Costly homes. Crowded neighborhoods. Underperforming schools. Some families would rather not put up with the challenges of big-city living. Smaller cities, especially ones near large urban centers, can offer the benefits of big cities, but with a family-friendly pace of life — and often more affordable housing.
What makes a smaller city an affordable and desirable place to live? To determine the best small cities for families, NerdWallet examined the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, GreatSchools and NeighborhoodScout for 245 places in the U.S. with populations from 25, 000 to 100, 000. Our analysis considers factors such as home value and affordability, median annual income, growth and factors that families consider including school quality and crime. To see our detailed methodology, click .
U.S. suburbs win. The majority of small cities on our top 10 list are suburbs of large cities, with most less than 30 miles from the nearest big city. Families in these places will find the convenience of higher-paying jobs and amenities without long commutes.
Texas dominates. Suburbs of Dallas, Houston and Austin won the majority of the top 10 spots on our list. Texas, which was more resilient economically than other states during the Great Recession, has experienced a real estate boom in recent years. What’s more, homes in many cities are relatively affordable when considering median annual household income.
1. Wylie, Texas
This city, about 30 miles northeast of Dallas, is between Lavon Lake and Lake Ray Hubbard, which means it offers access to outdoor activities for families. The city of 44, 000 residents has the second-most affordable homes in the top 10, with a median home value of $154, 600 in 2014. Of all 245 cities analyzed, Wylie has the seventh-highest median annual income growth, which jumped over 19% from 2009 to 2014. Schools in Wylie earned a rating of 9 out of 10 by reviewers at GreatSchools.org.
2. Spring Hill, Tennessee
Spring Hill, which is about 30 miles south of Nashville, has experienced growth as a manufacturing hub, particularly for cars. It boasts the ninth-highest population growth of the 245 cities, with a 37% jump in residents from 2009 to 2014. In Spring Hill, nearly 50% of families, the third-highest in the top 10, have children under age 18. That’s not the only reason this Tennessee town is family-friendly: Schools in Spring Hill are rated a strong 9 out of 10 by reviewers at GreatSchools.
3. Leander, Texas
Leander is a growing Austin suburb and the only one connected to the capital’s downtown via light rail. Leander has the most affordable houses of the top 10 cities, with the median home value in 2014 at just $154, 500 — which is about half of the value of homes in Austin, according to Zillow. Of the 245 cities analyzed, Leander was No. 10 when it comes to the percentage of families (nearly 52%) with children younger than 18. This city’s population grew over 34% from 2009 to 2014, as the Austin area booms.
4. Bentonville, Arkansas
Home to the headquarters of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, Bentonville is one of two cities in the top 10 that’s not a suburb. Residents here experienced the highest income growth of all 245 cities analyzed, with median annual household incomes rising over 39% from 2009 to 2014. Schools in Bentonville scored a 9 out of 10 at GreatSchools.org, and homes here are the fourth-most affordable in the top 10 cities. The downtown boasts a free and extensive art museum funded by the family of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, and there’s a Wal-Mart visitor center near the site of the original store.
5. Carmel, Indiana
The formerly sleepy suburb north of Indianapolis has become a growing, affluent Midwest city. Residents here earn the second-highest median annual household income ($107, 916 in 2014) of the top cities. Incomes in Carmel have grown over 11% from 2009 to 2014, while the population jumped 25%. The city is home to many major employers, such as Geico, and over 40 corporate headquarters, according to the city. Carmel’s schools earned a GreatSchools rating of 9 out of 10.
6. Pearland, Texas
Once a small agricultural town known for pears and other crops, this south Houston suburb has the biggest population of all 245 cities analyzed, with over 97, 000 residents as of 2014. Residents of Pearland have the fourth-highest median annual household income in the top 10 cities at $94, 653 in 2014. Families will find highly rated schools and many families — 45% of families here have young children. Pearland is also home to the famous Killen’s Barbecue, a favorite of Houston Texans player J.J. Watt.