With rising mortgage rates and crippling inflation, homebuyers are looking for new ways to save. In a new study, SmartAsset analyzed the affordability, livability, and job situation of nearly 500 suburbs across the nation. And three somewhat surprising Arizona suburbs were ranked among the best suburbs in America.
Vail, Sahuarita and Apache Junction were all ranked among the best suburbs in America.
Large cities can be a great option for anyone looking for a walkable, fast-paced environment with easy access to shops and restaurants. However, the hustle and bustle of a large city isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition for everyone. Large cities are often expensive (average home values exceed $1 million in a handful of places) and may have higher crime rates than their surrounding areas. Suburbs, in turn, can offer more affordable housing, lower crime rates and a variety of entertainment options.
In this study, SmartAsset uncovered the best suburbs to live in near a large city. Specifically, we compared data for close to 500 suburbs located within 15 minutes to an hour by car of a large city (those with a population of 250,000 or more). To determine their ranking, we analyzed 13 metrics across three categories: jobs, affordability and livability. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.
• Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus suburbs dominate the entire top 10. Brownsburg outside of Indianapolis, Hebron near Cincinnati and Delaware close to Columbus are the top three highest-ranking suburbs in our study.
• The West performs poorly. Out of the 109 suburbs that we analyzed in this region, just five made the study’s overall top 100. Of these five suburbs, the highest ranking is Vail, Arizona (No. 35).
• A total of 11 suburbs have a median household income above $160,000. Great Falls, Virginia and New Albany, Ohio have the highest median household incomes, at $238,828 and $200,580, respectively. In comparison, the national median household income is $64,994.
• Detroit and Memphis have the highest crime rates of the large cities in our study, but there are safer alternatives nearby. In Detroit, the violent crime rate is almost 2,179 per 100,000 residents while it is less than 150 in three nearby suburbs: Farmington Hills, Royal Oak and St. Clair. Similarly, Memphis has more than 2,300 violent crimes per 100,000 residents while the nearby suburb of Germantown has just 107.
Out West: How do Arizona suburbs rank?
Despite the plethora of Western suburbs in our study, most places fall behind relative to suburbs in other regions. In fact, just one Western suburb ranks in the top 50 across all regions (No. 35 Vail, Arizona). However, there are suburbs of note that offer both high and rising incomes.
More than a third of Western suburbs we considered have a median household income higher than $100,000, with many of those places located in California. Additionally, 13 suburbs have median household incomes double the national median ($64,994). Tiburon, California - outside of San Francisco - offers the highest median household income in the West at $178,125, followed by Palo Alto ($174,003) and Malibu ($162,716).
Incomes are also growing in many Western suburbs. Over a five-year period starting in 2015, the median household income increased in Western suburbs by an average of 23.12%, but this figure varies wildly. It rose the most in Chowchilla, California (64.02%), but fell the most in another California suburb: Taft (-8.54%).
It’s not all about the money, though. Suburbs in Hawaii rank highest in livability. Three of the six Hawaii suburbs considered rank in the top 50 of the livability category, including Kailua (No. 18), Kaneohe (No. 33) and Pearl City (No. 49). In particular, these three suburbs have the 24th-highest concentration of dining and entertainment establishments across these Hawaiian suburbs (nearly 12% of all establishments) and low violent crime rates (under 220 per 100,000 residents).
Hawaii is not the only state offering livable suburbs. Two Washington suburbs (Bainbridge Island and Enumclaw) and two California suburbs (Tiburon and Truckee, which is located closest to Reno, Nevada) rank in the top 10% of suburbs for our livability category. All four suburbs rank in the top 100 for the local high school graduation rate and have low violent crime rates (under 120 crimes per 100,000).
Data and Methodology
To find the best suburbs to live within an hour of a large city, SmartAsset compared data for places located within 15 minutes to an hour by car to 87 large cities (those with a population of 250,000 or more).
Definitions of suburbs according to population constraints vary, but for the purposes of our study, we considered neighboring suburbs with a population between 5,000 and 100,000. This left us with 494 suburbs, which we compared across three categories and a total of 13 metrics:
Jobs. For our jobs score, we considered five metrics: median household income, five-year income growth, 10-year employment growth, job diversity and unemployment rate. Job diversity measures the variety of industries available in a place using the Shannon index. Data for all metrics comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
Affordability. For this score, we looked at housing costs relative to income, home value-to-income ratio, average effective property tax rate and estimated annual cost of living for an individual. Data for the first three metrics comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey. Cost of living figures come from the MIT Living Wage Calculator.
Livability. This includes the high school graduation rate, dining and entertainment establishments as a percentage of all establishments and violent and property crimes per 100,000 people. Data comes from the 2022 County Health Rankings and the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey. Crime data comes from the FBI and is for 2020; missing crime data was supplemented by NeighborhoodScout.com.
We ranked each suburb in every metric and found an average ranking and score for each category. We then found a final score, averaging the three category scores. The suburb with the highest cumulative score ranked at the top of our list.