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The 10 best cities in the U.S. to move to right now

Cities that capture that essential but elusive trait: livability

Choosing where to live is one of the most personal, stressful, and meaningful choices you can make. That’s why Curbed cast a wide net to put together our first-ever list of where you should live in the U.S in 2020. We began with a list of criteria—walkability, park access, diversity, housing costs, job opportunities, and more—that together add up to that essential but elusive trait: livability.

We ended up with a list of 10 intriguing alternatives to unaffordable coastal metros. No matter your reasons for relocating, moving to an entirely new place is complicated, so here, we offer a guide both to the highlights of your potential new city and to the ways it might change in the months and years after you move in.

Skyline view of Arlington, frees and a highway in the foreground. Getty Images

Arlington, Virginia

A booming, upscale suburb buoyed by the Amazon growth machine

Population: 226,400

Median home price: $729,477

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment: $2,123

Arlington County has traditionally been seen as an extension of D.C., which in the past meant government and defense jobs—it’s the home of the Pentagon—and bland blocks of hotel-and-office high-rises. But just as Washington has evolved, so has this desirable stretch of urban living just across the Potomac River. Technically an area of dense suburbs, its proximity means it can boast big-city infrastructure—excellent metro access to D.C., great scores for walkability and biking, and a park within a 10-minute walk of nearly any place you might live—as well as cultural diversity and a wide-ranging restaurant scene.

It’s also the future site of Amazon’s home away from home, HQ2, which is beginning to reshape the Crystal City neighborhood and the greater northern Virginia region. There’s no denying this is a very expensive real estate market that’s bound to get more costly and competitive, even taking into account its reputation for attracting much of the region’s highly paid workforce. But as tech becomes a bigger part of the D.C. regional economy, Arlington will remain a hot spot for the career-minded in the Beltway.

Developments to watch:

The biggest news by far is Amazon’s massive redevelopment of Crystal City, a project so vast it’ll bend and shape everything around it. The first proposal, a pair of 22-story buildings first unveiled in May, would cover roughly 2.1 million square feet. New projects like the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus in nearby Alexandria seek to piggyback on the big bucks Bezos and company will be spending in the region. In addition, the upcoming extension of D.C. Metro’s Silver Line, with a link to Dulles Airport, makes car-free transit easier, and a score of high-end apartment buildings clustering around nearby metro stations will soon be flooding the rental market.

Hot neighborhoods:

Check out Pimmit Hills, a small neighborhood of single-family homes that’s close to Tysons Corner, a redeveloping metro line stop with a forthcoming 600-foot tower; Clarendon, a walkable neighborhood with eclectic stores; and Herndon, a nearby ’hood of small homes with a new art space and rail stop.

Cool sites to check out:

Known for its wealth of national memorials and iconic monuments, Arlington boasts great outdoor amenities, including the 16-mile Arlington Loop bike trail. With quick D.C. access, take advantage of cultural treasures such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture. For architecture appreciation, take a moment to walk by the Heights, a middle school with a series of stepped, plant-filled terraces by the Bjarke Ingels Group.

Downtown Boise viewed down Capitol Blvd from the 1925 train station with foothills in background. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Boise, Idaho

A mountain vista that offers the outdoors and new business opportunities

Population: 226,570

Median home price: $326,789

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment: $950

Boasting a beautiful setting—nestled in the high desert, bisected by the Boise River, and green enough to be called the City of Trees—Idaho’s largest city doesn’t need anything, or anybody, to sell itself. The city has gained national renown as a relocation destination in the last decade—most famously for former Californians—and a booming economy has only been strengthened by arriving talent and capital. Boise has blown up. Between 2013 and 2018, the metro population grew 81,000, more than three times the national average. Locals will complain about population growth outpacing development and new roads, and a mayoral candidate wants to keep more Californians out with a wall. But the city’s explosive economy, especially in tech and health care, have made it a destination for coastal urbanites contemplating a big move.

Developments to watch:

Boise’s downtown has seen an uncharacteristic flood of cranes and new mid-rise construction projects. Among the most anticipated is the restoration of the historic, turn-of-the-century Averyl Building downtown, a project helmed by Cal Elliott, a native Boise chef returning from a stint in New York City. Other downtown projects include a potential Boise Circulator trolley service downtown and a rumored new stadium development that has recently stalled.

Hot neighborhoods:

The North End, filled with historic grandeur, especially along Harrison Boulevard, offers a pick of historic homes; Boise Bench, named after a rise of land on the northeast side of the city, showcases a hip blend of shops and easy access to outdoor activities; and Meridian, a fast-growing suburb to the west.

Cool sites to check out:

Basque Block, a stretch of the city dedicated to the culture and cuisine of the Basque people of Spain, is a unique downtown experience. Architecture buffs will appreciate the Egyptian Theater, a 1927 relic that’s one of the few buildings of its type in the region. Horseshoe Bend, a nearby town, offers incredible hiking access, though it’s difficult to go wrong with outdoor recreation in the region. And if you really want to catch the frontier spirit, Central Idaho is the country’s only certified dark sky preserve.

The train tracks of the LYNX light rail system in the residential neighborhood of South End lead into Uptown Charlotte. Getty Images

Charlotte, North Carolina

A capital of the New South diversifies as it develops

Population: 859,035

Median home price: $248,811

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment: $1,154

If you want music, tech, cuisine, and culture in the South, Austin, Atlanta, and Nashville will likely be the first few cities on your list. Charlotte has traditionally been more associated with postmodern skyscrapers than historic storefronts and tucked-away neighborhoods. But the thriving city—a national center of job growth on pace to add a record-breaking 9,000-plus apartment units this year—has rapidly changed its reputation. Recently christened a “millennial boomtown” for its growing young and diverse population, the area is also maturing when it comes to development and urbanism, shaking its reputation for corporate campuses and banking.

Over the last decade, Charlotte has been the epicenter of a rapid regional expansion that has reshaped the skyline and added nearly 50,000 apartments. But Charlotte isn’t just growing up, it’s densifying and diversifying, with a new light-rail line serving as a conduit for $800 million worth of new development, its own Rail Trail, and a focus on walkable urbanism in Uptown and North Tryon.

Developments to watch:

Construction in the Queen City isn’t cooling down anytime soon. The proposed Lowe’s Design Center project in the South End will create a new tech hub for the home improvement chain, and the Ally Charlotte Center, set to open next year, will add another large, modern office tower to downtown.

Hot neighborhoods:

Check out Plaza Midwood, a hipster haven a mile from downtown with plenty of oak-lined avenues, especially on shop- and restaurant-lined Central Avenue. Davidson offers the charm of a small, lakefront college town 20 miles north of the city; Belmont and Optimist Park, including the new Optimist Hall, are creative and quickly developing residential areas close to downtown.

Cool sites to check out:

Little Sugar Creek Greenway, an under-development greenway and creek restoration project, offers a nearby escape to nature. For those looking for Gilded Age style and architectural overindulgence, the famous Biltmore Estate is close enough for a day trip.

An aerial view of Klyde Warren Park and the Arts District in Dallas, TX. Getty Images

Dallas, Texas

Showing the metro side of the Texas miracle

Population: 1,341,000

Median home price: $219,173

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment: $1,137

Dallas is the most populous part of the Metroplex, the massive metro area that sprawls across North Texas (Dallas alone takes up 340 square miles). Traditionally, the region’s formula for growth—and cheap real estate—has been sprawl. But what makes Dallas development so intriguing right now is the current focus on adding density. The Texas city isn’t in danger of becoming Manhattan anytime soon; most of the new apartments and commercials strips concentrate in small blocks or neighborhoods. But the move toward more walkable urban development is helping make the case that Dallas can increasingly offer desirable downtown living in neighborhoods such as Uptown and the Design District at a price that would make Californians or New Yorkers sigh.

The lower cost of living also entices corporations, which have been relocating to the region at a prodigious rate. Nearby cities such as Arlington and Plano have attracted high-profile firms such as Toyota, and suburbs such as Garland have redoubled efforts to build denser downtowns. As more and more transplants continue to arrive, hoping to ride the region’s economic momentum, they’re increasingly able to find the urban lifestyles they left behind.

Developments to watch:

Dallas has led the nation in multifamily construction for the past six years. In downtown alone, a pair of high-profile, high-rise apartments—AMLI Fountain Place and Hall Arts Residence—will open to tenants early this year, while the $1 billion-plus Field Street District, set to break ground this summer, will add a massive, tree-draped mixed-use project to a former parking lot. Frisco, the most active apartment market in the region, should see even more high-rises break ground soon.

Hot neighborhoods:

Deep Ellum, a long-established center of the city’s music scene and the most walkable part of Dallas, is set to evolve with a slate of new office projects under development. M-Streets and Vickery also offer starter-sized homes and quiet, tree-lined streets for families; Allen is a family-friendly, football-crazy mid-size suburb.

Cool sites to check out:

Both Klyde Warren Park, which arches over a freeway, and the Nasher Sculpture Garden are excellent places to stroll and people-watch. For the aesthetically inclined, don’t forget to walk through the “Pritzker District,” a stretch of downtown Dallas that contains a wealth of work from architects who have won that prestigious prize. Looking to escape the city? Try a day trip to Caddo Lake State Park.

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Denver, Colorado

A vibrant, growing urbanity fuels this mountain metro’s renaissance

Population: 619,968

Median home price: $451,153

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment: $1,353

Denver can seem effortlessly cool compared to other cities, a mid-size metro near the mountains with perks for people with active lifestyles and job opportunities few can beat. But strategic investments and developments over the last decade have made sure Denver’s quality of life, including excellent parks and walkability, has kept pace with an expanding population— which grew by 20 percent over the last decade. The city’s new Gold Line rail service (which terminates at a restored Union Station) has sparked transit-oriented development in suburban downtowns. A plethora of new skyscrapers, infill development (especially in former industrial areas like the River North neighborhood), and megaprojects such as Stapleton, a decommissioned airport northeast of downtown, have led to a more tightly knit urban landscape.

The trajectory of Denver’s growth created an even more appealing city that can further capitalize on its ongoing economic boom, which includes significant growth in tech jobs (and office prices a third of what they are in San Francisco). Tech-inclined outdoorsy folk: This city’s for you.

Developments to watch:

Rhys Duggan’s River Mile megadevelopment, a huge swath on undeveloped riverfront near downtown, might add room for 15,000 new residents and increase the city’s commercial space by 20 percent. It’s just one of several big projects in the works, including the redevelopment of the Gates Rubber Factory near the Broadway rail station, the Market Station mixed-use project in Lower Downtown, a new campus at Santa Fe Yards, and the World Trade Center Denver, a new office and hotel development in RiNo.

Hot neighborhoods:

Check out Sloan’s Lake, a quickly developing neighborhood near the city’s biggest lake that’s great for young couples; Five Points, the one-time “Harlem of the West” with an abundance of galleries and live music venues right next to downtown; and Arvada, a nearby suburb with a charming historic downtown and easy connection to Denver via light rail.

Cool sites to check out:

Denver offers unbeatable day-trip options (if you can handle the traffic), including ski trips to historic mountain towns like Breckenridge and a brewery-heavy outing to the eclectic city of Boulder. For modern architecture fans, a field trip to the still-futuristic Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs offers a vision of streamlined beauty.

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Madison, Wisconsin

A picturesque Midwest college town cultivating tech talent

Population: 255,214

Median home price: $277,252

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment: $1,016

In past decades, coeds flocked to this city to attend the University of Wisconsin, a premier public school located near the isthmus between the twin lakes of Monona and Mendota. Now, it’s easy to see why they stick around. Madison isn’t a big city, but its steady transformation into a nascent tech hub—healthcare IT giant Epic Systems is in nearby Verona—means it offers big job opportunities (so many that the state has run big ad campaigns to lure new employees). The city has played off of UW’s strength as a research center, resulting in a new vibrancy in its quaint, walkable downtown.

The development rush of the past few years is squarely focused on post-college living, including a boom in mid-size apartments along University Avenue and East Washington and a string of new hotels and dining options, such as the Madison Public Market. The city has also attracted a rising number of millennial homeowners due to its relative affordability.

Developments to watch:

The proposed Madison Yards project would bring a mixed-use hotel and Whole Foods to the city’s west side by 2022, and the boom in upscale apartments is forecast to continue through at least this year.

Hot neighborhoods:

Apartment-hunt in the always-busy Downtown; Waunakee, a bedroom community near the Wisconsin River with a resurgent city center; and Tenney-Lapham, an East Side neighborhood with quiet streets and great starter homes.

Cool sites to check out:

This part of southeast Wisconsin is Frank Lloyd Wright country—Taliesin is an hour west—so take advantage of the opportunity to see some of his most personal work. Milwaukee, which has experienced its own downtown revival in recent years, is also a great day trip.

Getty Images/EyeEm

Minneapolis, Minnesota

A booming city with a progressive answer to urban growing pains

Population: 422,321

Median home price: $283,786

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment: $1,150

Your preconceptions of Minneapolis might be shattered when you see its booming new downtown. The focus of a $2 billion Big Build initiative to invest in revitalization and redevelopment, the city center has seen a real estate rush fueled by population growth in the Twin Cities region. And the city is squarely confronting the challenges that come with growth in its Minneapolis 2040 plan, choosing to increase housing density via upzoning and focusing on equity, affordability, and sustainability.

But then again, Minneapolis has always floated under the radar. It really shouldn’t. The city boasts an award-winning park network, an envious bike trail system, and excellent recreational activities—despite the frigid winters. Combined with relatively affordable homes (bungalows and four-bedroom homes in the high $300,000s, according to Zillow) and a local economy that supports big firms like Target and 3M, Minneapolis hits the mid-size metro sweet spot: more accessible than larger cities, at a fraction of the cost.

Developments to watch:

Two waterfront developments are currently in the planning queue: the 48-acre Upper Harbor Terminal plan, a mixed-use district with a performance venue on the Mississippi River; and another four-tower proposal for St. Paul that would reshape its riverfront. Other projects to watch include North Loop Green, which will turn a 3.4-acre site wedged amid raised roadways south of downtown into a pair of mixed-use towers, and the modern rehab of the classic Dayton’s department store on Nicollet Mall.

Hot neighborhoods:

Bryn Mawr, a laid-back neighborhood bordered by parks and lakes, also features a bike path straight to downtown; Linden Hills, on the shore of Lake Harriet, is great for families; Lynnhurst, on the city’s south side, has character and an array of independent shops and restaurants.

Cool sites to check out:

It’s hard to bear the one-two punch of seeing modern art at the Walker Art Center and the Weisman Art Museum, the latter housed in a Frank Gehry building. The Twin Cities also boast a pair of cool new stadiums for football; the U.S. Bank Stadium, a football field that’s been compared to a viking warship, and Allianz Stadium, new home of the city’s pro soccer team. Finally, at Paisley Park, come for Prince worship, stay for the equally funky architecture.

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Provo, Utah

The buzziest of the Beehive State’s tech centers

Population: 117,335

Median home price: $309,067

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment: $952

It’s not a stretch to call Provo an emerging Austin of the Mountain West. The small city south of Salt Lake is a rising tech center, part of Utah’s Silicon Slopes scene that’s the envy of smaller cities across the country. Between 2014 and 2019, the Provo-Orem metro area saw 20 percent job growth, especially in the tech sector, and has a booming, well-educated millennial population. That’s a boon for creatives like designers and video editors, who will find themselves in high demand at new startups.

True, Provo is far smaller and less diverse than other cities on the list (it’s home to the predominantly white Brigham Young University). But for tech-savvy workers, it offers great talent, job opportunities aplenty, and housing costs for a fraction of what you’d find in Silicon Valley.

Developments to watch:

Provo is just 45 minutes south of Salt Lake City a regional powerhouse that continues to rapidly build out its downtown with new high-rises like the 24-story Liberty Sky, an all-residential skyscraper. A new $3.6 billion airport should begin flights this September.

Hot neighborhoods:

Downtown Provo offers a surprisingly robust music scene, one that birthed the pop-rock sensation Imagine Dragons. If you’re looking for something more urban and don’t mind a commute, try Salt Lake City neighborhoods such as Sugar House.

Cool sites to check out:

Those who like to hike, mountain bike, and ogle the majestic scenery will be very happy in Provo, which is set within striking distance of weekend trips to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. For day trippers, Park City skiing and urban expeditions in Salt Lake City are an hour away.


Raleigh, North Carolina

A downtown rebound fueled by warehouses turned tech hubs

Population: 464,758

Median home price: $284,246

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment: $1,163

The largest city in the Research Triangle, Raleigh has been resurgent lately, a boom built upon a high-tech economy that’s giving a second life to the region’s old industrial spaces. The American Tobacco Campus, American Underground, and the Golden Belt, all in nearby Durham, as well as the forthcoming Iron Works facility in Raleigh, are just four examples of the new generation of businesses taking advantage of the region’s collection of top-tier universities.

The area’s position as a tech center has led to massive shifts in Raleigh’s downtown, which has seen a procession of new high-end hotels and skyscrapers. In the last four years, $1 billion in construction activity has been completed downtown, bringing scores of new business (and job opportunities). But that may be just the beginning of the buildup. With numerous new projects and investments in the pipeline, Urban Land Institute placed Raleigh second on its Markets to Watch list for 2020. Forecasts predict the booming city will continue to grow, making it a great location if you’re an entrepreneur looking to start a new business.

Developments to watch:

The $1 billion Midtown Exchange project—which includes 790,000 square feet of office space and 1,275 new apartments—would add a “city within the city,” according to a developer. That plan is rivaled only by the $1.9 billion Downtown South megaproject, which includes a professional soccer stadium. Raleigh officials are also in the beginning stages of designing Dorothea Dix Park, a sprawling 308-acre park that could bring transformative change to the center of the city.

Hot neighborhoods:

Check out Five Points, a constellation of historic neighborhoods and beautiful bungalow homes; Midtown, the walkable, urban epicenter of the city’s development frenzy; and Apex, a suburb called the “millennial Mayberry” that’s grown tremendously in recent years.

Cool sites to check out:

Go camping or floating at Eno River State Park, or tour Duke University, designed by black architect Julian Abele 37 years before he could have attended the school. For a weekend trip, head west to Asheville and visit the nearby Black Mountain State College, an experimental art school.

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St. Louis, Missouri

Promise and potential on the Mississippi

Population: 318,069

Median home price: $126,285

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment: $938

St. Louis wasn’t the top-scoring city included in our list, though it did rate highly for park access, transit, walkability, and tech growth potential. It also has many of the issues facing other Midwestern cities, including a declining population and a history of segregation. But don’t count the city out; it’s poised to incubate new ideas and attract new businesses.

You can see some of that promise in Cortex, a 200-acre innovation center that’s helped bring companies like Square and Microsoft to St. Louis, and a new biotech hub taking shape in nearby Creve Coeur. You can also see it in projects to revitalize neighborhoods and industries, such as City Foundry, a soon-to-open food hall and commercial space in Midtown. St. Louis also has incredible architecture and an industrial past that is poised for further transformation—ideal if you’re looking for turn-of-the-century style or a warehouse space for a startup.

Developments to watch:

Recent and proposed changes to the city’s park network and civic landscape, such as the refurbished Gateway Arch National Park and forthcoming soccer stadium complex in Downtown West and Chouteau Greenway, will help knit together disparate parts of the city core.

Hot neighborhoods:

Don’t miss the Hill, an Italian-American neighborhood filled with exemplary restaurants; Cherokee Street and Antique Row, with local businesses exuding an indie spirit; and suburban Kirkwood, home to families and the Laumeier Sculpture Park.

Cool sites to check out:

The City Museum, a madcap space filled with repurposed architectural treasures, is a great field trip for kids (the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, celebrating Native American civilization, is a great field trip for everyone). Skaters should try and visit the Tony Hawk-approved Sk8 Liborius, an abandoned church that’s been transformed into an indoor skate park.