2.26% 3.96% 49.50% 2.60% 63.87
20 Wildwood, Missouri $120,600 $350,300 4.36% 11.26% 36.70% 6.00% 63.52
21 Kirkland, Washington $85,684 $399,200 74.59% 2.55% 21.90% 6.40% 63.32
22 Woodbury, Minnesota $96,796 $259,400 14.50% 8.79% 32.10% 2.40% 63.14
23 Keller, Texas $116,280 $290,100 7.62% 0.17% 37.00% 2.60% 63.06
24 Little Elm, Texas $77,612 $159,800 19.51% -0.69% 39.10% 5.00% 62.81
25 League City, Texas $84,271 $173,000 27.45% 1.65% 30.60% 4.30% 62.65
26 Georgetown, Kentucky $59,544 $147,800 40.13% 19.01% 25.90% 12.80% 62.64
27 Dublin, Ohio $111,290 $330,400 11.48% -1.24% 39.10% 3.30% 62.56
28 Coppell, Texas $110,831 $290,500 0.85% 5.41% 37.80% 5.00% 62.17
29 Madison, Alabama $93,954 $227,300 13.15% 16.14% 28.00% 7.50% 62.16
30 Bartlett, Tennessee $79,116 $169,800 20.83% 10.12% 25.50% 3.80% 61.63
31 Leawood, Kansas $134,451 $389,400 3.87% 3.61% 29.40% 2.80% 61.06
32 Kaysville, Utah $84,125 $276,700 10.79% 3.49% 42.10% 9.40% 60.75
33 Rowlett, Texas $83,002 $158,700 5.26% 6.55% 31.80% 5.10% 60.50
34 Andover, Minnesota $92,399 $229,200 1.64% 4.61% 36.20% 5.80% 60.44
35 Springville, Utah $58,333 $182,200 7.89% 2.47% 43.90% 6.90% 60.16
36 Savage, Minnesota $91,146 $243,400 0.71% 4.19% 37.30% 5.90% 60.12
37 West Fargo, North Dakota $66,747 $158,200 18.27% 13.46% 25.30% 6.60% 60.00
38 Burleson, Texas $67,572 $125,100 13.68% 8.27% 32.20% 9.80% 59.95
39 Marion, Iowa $64,582 $144,200 8.95% 15.14% 25.00% 3.60% 59.67
40 Wentzville, Missouri $68,765 $183,200 34.48% -10.79% 35.10% 6.80% 59.67
41 Lakeville, Minnesota $93,334 $236,300 4.87% -0.93% 38.10% 7.90% 59.62
42 Draper, Utah $90,583 $370,200 9.05% 2.72% 38.10% 4.30% 59.56
43 Folsom, California $97,241 $369,000 8.48% 6.74% 31.10% 2.30% 59.53
44 Bettendorf, Iowa $75,020 $180,000 4.44% 18.63% 25.60% 6.90% 59.52
45 Brentwood, California $92,480 $345,100 10.10% 3.79% 35.20% 5.30% 59.42
46 Saratoga, California $170,373 $1,000,000 1.17% 18.37% 36.10% 3.20% 59.39
47 South Jordan, Utah $86,775 $314,700 9.63% -5.24% 40.10% 3.30% 59.23
48 Beavercreek, Ohio $78,388 $173,400 15.49% 9.56% 22.00% 4.50% 59.19
49 Sugar Land, Texas $101,360 $263,600 2.20% 0.54% 32.40% 4.30% 59.17
50 Oviedo, Florida $82,143 $205,600 10.64% 2.54% 31.00% 5.50% 59.14

Methodology

We analyzed 1,030 U.S. cities with populations from 25,000 to 100,000 based on three factors:

1. Income and affordability (33.33%). We looked at median household income and median home value data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey. Each metric accounted for 16.7% of a city’s total score. A higher median income contributed to a higher overall score, while a higher median home value created a lower overall score.

2. Prosperity and growth (33.33%). We looked at population growth and median household income growth from 2009 to 2013 using the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey. Each metric accounted for 16.7% of a city’s total score. A higher percentage of growth created a higher overall score for population and median income.

3. Family-friendliness (33.33%). We measured family-friendliness by looking at the percentage of families with at least one child under age 18, and the percentage of families with incomes below the poverty level, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey. Each metric accounted for 16.7% of a city’s total score. A high percentage of families with children under 18 contributed to a higher overall score, while a high percentage of families with incomes below the poverty line created a lower overall score.

We analyzed incorporated cities only and excluded unincorporated census-designated places, towns and villages.


Image via iStock. 

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