Choosing where to raise your kids can be a deeply personal decision, based on what you value most, what you can live without, and of course, what you can afford. But some things are universally desired, including good schools, health care, and nearby recreational opportunities. It was these and other similar factors that 24/7 Wall St. considered in order to identify the 10 best cities in which to raise a family.
The best-performing cities to make our list have large public outdoor spaces, lots of playgrounds, top hospitals and strong schools. Sometimes, as in the case of Irvine, Calif., where a decommissioned Marine Corps air station has been transformed into the massive Orange County Great Park, a bit of good fortune has played a role. However, the cities on our list generally have economies that are booming.
(Click the gallery below to see the full list)
Top 10 Cities for Families
The 10 Best U.S. Cities For Families (SLIDESHOW)
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:24.2 (20th highest)
Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 4.0 (11th highest)
Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 5.9 (46th lowest)
Unemployment rate: 10.0% (43rd highest)
Adults with at least a high school degree: 87.6% (24th highest)
A number of features make Greensboro a first-class place to raise a family. Activities are plentiful. Its Country Park is one of the most visited parks in the country. It also has one of the highest playground-to-resident ratios in the country. Its excellent school system includes some of the top-ranked public high schools in the country, among them the Early College at Guilford and the Weaver Academyfor Performing & Visual Arts and Advanced Technology. Traditionally a center for the textile and tobacco industries, Greensboro's resurgence in recent years can be credited partly to new tech businesses opening up shop. With the local economy surging, home prices in Greensboro have risen steadily over the years, growing 4% from 2007 to 2010.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:13.5 (42nd highest)
Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 3.5 (15th highest)
Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 2.6 (13th highest)
Unemployment rate: 8.5% (33rd lowest)
Adults with at least a high school degree: 92.8% (8th highest)
Boise is one of the safest cities in the country, and it also holds education as a high priority. According to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, half of Idaho's general fund is allocated to education.The city has an especially high number of playgrounds for children to enjoy, and for the older kids, among of the highest numbers of skateboard parks per capita in the country.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents: 21 (25th highest)
Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 3.4 (20th highest)
Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 4.9 (33rd lowest)
Unemployment rate: 4.5% (2nd lowest)
Adults with at least a high school degree: 88.2% (21st highest)
Omaha's unemployment rate for 2011 was the second-lowest among major U.S.cities, at an astonishing 4.5%. The city has a bustling economy, with a large insurance, health care, and finance presence. FiveFortune 500 companies are based there, including Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway. The city also has a relatively impressive high school graduation rate. Pediatric coverage is good in Omaha, as the city has a number of top-ranking hospitals, including the Children's Hospital and Medical Center.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:15.4 (36th highest)
Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 2.6 (35th highest)
Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 1.8 (7th lowest)
Unemployment rate: 7.5% (22nd lowest)
Adults with at least a high school degree: 93.3% (4th highest)
Many cities in Texas would rank among the exceptional places to raise a family if it weren't for high crime rates. Affluent Plano does not face this problem. Its rate of violent crime is the seventh-lowest among all major cities, and Forbes recently rated Plano America's safest city. It also boasts a top-notch school system. Due to the city's strengths, its population has more than doubled in recent years. Among the many side effects of that growth has been an increase in home prices that outpaced the rates in most other big cities.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:72.2 (3rd highest)
Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 1.4 (18th lowest)
Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 1.5 (6th lowest)
Unemployment rate: 6.3%: (7th lowest)
Adults with at least a high school degree: 95.9% (the highest)
Scottsdale has emerged as one of Arizona's power cities. It has an extremely low rate of unemployment -- less than 6.3% for 2011 -- and an extremely high median household income of nearly $69,000. It also has the sixth-lowest rate of violent crime among major cities. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Scottsdale has the highest rate of educated adults among all major cities. The city has the third-largest amount of parkland relative to population. It is home to McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the fifth-largest city park in the country. Scottsdale also has among the most baseball diamonds relative to population.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:24.8 (18th highest)
Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 3.3 (21st highest)
Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 4.8 (32nd lowest)
Unemployment rate: 3.7% (1st lowest)
Adults with at least a high school degree: 92.9% (6th highest)
Like neighboring Omaha, Lincoln's economy has done exceptionally well through the recession. It avoided major swings and the unemployment rate for 2011 the lowest among all major cities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment there hasn't exceeded 5% in the 21 years since the department began tracking it. The city also has large amounts of land dedicated to parks and playgrounds, including the nearly 1,500-acre Wilderness Park, offering plenty of places for families to spend quality time outdoors.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:36.5 (10th highest)
Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 2.8 (29th highest)
Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 0.6 (5th lowest)
Unemployment rate: 6.7% (13th lowest)
Adults with at least a high school degree: 95.7% (2nd highest)
Irvine is a perfect city for parents who want their children to enjoy the outdoors. The planned community was developed with a focus on greenbelts, and features many bike paths and parks, including the recently established Orange County Great Park, which is still under construction. Irvine has one of the lowest rates of violent crime among all major cities. Its unemployment rate for 2011 was relatively low, at 6.7%. Like much of Orange County, Irvine suffered far less than other areas from the housing crisis.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:30.8 (14th highest)
Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 2.2 (49th highest)
Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 4.1 (24th lowest)
Unemployment rate: 7.2% (17th lowest)
Adults with at least a high school degree: 91.7% (12th highest)
Raleigh is one of the strongest cities in North Carolina, economically speaking. Its high-tech and biotech industries are growing quickly, keeping unemployment low. The city has a top-notch school system that includes the highly ranked Raleigh Charter High School. Children are also surrounded by highly educated adults, as Raleigh was recently named the third-most educated city in the United States by Men's Health. Children have ample opportunities to enjoy activities, especially basketball: The city has one of the highest rates of basketball hoops per resident in the country.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:77.7 (2nd highest)
Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 5.0 (6th highest)
Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 1.9 (8th lowest)
Unemployment rate: 6.1% (5th lowest)
Adults with at least a high school degree: 93.1% (5th highest)
Virginia Beach is extremely prosperous, due in large part to the presence of several military bases in the area. It has the eighth-lowest rate of violent crime among major cities and the fifth-lowest unemployment rate. It also has the second-largest acreage of parkland per capita, behind only New Orleans, which has suffered huge population losses in recent years. Virginia Beach also has one of the highest numbers of playgrounds per capita in the country.
Acres of parkland per 1,000 residents:22.3 (22nd highest)
Playgrounds per 1,000 residents: 7.0 (5th highest)
Violent crimes per 1,000 residents: 3.9 (21st lowest)
Unemployment rate: 5.1% (3rd lowest)
Adults with at least a high school degree: (3rd highest)
Madison's economic boom started in the 1990s and has just kept on going, largely avoiding the recent national recession. In 2011, its unemployment rate was 5.1%, far less than the national rate of 8.9%. Among the engines powering the city's economy are the state government, the University of Wisconsin- Madison, and its growing health and biotech industries. Madison is also a great place for recreational activities, with large amounts of land dedicated to public parks. Families can also take part in many water activities, as it borders multiple lakes.
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Because being able to pay the bills is critical to raising a family, we factored unemployment rates into the equation. In the end, seven out of the 10 cities on our list had unemployment rates among the lowest in the country, and the majority saw their economies improve in recent years due to growth in new industries, primarily in the tech field.
High school graduation rates reflect the quality of both the local school system and the economy. The cities that performed best also have educated adult populations. Eight out of the 10 cities have a large percentage of adults with at least a high school degree.
We examined the nation's 100 largest cities and complied our list based on data on adult education levels from the Census Bureau; unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; data on the nation's best high schools and the best children's hospitals from U.S. News and World Report; violent crime rates from the FBI; and data on parkland, playgrounds and other public facilities from the Trust for Public Land.
This is 24/7 Wall St.'s list of the best cities to raise a family: