America’s 50 Best Cities to Live

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50. Westland, Michigan

> Median household income: $43,551
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.70%
> Median home value: $83,400
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 405.8
> Average commuter travel time: 25.0 minutes

Even as Detroit remains in bankruptcy, some of Wayne County’s other cities are not just solvent but thriving. Westland was able to successfully issue new bonds just months after Detroit initially filed for bankruptcy. Bolstered by a low cost of living, steady employment growth and an unemployment rate of just 5.7% last year, Westland’s economy is fairly strong. When not working, residents can enjoy one of the 2,500 restaurants, more than 250 bars, 61 libraries, or 23 golf courses located in Wayne County.

For those looking to move to Westland, few areas have more affordable homes. Last year, payments on a median-priced home in Wayne County cost just over 7% of the median household income. Westland homes were also relatively inexpensive compared to those across the state, with a median home value of just over $83,000. However, the real estate market did falter between 2011 and 2013, when home values dropped by 11%, more than in many other cities.

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49. Kenosha, Wisconsin

> Median household income: $50,455
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 8.90%
> Median home value: $142,000
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 274.0
> Average commuter travel time: 23.3 minutes

Kenosha is located on the shores of Lake Michigan and is part of the Chicago metro area. Kenosha is a relatively affordable place to live, with a cost of living slightly below the rest of the nation. Home prices are also relatively affordable. In 2012, the median home price in Kenosha was $142,000, more than 16% below the rest of the state.

Despite a 3.7% increase in employment between 2011 and 2013, Kenosha’s unemployment rate only fell 1.2 percentage points over the same period, as more people entered the labor force. For transit within the city, residents can use Kenosha’s electric streetcar line. The city’s fleet consists of seven vintage street cars, originally built in 1951 and refurbished for modern use.

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48. Chesapeake, Virginia

> Median household income: $65,562
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.70%
> Median home value: $249,300
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 368.7
> Average commuter travel time: 25.3 minutes

Chesapeake is one of Virginia’s larger cities, although it is smaller than nearby Norfolk and Virginia Beach. While Chesapeake is still partly rural, some parts are more urbanized. Several large corporations, such as Altec, Canon, and Dollar Tree, are headquartered in the area, and employ many residents.

Residents in the city are also generally well paid, and they are likely to be employed. The median household income in Chesapeake was over $65,000, well above the national median. And the unemployment rate was just 5.7% last year, versus 7.4% nationwide.

Chesapeake’s outdoor amenities — easy access to hiking, biking, and kayaking — may be some of the city’s greatest offerings. With its many nature trails, the Chesapeake Arboretum is a certified Virginia Green Attraction.

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47. St. Charles, Missouri

> Median household income: $52,330
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.70%
> Median home value: $171,300
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 151.4
> Average commuter travel time: 20.0 minutes

St. Charles is northwest of St. Louis, across the Missouri River. The city includes the St. Charles Historic District, which lies along South Main Street and the city’s riverfront. According to the National Parks Service, St. Charles “served as the final embarkation point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.”

St. Charles is a relatively safe city. The violent crime rate was just 151 incidents per 100,000 people, less than half the national rate of 387 incidents. The city also has a relatively affordable cost of living relative to other top-rated cities and, as of last year, an unemployment rate of 5.7%. By contrast, the U.S. unemployment rate was 7.4% last year. However, between 2011 and 2013, the city had effectively flat employment growth.

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46. Cape Coral, Florida

> Median household income: $48,619
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 6.90%
> Median home value: $137,100
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 143.5
> Average commuter travel time: 27.5 minutes

Cape Coral’s strong employment growth between 2011 and 2013 helped drive the unemployment rate down from 11.1% in 2011 to 6.9% in 2013. Median income in the city was $48,619, below the national level, and incommensurate with the city’s moderately high cost of living. Like the rest of the state, Cape Coral was hit hard by the housing crisis. However, as of last year, payments on a median-priced home in Lee County equaled just 16.6% of a typical household’s income, less than in many other parts of the country.

While Lee County, where Cape Coral is located, has more than 50 golf courses, the city’s biggest attraction may be its network of canals, which is the largest, by mileage, in the world. The city’s canals are extremely well organized. With each waterway marked by signposts, residents and businesses can use the canal network quite easily.

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