Determining the best cities is not an easy task. Not only are cities constantly growing and evolving, but it is also extremely hard to quantify subjective preference. An answer to the question “Where do I want to live?” is partially determined by constraints (such as rent affordability), and partially by desires (such as living in a neighbourhood with great bars).
As a result, we decided that one way to compute a city’s Value According to Millennials Score (or, the VAM Score) would be to create a weighted average of 15 variables that reflected what the average millennial considers when choosing a city. We considered factors such as rent affordability, unemployment, cost of living, and net percentage increase of employers in order to reflect the financial and economic constraints that millennials face. We also looked at social factors such as the number of restaurants, the arts and sports scenes, average cost of date night, and the best pizza to reflect the cultural appetites of millennials.
Furthermore, because urban millennials — for the most part — are not getting married and having children yet, we did not consider variables like “best city for kindergartens”. This would have been a major variable in city valuation for another age group, but it does not accurately reflect the average millennial’s interests.
Theoretically, a “perfect” city in my valuation would earn a score of 100 because I chose to break up the 15 variables into percentages out of 100. Each variable was given a different weight depending on how influential it was to making the ultimate decision of city choice. For example, although population density is an important factor, if you can’t afford housing in a dense city, it does not matter how dense that city is. Therefore, housing affordability received more weight.
Perhaps the most important thing to realise is that this valuation is NOT absolute. Although there is an attempt to reflect millennial values, the reality is that the scale is something that was designed in order to give a numerical measure to cities in order to better understand how these variables relate to one another. It is not a complete scale. People will certainly value variables differently than we did, and will probably value variables that we have not considered (such as proximity to family).
Interestingly, after we collected all the data, but before we actually calculated the VAM Scores, we expected Austin to come in number one. It was the most flourishing city, growing with new talent and culture. However, the VAM Score gave it 9th place. Relative to bigger cities like San Francisco, Austin has small numbers. As a result, it received a lower VAM Score.
We actually started with a list of 42 cities, and only shaved it down later. People who prefer bigger cities might be surprised to see that small contenders like Lincoln, Nebraska and Sioux Falls, South Dakota made the cut. However, smaller cities have seen economic booms recently. There has been significant job growth and very low unemployment rates in places like Sioux Falls and Lincoln, thus they earned higher scores than other major cities like Miami, Oakland, and Las Vegas.
How We Weighted Things
Average median rent: 12%. Housing and/or rent prices are the first thing that people consider when they are relocating. Today, housing and rent prices are rising, which makes it all the more difficult to actually find somewhere affordable to live. We used rent because most millennials cannot afford to buy a house.
Because housing prices are constantly changing, we broke up the cities into three groups: the most expensive (who earn 8/12 points), the mid-range expensive (who earned 10/12 points), and the least expensive (who earned 12/12 points). We chose this grading scale because we did not want to give the most expensive cities like New York and San Francisco scores of 0/12 despite their expensive real estate. In reality, New York and San Francisco’s high prices reflect the extreme desirability of both locations — which was something that did not warrant a low score in this valuation.
(Data from here.)
Unemployment rate for city: 10%. When calculating, we actually used the employment rate (100%-unemployment rate%). This is another important factor that gives clues about the economic health of a given city. Unfortunately, a better number would have been the net increase/decrease of the unemployment rate, which would have given a better gauge as to how the city was changing in the past few years. This could’ve given clues about how well the city would have done in the future. For example, just because City A has 3% unemployment, if next year it has 7% — that’s not a good number. But my function only sees the 3%.
(Data from U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics.)
Net percentage increase of employers: 10%. We found the cities that had the highest increase of employers in the last year. Cities that are housing new employers will be looking to hire many new people — which is perfect for millennials. This is a very important statistic because it reflects positive economic change in a city. As a result, we gave this a solid 10% value points for cities who were leading the way — these cities had a roughly 20% net increase of employers. The other cities had significantly less, and they were awarded 5%.
(Data from Manpower.)
Violent crime rate: 5%. A not-so-fun factor, but important. Unfortunately, lower rental prices are correlated with increased crime in a given sector of a city. As a result, millennials looking for cheap housing should also consider how safe that location might be. We ranked this by “violent” crime rate per 100,000 people. Cities between 397.5 to 517.2 were considered safe cities (such as Portland) and earned 5 points. Cities with scores of 615.9 to 835 were considered mid-range safety cities and earned 3.33. Finally, relatively unsafe cities like Washington D.C. and Atlanta (with scores from 1294.50 to 1379.00) earned 1.67.
(Data from FBI. Note: therefore this only reflects statistics known by law enforcement, and does not account for unreported crimes.)
Number of bars, clubs, restaurants: 8.5%
Number of arts, entertainment, recreation locations: 8.5%
Number of concert venues: 8.5%
Number of sports venues: 8.5%
All these factors reflect the interests of a millennials who are not yet burdened by family life. Although this does not take into account quality, in order to use concrete numbers, we chose to go by “number of X”. The higher the number of venues should reflect the overall city’s saturation of that particular cultural faction. (For example, NY and LA saw the highest numbers for arts and culture, which accurately reflects that they are known as the two cities for great art scenes in the U.S.)
We broke up these categories into groups of three again: super saturated (earning 8.5), saturated (earning 5.67), and under saturated (earning 2.83)
For restaurants: super saturated was from 10,056 to 40,009; saturated was from 5,133 to 9,500; unsaturated was from 285 t0 3,165.
For the arts, entertainment, recreation: supersaturated was from 3,256 to 13,623; saturated was from 986 to 1,470; and unsaturated was from 8 to 616.
For the number of concert venues: supersaturated was from 106 to 597; saturated was from 49 to 62; and unsaturated was from 2 to 36.
For the number of sports venues: supersaturated was from 122 to 265; for saturated it was from 33 to 70; and for unsaturated it was from 4 to 31.
(Data from U.S. Census.)
Average cost of date night: 3%.
% of unmarried households: 2%.
For better or for worse, another important part of a millennial’s life is the dating scene. We found a list of the “best cities for singles” which was tabulated by two categories: the average cost of a date night and the per cent of unmarried households. The cities with higher percentages of single households, ranging from 49.3% to 53% earned 2 (while those with less earned 1). The cities ranked the ‘best’ for date night earned 3 for the average cost of date night (others earned 1).
(Data from Kiplinger.)
Average cost of milk: 7%. We decided to split “cost of living” into two categories. This first one was for things that people need, which we represented with milk. The most expensive milk ranged from $US1.07 to $US1.40 which earned 2.33 points (cities including New York and San Francisco). The mid-range expensive milk ranged from $US0.90 to $US0.96 and earned 4.67 points (including Dallas and Seattle). The least expensive milk ranged from $US0.79 to $US0.88 and that earned 7 points (cities including Salt Lake City and Portland).
There was one strange outlier, which was Sioux Falls. The price listed was $US3.58 which seems like an mistake considering the fact that New York’s price was $US1.40, and NYC has the highest overall cost of living.
(Data from Numbeo.)
Average cost of domestic beer in restaurant: 7%. This is the second part of “cost of living” — although this category reflects things people want. The most expensive beer ranged from $US5 to $US6, which earned 2.33 points (in cities like New York and San Francisco). The mid-range beer ranged from $US3.38 to $US4.50 (in cities like Sioux Falls and Denver). And the least expensive ranged from $US3 to $US3.25 (in cities likes Columbus and Austin).
(Data from Numbeo.)
Best places for women: 3%. Women make up more than 50% of college grads, and are significant players in the workforce. Cities with the highest ratio for female salary to male salary score 3. These cities included San Francisco (84%), Washington, D.C. (81.90%), Austin (82.80%), and Dallas (84.60%). All other cities received 1 point. This matters because, to paraphrase what Bill Gates said to a segregated audience at a business conference in Saudi Arabia, if you want your economy to grow, you cannot ignore 50% of your population.
(Data from NerdWallet.)
Population density: 2%. This we calculated as a measure of competitiveness. The more dense a city was, the more likely it would be that people were competing for the same job as you. The most dense cities received a 0; the mid-range received 1; and the least dense cities received a 2.
(Data calculated from Capita/acre.)
Best Pizza: 5%. This was partially funny and partially a measure of quality of food/restaurants/etc. We went to Zagat to find the “Best 15 Pizza places in America”. New York had 2 (5%); other cities had 1 (4%); and others had 0 (3%).
(Data from Zagat.)
Extra Data — Not factored into calculation but important. We also collected data for the percentage of residents who owned a bachelors degree or higher in a given city, although we ultimately chose to not factor that in numerically because that number has both positives and negatives. On the positive end, more residents with a bachelor’s degree might indicate that the quality of jobs (intellectually or creatively) might be higher. However, the more residents with bachelor’s degrees, the more competition a new grad might have. We did not have sufficient data to estimate this, and of course there was a lot of variability between cities for this number.
Bonus Fun City Facts
Highest Unemployment rate of City (Bad)
Lowest Unemployment rate of city (good)
Sioux Falls: 3.20%
Salt Lake City: 4.30%
Average cost of Date night from “Best cities for singles”
New York: $US34.82
San Francisco: $US37.76
Los Angeles: $US30.69
% of unmarried household in “Best cities for singles”
New York: 53%
San Francisco: 50.50%
Los Angeles: 54.10%
Largest percentage of residents holding bachelors degrees:
Seattle: 56.5 %
San Francisco: 52%
Smallest percentage of residents holding bachelors degree
New Orleans: 21.4%
Highest price for average cost of 1L of milk (representing cost of standard of living for what you need)
Sioux Falls: $US3.58 (Really weird. We think there may be an error with data here.)
New York: $US1.40
Smallest price of average cost of 1L of milk (representing cost of standard of living for what you need)
Salt Lake City: $US0.79
Denver and Columbus: $US0.82
Highest price of average cost of domestic beer in restaurant (representing cost of standard of living for what you want)
New York: $US6
Lowest price of average cost of domestic beer in restaurant (representing cost of standard of living for what you want)
Atlanta, Austin, Milwaukee, Columbus: $US3
Cities with highest next percentage increase of employers (meaning more people will be coming in the next year)
Salt Lake City: 20%
Best Cities for Working Women (rated by female salary as % of male)
San Francisco: 84%
DC: 82.9 %
Worst Crime Rate (“Violent” crimes per 100,000 people)
“Best” Crime Rate (“Violent” crimes per 100,000 people)
Los Angeles: 481.1