Looking to live somewhere where houses are cheap? Head to Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa, where the average home costs $75,700, and annual property taxes for that home are about $960. Perhaps a good job market is a higher priority. In that case, pick Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; or Riverside, California, as they top the list of places projected to have the highest-percentage increase in new jobs by 2005. Most of those jobs, by the way, are expected to have above-average pay. This and other detailed information can be found in the sixth edition of Places Rated Almanac
, a helpful resource for people thinking of relocating as well as those with a desire to learn about cities and towns. Metropolitan areas are rated in nine categories: costs of living, job outlook, transportation, education, health care, crime, the arts, recreation, and climate. But don't go looking for statistics on Podunk--the focus remains on 354 metro areas, metro
defined as a city or urbanized population of at least 50,000, located in a county with a total population of at least 100,000.
Places Rated is laced with intelligent and, unexpectedly, witty writing. The whole concept of judging places, the author notes, may seem the utmost of brass. "Yet everyone does it, privately. Some suspect that culture in Omaha or Des Moines or Saskatoon is a contradiction. Others surmise that daily life in Miami consists of surviving drug-trade shoot-outs..." Organized intelligently, Places Rated acknowledges that "livability" and "quality of life" are moving targets. Livable for whom? The artist who wants mountain vistas? The entrepreneur who wants low taxes and no red tape? With these limitations in mind, the book ends with a chapter titled "Putting It All Together," where the reader is invited to rate cities with a customized list of priorities. Arriving at your customized list, however, requires answering 72 questions that force you to decide once and for all what you value most--a low cost of living or good school districts or mild winters or some other criterion. And should you find that climate matters most, head for Santa Barbara, California, where winters and summers are mild and natural hazards are few, and stay away from Rochester, Minnesota, unless you're willing to endure 35 days when it's 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and 165 days of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, annually. --John Russell