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.


How do you account for "connection to the community"? I think one of the things that makes a city a best place to live is your connection to the community through the schools, non-profits, churches and other family members. I think after a job, most people move to a particular city to be near friends and family.

Do you take this into account for your rankings?

Brian in OK but from NY

We moved out here to be near family (we in the OKC area) but we're originally from Long Island...I feel similar to what the poster in #46 said about DFW - there is a cookie cutter redundancy and lack of any meaningful things around, plus the almost singular mindset tends to wear on me and the big box mentality and need to drive every single place to get or do anything is too much for me - I need help, we want to find a place that is fairly affordable (I'm a school counselor, my wife is a registered nurse) but has a walkable nature to it - preferably in the East/Northeast area - how would you recommend finding areas that fit my ideals? I've researched areas - but I tend to end up with paralysis by analysis...any recommendations or advice would help!


hahaha, I was raised Modesto, am I literally researching the best and worst places to live....I am trying to convince my friend to leave Modesto...perfect article, perfect timing!

dwayne belton

stay away from buffalo,ny if you love your family or your single self! politics have ruined her with the $ stealing and doublle dealing. the first depression('29) was good but this one here in buffalo is great!

Marty Howard

OK, nobody has asked directly, so I'll bite; how about Wasilla, Bert? And per Kelly, how about places in Alaska generally?


How were 3 out of my top 10 best places in New Jersey? Even people from New Jersey don't want to live in New Jersey!

Tom Piper

You do great work. Without giving away secrets, what is do you think is the next stage in the development of "Sperling's best places." Is the United States a nation of cities or states?


How do you factor in state & local taxes/fees in your rating system ?

ksen mk

Have you ever been offered a bribe by a city or incorporated township of any kind in exchange for artificially raising said metropolis' standing in your rankings? Or perhaps for lowering some other region's rating?


I grew up in Wasilla, and as much as it pains me to admit it, it was a great place to do so. Alaska is the worst place in America to grow up overall, I hope Sperling notes that.

Dot Kostriken

I raised my 3 children in Carmel Valley; idyllic for them, great schools, horses,etc., but deadly for a single Mom. No work, no men, etc. That seems to be a common conflict for single parents- to the city for me, or do what's best for the kids.


I've enjoyed your web site and was pleased to see you had the little town in N. Arkansas where I was raised included. Here's my question,..will you do a best 'small town places to live' in the future?

Great stuff! Hooray for Portland, Or,..rated #3 this year!


I am truly amazed by this. It must be amazing to have visited so many places in order to be able to do such rankings of the best cities to live in.. I just wanted to ask, how are cities evaluated as for best and worst? How is "best" measured. I personally believe that this analysis of deciding what cities are the best is truly biased and personal because what could be the best for you might not be the best for me. What do you think?


How does Australia rate compared to the US, especially for a working-age professional? What about other locations in the Southern Hemisphere?


Ah, Modesto... I haven't lived there in forever, but I have fond memories of living there during my elementary school days. My grandparents still live there, but they haven't had to worry about foreclosure because they bought their house upfront over twenty years ago. It's sad to think of it being so low on a list like this...

Bert Sperling

Hi Robbie,

I want to address your question, but it was posted after we cut off the list.

That's an interesting theory about a comfortable lifestyle leading to a lack of passion and critical thinking. I'm reminded of a similar theory which looks at striving and achievement in wealthy families, and how it may degrade from generation to generation. A typical story arc is how a poor immigrant fights his (or her) way to wealth and comfort, and succeeding generations no longer have the same determination to succeed.

Are you originally from the U.S.? Perhaps part of what you're seeing is a cultural difference. It's a cliche that Scandinavians are reserved and unemotional. (I like to joke that we celebrate the entire range of human emotion - from gloom and disappointment through resentment to bitterness.)

To be more serious, the good thing about economic security is that it often provides the foundation for tolerance and funding of creative endeavors and projects. In turn, these creative projects challenge entrenched thinking and lead to a more interesting and engaged lifestyle for all residents.

Thanks for writing.




Do you find that people actually re-locate based on city ranking? That is, are people's lives mobile enough in this tech economy that they can just up and move to someplace more suited to their livestyle? How else are people using this tool in your experience? (i.e. perhaps to evaluate different job offers--is this and such company located in a livable town) Thanks.


Are people living in conventional single-family detached suburban subdivisions generally more or less happy with their subdivision neighborhood than people living in high density walkable urban places are with their city-block neighborhood?


How does a major debate like the one a week ago impact a small town like Oxford Mississippi? How would that figure into a "best place" analysis?


The problem with the "best places to live" lists is that they rank exciting cities like New York and San Francisco too low because they're so expensive. Well, the reason they're so expensive is because so many people want to live there! You've got an autocorrelation problem.

How do you resolve this problem?