Special Report

The Best and Worst Run Cities in America

The Best-Run Cities in America

10. Plano, Tex.
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 1.81 (7th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 7.9% (5th lowest)
> Adult population graduated from high school: 93.3% (4th highest)
> Credit rating: Aaa
> Population: 261,697

Plano, a wealthy suburb of Dallas, was founded in 1873. The city has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the country, partly because it can afford a sizable and educated police force. Plano is one of the few cities in the U.S. that require a four-year college degree of its police officers. Plano’s population is the third wealthiest of the cities we examined, with a median household income of nearly $80,000 a year. Just 7.9% of the area’s residents live below the poverty line, and just 1.3% of households makes less than $10,000 per year, the lowest rate among all major U.S. cities. Moody’s has assigned a perfect Aaa rating to Plano’s general obligation credit, citing “an affluent and large tax base” and “strong financial management.”

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9. Chandler, Ariz.
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 2.86 (14th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 8.2% (6th lowest)
> Adult population graduated from high school: 91.5% (13th highest)
> Credit rating: Aaa (stable outlook)
> Population: 236,775

Chandler is one of the newest large cities in the U.S. The city was incorporated in 1951, but the population did not truly expand until very recently. In 1980, Chandler, which is located within the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, had a population of 30,000. Now, it has a population of 247,000. There are countless examples of cities that experienced this level of growth, but few, especially in the Southwest, that maintained a healthy economy through the recession. And despite home values dropping precipitously in the city, like the rest of the Phoenix region, Chandler managed to maintain a healthy economy. In 2010, the city had the ninth-lowest unemployment rate among the largest cities, and the sixth-lowest poverty rate. Chandler has been assigned a perfect Aaa stable rating by Moody’s. The credit rating agency justified the rating: “The stable credit outlook reflects Moody’s expectation that management will continue to maintain favorable financial operations and strong reserve levels despite ongoing economic weakness.”

8. Scottsdale, Ariz.
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 1.53 (6th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 7.9% (4th lowest)
> Adult population graduated from high school: 95.9% (the highest)
> Credit rating: Aaa (stable outlook)
> Population: 217,977

Like Chandler, Scottsdale is a prosperous suburb of Phoenix. It has the seventh-highest median income in the country, the highest percentage of high school graduates, and is among the top 10 for unemployment and health insurance coverage. However, because of its close proximity to Phoenix, home values dropped substantially during the recession. Nevertheless, the city has managed to maintain healthy employment and low poverty, as well as a stable Aaa rating — the best a city can receive. According to Mayor W. J. Lane, “Scottsdale has weathered the recession with our Aaa bond ratings intact because we cut where we need to cut and we invest where we need to invest.”

Also Read: America’s Nine Newest Cities

7. Seattle, Wash.
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 5.67 (43rd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 14.7% (14th lowest)
> Adult population graduated from high school: 92.8% (7th highest)
> Credit rating: Aaa
> Population: 610,710

Among the best-run cities, Seattle is easily the largest, with over 180,000 people more than the next largest city on our list. A large population often hinders a city’s ability to manage resources well because it can create a higher cost of governance and more complicated logistics. Nevertheless, Seattle is one of the healthiest large cities in the U.S., with a poverty rate smaller than other cities on our list with populations a third of the size. In the 1980 and 1990s, the city became a mecca for emerging Internet, tech and green-tech companies. These industries are still going strong, continuing to attract a healthy base of professionals to the area, as evidenced by its high percentage of adults with a high school diploma. Seattle also has a high rate of health insurance coverage.

6. Chesapeake, Va.
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 3.84 (19th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 7% (2nd lowest)
> Adult population graduated from high school: 90.8% (14th highest)
> Credit rating: Aa1
> Population: 222,986

The city of Chesapeake was founded in 1963, although the area itself has had people living there since the late 17th century. Chesapeake is located on the southern edge of of the City of Norfolk. It is also within striking distance of the city of Virginia Beach, which itself is among the best-run cities. These two adjacent cities provide sources of employment for Chesapeake residents. With few urban areas, Chesapeake has relatively low crime and unemployment, as well as the second-lowest poverty rate in the U.S. However, the city has a credit rating of Aa1, rather than Aaa, and is not in the top 20% for health insurance coverage.

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