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December 06, 2006

Richard Florida

Pick your city quizzes

« Burnout | Main | Brains or bricks »

As research for my new book, Who's Your City? I've been using all sorts of on-line "city-locator" tools. Most are just hogwash. They give me places I would never, ever consider living. But two that I've come across seem to do a pretty good job, at least for me. I live in Washington DC. That city came up second for me on Sperling's Best Places Locator. San Francisco, a city I adore, was first.  And DC came up first on Kiplingers' Place Locator. Actually, they're based off the same engine: Kiplinger uses a pared down version of the Sperling tool.

Kiplinger Best Place Locator

Sperling Find Your Best Place Locator

I'd like to ask you a big favor that will help with the new book. Take them both and tell me what you think. Did they nail your preferences, get you all wrong, or come out somewhere in the middle? What are they good at, what are they missing?

You can leave comments here or send them to me at:  whosyourcity@gmail.com.


Tom Tobin

The Kiplinger Best Place Locator was utterly off. Among the top places was the city I had recently (and gratefully) *left*, Albany NY.

The Sperling Find Your Best Place Locator was a bit better, but not by much. While I find San Francisco to be a wonderful city, I also find it too expensive; however, I couldn't seem to budge it from the #1 spot on my list no matter how much I played with the economic/housing sliders. Portland OR, a city I'm quite interested in, always hovered in the 30s. ::shrug::


We are moving to Cincinnati Ohio in a few months and I was looking to see how much I have in common with my desires and the offerings of the city. I admit that I made the geo-location Midwest, and it was nice to compare Cinci to a few of the other cities. What we are looking for is there. There are some things lacking - coastline, snow skiing, but we do not have that here now in Atlanta. I think that both the tools were helpful.


The Sperling report's top 15 were all places I would probably consider. San Francisco followed by Seattle and Boston were the top three for me.

Kiplinger mostly returned places with which I'm very unfamiliar -- Trenton, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Maybe I would like them, but I know nothing about them.



Your results are in line with others we're seeing. My wife, Rana, said Sperling was much better for her. Since they are drawn from the same survey, my sense is that it is the longer version of the survey that's better. Kiplinger uses a short, top-line version.

Interesting, the two people who told me they took Kiplinger's survey both had Pittsburgh come up as their first choice. It came up on yours too.

Tom--I know I owe you our place locator framework. We're still working on it.



I think Sperling just tells you S.F. is your #1 or #2 best place, no matter what! I think they are both a little SF biased.


Maggie-Interesting. Kiplinger listed Pittsburgh tops for two people I know well. hmmmmm......R

Barkley Rosser

Pittsburgh is doing very well, despite a reputation as a failed steel city. I think one would have to do a lot of tweaking to get Trenton or Syracuse up very high, however.


Sorry for getting off topic --
Barkley (or Richard or anyone..) where would be a good place to start if I wanted to learn more about how Pittsburgh is overcoming its "failed steel city" reputation.

I'm doing a small project on Hamilton Ontario right now -- it has the same reputation and I'm needing to understand what it might take for things to change there.

Marc Fisher

Richard--Thanks for the citation on the blog the other day. I used both locators, and the Kiplinger put my home of DC in the #1 slot, followed by SF, Philly, NYC and Seattle, while the Sperling's put me in Boston, followed by SF, NY, DC and--surprise--Long Island!
Anyway, contrary to others on this board, I found the Kiplinger to be more accurate, probably because it forced me to boil my preferences down to much simpler and starker choices.
I'll do a riff on this on my blog next week and send folks over here to catch some of your thinking on this. (By the way, Monday at 11 a.m. on Washington Post Radio, I'll have as my guest an editor from Business Week to talk about their ranking that found Herndon, VA to be the best U.S. suburb to live in. Hard to imagine the justification on that one.


Marc - Thank you. I love your column and read it religiously. For the new book, Who's Your City, I'm trying to use these tools to help identify say 3-5 city-regions for folks to consider, and then give them a more detailed framework to go out there and really dig in. I too like Kiplingers for its simplicity and ease of use. What's really cool is that in just the past day or so, maybe as a result of this dialogue, they've asked us to consider helping them with their next iteration and lists of best places.


I read Marc Fisher's Washington Post column today and learned of this blog and discussion, to my delight.

I already know where I should be, and I wanted to test the tests, as it were, to see if they would provide the correct answer.

YET: neither engine ranked my most appropriate/favorite city anywhere near the top of my choices. Not even in the top 10 (closest was 12 for Sperling).

I have a Master's in geography; I'm familiar with Terry Pindell and others who have written on the subject of finding one's best place; I have been fortunate to have traveled to all 50 states. As a result of both knowledge thus gathered and purely personal reasons completely divorced from any practical considerations whatsoever, I chose to live in Seattle precisely because that *place* was right for me. It suited me, weather and all (and I'm a native of the sunny/hot/humid SE). I left Seattle for the "other" Washington only with great reluctance and hesitation, and I'd return to Seattle in a heartbeat without hesitation if I could today.

However, if I'd relied on these tests, without my background and such, I'd never have wound up there. The closest I would have gotten would've been San Francisco, which, echoing another several posters, was (surprise!) tops on my Sperling results! Another vote for Bay Area bias, since San Jose was up there as well. I've lived in the Bay Area, and let me assure you I'd never choose to live in San Jose or anywhere near it.

DC, in (and for) whose suburbs I settled(!), also made my list well ahead of Seattle.

These tests are failing to capture something, although I can't identify what it is. Intangibles of some sort. Regardless, any assessment of this nature that I take which does not place Seattle at least near the top has failed, and neither of these do.


Being from MD outside of DC and knowing the cities across the nation I would love, like, and wouldn't mind living in, I'm not shocked at my results...

Sperling: 1. San Francisco, 2. Boston, 3. NYC, 4. DC, 5. LA, 6. Long Island, NY 7. Chicago, 8. Newark, NJ, 9. Minneapolis, 10. Seattle
Kiplinger: 1. Cambridge, MA, 2. Boston, 3. Pittsburgh, 4. DC, 5. San Francisco, 6. Philly, 7. Minneapolis, 8. Long Island/Nassau-Suffolk, 9. NYC, 10. Buffalo, NY

Sperling was a much better match for me. Long Island threw me for a loop because I don't really consider it a "city" but a collection of "cities" much like Northern VA, or Montgomery County... Kiplinger threw me a few curve balls...namely Pittburgh and Buffalo. Wasn't expecting those.

Personally, for me, my running list in my head goes like this:

1. DC, 2. San Francisco, 3. NYC, 4. Chicago, 5. Boston, 6. Philly

As I tell folks who ask, I could only do NYC for three-four years at most. Then move back to a more reasonable place... I consider Chicago to be everything New York is, but cleaner, friendlier, and nicer. San Francisco and DC share so much in common except which coast they sit on, and Boston and Philly are great historic real cities.

So that's my two cents....

Denise Sudell

Richard, I found the Sperling results much more appropriate than the Kiplinger results. One thing that's extremely important to me, but that does not seem to be captured in the Kiplinger criteria, is friendliness to lesbians and gay men. I generally use the presence of cultural activities and institutions of higher education as proxies for that friendliness. Because the Kiplinger's results didn't reflect those criteria, they were pretty much useless to me.

Another point is availability of outdoor recreational activities. The presence of downhill skiing and national parks is not an adequate substitute, and I don't care at all about sports franchises or college / university teams. I was surprised that on my Sperling list, Denver placed only sixth, while New York -- where I'd never choose to live because of environmental factors and lack of availability of genuine outdoor (meaning wilderness) activities.

BTW, I also found your site through Marc Fisher's blog.

Denise Sudell

Failed to read my post carefully enough before posting -- neglected to finish the sentence about New York, which should have read: ". . . -- finished fifth."

An Jiaoshi

I assumed that gay-friendliness was what Kiplinger meant by the peculiarly vague "a city that welcomes everybody" -- a phrase that makes perfect sense if taken as a euphemism.

Kiplinger gave me an odd list headed by Trenton, N.J.; the only city on the list that seemed to make sense was Madison, Wis. Maybe I just don't know enough about the cities in question to judge, though I drove through Trenton once, about 12 years ago, and "bombed-out" strikes me as the best adjective to describe what I saw. Sperling gave me the ultra-predictable list of big financial-services cities. I agree with the previous commenter that these ranking engines are missing something in the way of je ne sais quoi. I've been using an Excel spreadsheet and census data to carry out a similar exercise for myself; my criteria have been (not in any particular order) percentage of people who commute to work NOT by car, percentage who commute specifically by walking or biking, racial diversity (more is better), density (people per square mile -- more is better), crowding (people per bedroom -- less is better), age of housing stock (older is better), percentages of residents with bachelor's and master's degrees, rental housing affordability, percentage of students in private schools (lower is better), unemployment rate, percentage of families headed by single women (as a proxy for crime rate) and percentage of workers in creative or scientific professions. But even these individually chosen criteria are, I'm sure, missing something.


I've got to say, they both disappointed me. Kiplinger Best Place Locator hardly asked any important questions. And Sperling Find Your Best Place Locator listed the one place I can't stay-San Francisco as the best place for me. Talk about depressing. It's just too expensive to live here and start a family. I'd like one of these surveys to ask about raising a family. I tried www.findyourspot.com and it seems to me to be the best one out there so far. Lots of questions and has a 4-page PDF about each city it recommends.


Hmm, I actually felt that the Kiplinger test was much better than Sperling, and it actually gave the number one city as the city I was already considering moving to! Pretty impressive, as it was not San Francisco (though that's just the answer I got from the Sperling test, which did not seem to take into consideration my clear preferences for affordability) or anything that obvious. I was shocked when I saw that it was out of 167 cities! Thanks for sharing.

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