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San Francisco Tops Our List Of America’s Coolest Cities – Forbes

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San Francisco may be an almost perfect embodiment of coolness today, but how cool can a city be if it becomes inaccessible to all but people in an upper income bracket?

From Mission Street’s taquerias to fine dining establishments chock-full of the region’s celebrated produce, the San Francisco metropolitan area boasts a higher ratio of local-to-chain restaurants than almost any other city in the nation. The region is also home to world-class museums (SFMOMA), sports teams (Golden State Warriors), and good hiking with stunning views. Reliable mass transit and a strong biking culture means San Franciscans and visitors enjoy easy access to it all. That’s part of why the city ranks first on the 2017 edition of our list of America’s Coolest Cities.

“San Francisco is crushing it,” says Bert Sperling, founder of Sperling’s Best Places, Forbes’ partner on this semi-annual list. “It is very tough to deny that looking at what the readers and users have said they are looking for seems to be San Francisco.”

But all this dynamism comes at a cost. The city has become increasingly unaffordable, putting its high level of diversity at risk.

With well-paid (often young) tech workers flooding the city, average wages in the San Francisco area have climbed 18% since 2006, according to Payscale. Rents are among the highest anywhere and, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller home price index, the price to buy a home has risen an average of 11.5% annually for the last five years. The overall cost of living is 79% higher than the national average. As a result net migration—the number of people who relocate there—is declining, and small business employment growth is relatively slow.

“We’ve heard anecdotally that it is too expensive and people might be looking for other options. But that doesn’t change its desirability,” notes Sperling. “You could make a strong case that this is what people are looking for and desirability makes it less affordable. It would be an anomaly if you found a place that was really really cool but was really really cheap.”

Behind The Numbers

So what makes a city “cool”? Going by the comments we received on the previous editions of this list, some people think it’s too subjective to even try to define. However, when it comes to what makes someplace fun to live, we believe there are a few universal quotients of coolness, and this time around, to help us determine what metrics to use, we put the question to our readers and those of our partner on this list, Sperling’s Best Places.

Together with Sperling, we evaluated the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. based on nine metrics, including these five crowd-sourced ones:

  • You told us you look for abundant recreational options like sporting events, parks and zoos. So we used Sperling’s recreation and arts and culture indices, which look at the quantity and quality of such activities. Seattle took the top spot.
  • You value local eats over nationwide chains. So Sperling looked at the share of non-chain restaurants in each city. New York ranks first by that measure, with 93% of its restaurants independent.
  • You want access to reliable mass transit and eco-friendly ways to get around. We considered three metrics:
    • Percentage of bicycle commuters. Madison, Wisc., leads the nation
    • Mass transit usage (New York is No. 1).
    • Electric and hybrid car ownership (San Jose).
  • You want to start your day with good coffee and end it with a local beer. Seattle won on this front with 83 coffee shops, coffee roasters and craft beer breweries per 100,000 residents.
  • You said plenty of places to socialize proved another must. This crown went to New Orleans with 160 bars and clubs per 100,00 people.

Since recreation and local restaurants were particularly popular in our surveys, we weighted those factors more heavily.

We also looked at a number of population measures:

  • We considered net migration—the Census Bureau’s measure of the difference between the number of people who relocated to each metro area from 2010 to 2016 versus those who left —since it’s a good proxy for desirability. Of the 20 coolest cities, Austin had the most net newcomers, though some Florida cities that did not make the list drew more.
  • We factored in the share of the population aged 25 to 34, since youth brings vibrancy and new ideas. With more than 17% of the population in this age bracket, Austin won out on youth.
  • We considered diversity, based on Sperling’s Diversity Index, which measure how likely you are to come across someone of a different race or ethnicity in a given city. We believe that diversity leads to a broader array of stores, restaurants and events, as well as interesting people to meet.
  • We also factored in small business employment growth between 2010 and 2015, since entrepreneurship is a sign of optimism about a city’s future. Los Angeles ranks first here among our top 20.

We over-weighted net migration and youth.

Check out the full list here. Tell us about why you think your city—whether it made this list or not—is the coolest in the comments section.

San Francisco is joined in our top 20 by other metropolitan areas experiencing the catch 22 of tech-enabled growth: its Silicon Valley neighbor San Jose ranks sixth, while Seattle is second and Portland, Ore., fifth.

Additionally, there are also established, pricey places like Los Angeles and New York–ranked seventh and eighth–that benefits from sheer size. In New York, says Sperling, “whatever there is that you are interested in you can find it and it will be one of the best in the world.”

With its lively nightlife and restaurant scene, it’s no surprise that New Orleans makes our list, but its strong fourth-place showing is also partly due to its comeback story, with affordable homes and new jobs attracting new people.

San Francisco Tops Our List Of America’s Coolest Cities – Forbes

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