Ask the "Best Places to Live" Guy


As co-author of the book Cities Ranked and Rated, Bert Sperling has strong ideas about where you should or shouldn’t live. In 2007, for example, he placed Modesto, Calif., at the bottom of the rankings (number 375 of 375 metro areas) in the book. Since then, he says,

It’s been the ground zero of the foreclosure mess, dragging down the surrounding economy.

We looked at the fundamentals and determined that certain areas of the country had conditions that were just unsustainable and due to collapse. Unfortunately we were correct.


Sperling, with a background in accounting and engineering, owned a software company in the mid-1980’s. When he spotted a study that ranked Pittsburgh as the best place to live in the U.S., he wrote some software that allowed people to generate ranked lists of places tailored to their preferences. After this system was written up in USA Today, Sperling was asked by Money magazine to compile its first “best places” list.

His franchise has since grown immensely. He’s done projects like “Hot Dating in Small Towns” for MTV, “The Healthiest Places to Retire” for the A.A.R.P., and “Best Places for Lesbians” for Girlfriends magazine. He’s co-author of the book Best Places to Raise Your Family. His research is available online here.

Sperling’s research has infected our cultural bloodstream, with mentions on The Simpsons, in a Leno monologue, and as Jeopardy questions. And yes, he’s been profiled by The Times.


So where does the “best places” guy choose as his home? He’s dividing his time between Depoe Bay, Ore., and Portland, Ore.; but he’s also lived in Kodiak, Alaska; Carmel Valley, Calif.; Key West, Fla.; Oslo, Norway; and Long Island, N.Y.

He has agreed to field your questions here, so fire away. (Wasilla, anyone?) As with our past Q&A’s, we’ll keep the comments section open for a few days and then post Sperling’s responses in short order.

Addendum: Sperling answers your questions here.

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  1. RZ says:

    I’ve read various takes on the best cities for young singles but I think many are flawed. For example, Washington DC comes up often, but with its high rate of transiency, it’s hard to find a long-term relationship there. What factors do you look at, beyond the population of 20- and 30- something singles in a town/city?

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  2. fern says:

    What do you think of Scandinavia? It’s a beautiful part of Europe with world-class design- however, how rich does one have to be to live comfortably over there? In general, is it worth living in Europe if you can’t afford some of its best commodities?

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  3. ruthling says:

    To what extent do your ratings influence what happens in a given city? For example, obviously there were already problems in Modesto, but do you think your low rankings made it worse? Can you think of a situation in which a city’s popularity increased so significantly due to info you collected and interpreteted that it changed the character of the place for the worse? Or for the better?

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  4. Logan says:

    It seems as though in the last 5 to 10 years every city in the US that I travel frequently to keeps getting nicer (except Detroit). Has this been any sort of actual trend? If so do you think it will continue with all that is happening in the housing and finance right now? Are there any major cities that you think have benefited more than others?

    Also, with all that’s happening in finance right now do you think this will greatly affect New York City in any major way?

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  5. Will Slade says:

    How do you feel about Louisville, KY?

    Also, how come Canada never gets into these things? Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America, and if you have a Bachelors degree, you can pretty much hop the border anytime thanks to the TN-1 visa.

    I’m just saying.

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  6. Armand says:

    I have lived in Dallas Tx area for a few years.

    On the paper, the greater North Texas Metroplex (as it is called locally), would be one of the areas of the country with the most future (their great ambition is to take Chicago spot as 3rd city in America). Some of the satelite cities in this urban conglomeration have even been at the top of most positives rankings. Yet, living here I truly perceive a dissonance with what I read and what I see. Simply put BigD is far from an enjoyable place to live. A lot of the dissonance comes from cultural reasons. I would be curious to be educated on how you could account for that cultural diversity in the rankings.

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  7. RobertSeattle says:

    Best/Worst lists of all kinds are an examples of way too linear thinking. One person’s best might be another person’s worst.

    But don’t move to Seattle… It rains here ALL THE TIME. :-)

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  8. Emily says:

    Have inhabitants of a highly-ranked place to live ever expressed disappointment to you that their home made the list? To me, the appeal of “best places” is often that they are the “best kept secrets”; of course, that doesn’t stop me from perusing lists of them…

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