by Max Brantley
Kiplinger's personal finance magazine has put together a top 10 list of great places to live. They say they used good jobs, reasonably priced homes, decent schools, great health care and manageable size in looking at cities of 1 million or less.
There, at No. 1, is Little Rock. Ahead of even College Station, Texas. (Not a joke that one.)
Population: 699,757 (metro area)
Unemployment rate: 6.6%
Cost-of-living index: 99.1
Median household income: $47,731
Median home value: $195,762
What the locals love: The annual Riverfest performing arts celebration, the paved trail system along the Arkansas River, the mild winters and lack of traffic.
Why is Little Rock tops on our list? It offers far more than a lovely setting in rolling hills between the Ouachita Mountains and the Arkansas River. It is the capital of Arkansas and its largest city, as well as the state center of business, health care and culture. It has the amenities of a larger city but is small enough that you can feel part of the diverse community. Residents of the eclectic Hillcrest neighborhood mingle, shop and listen to street music on the first Thursday of each month. Young professionals meet with company leaders as part of Create Little Rock, a networking program. Volunteerism by retirees is quite high here.
Cultural offerings include museums and fine-art galleries, a repertory theater, a symphony orchestra, a performing arts center, and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Downtown, you can roam the 33-acre Riverfront Park. Boating and fishing add to the recreational scene.
Major employers include the state government, two major universities, Caterpillar and IT company Acxiom. Housing costs are unusually affordable. You can find a three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot house for as little as $169,900 in a family-friendly neighborhood in West Little Rock. And residents can get first-rate medical care at Little Rock's several hospitals. The city still has some underperforming public schools, but Little Rock Central High School — the site of desegregation battles in 1957 — is now top-ranked, and the local efforts to improve education continue.
Sign us up.