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Huntsville, Auburn named in list of 100 best places to live for 2020

In a world that has been turned upside down by a global pandemic, a pair of Alabama cities have been ranked in 2020 among the 100 best places to live in the United States: Huntsville and Auburn.

For the past seven years, Livability.com has released a data-driven list of the “Top 100 Best Places to Live in America.” Livability crunches 40 data points to come up with the best small- to mid-sized cities in the U.S.

Every year, the list changes; the publication does surveys and studies, adjusts algorithms and adds in new variables and data points. Livibility stated this year’s circumstances that have been taken for granted have been replaced with a new set of questions about where and how we live:

  • What if you could work remotely and live anywhere?
  • What if paying thousands of dollars a month to live in a big, expensive city wasn’t worth it anymore?
  • What if the things that have always mattered — affordability, opportunity, safety, community — mattered more than ever?

Livability analyzed more than 1,000 small- to mid-sized cities on factors like safety, affordability, economic stability, outdoor recreation, accessibility and community engagement. This year’s list also included a new metric: an “opportunity score” used to determine each city’s landscape of opportunity, including variables like job numbers, broadband access, economic resilience and growth.

All of that data crunching settled on Huntsville and Auburn as two of the top 100 cities.

Huntsville (Population: 205,061)

The publication centered on the city’s notoriety of space.

“Known as the ‘Rocket City,’ Huntsville… has a thriving aerospace industry.”

Huntsville grew to notoriety during the 1960s space race and is now the fastest growing city in Alabama. But it isn’t all out space exploration and rocket science — Huntsville is a diverse city with a great food scene, repurposed buildings and history on every corner, Livability added.

The publication also cited the location of Huntsville’s two research universities  — The University of Alabama in Huntsville and Alabama A&M University.

The website further pointed out that the cost of living in Huntsville is below the national average.

The article outlined specific highlights, such as the economy — with top industries in Huntsville being aerospace and military technology.

Also noted were local amenities:

  • Best Coffee Shop: Alchemy
  • Best Local Beer/Brewery: Yellowhammer Brewing’s Groovy Don’s Groovy IPA is a must-try.
  • Must-Have Meal: The BLT of Curtis Loew from the I Love Bacon Food Truck. Yes — Huntsville has an entire food truck devoted to bacon and it is just as amazing as it sounds.
  • Best Meetup Spot (When Meeting Up Is a Thing Again): Meet up with your group at any of the bars or eateries located inside of Campus 805, the “coolest middle school in the nation.”
  • Creative Hub: Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment is the largest, privately-owned arts facility in the South and the re-worked building now houses 150 working studios for more than 200 artists, seven art galleries, four performance venues, a multi-use theater and restaurants.
  • Favorite Weekend Activity: Huntsville is the craft beer capital of Alabama and the Downtown Huntsville Craft Beer Trail is the best way to sample what the city has to offer. Enjoy any (or all!) of the 11 local breweries on the map, including Rocket Republic BrewingStraight to Ale and Salty Nut Brewery.
  • Local Dream Job: Counselor at Space Camp, because who didn’t dream of being an astronaut when they grow up?

Auburn (Population: 64,620)

Of course, citing Auburn in a comparison of small- to mid-sized cities begins and ends with Auburn University.

The article cites Auburn as one of the best college towns in the South. The article mention it’s also an amazing place to live. This Alabama city is full of small-town charm, cozy traditions and, yes, lots of team spirit. Auburn’s location gives residents quick access to major cities in the surrounding area, like Atlanta, is close to Chewacla State Park and is just a few hours away from the beach. If all that wasn’t enough, the Auburn-Opelika area is one of the fastest-growing metros in the country.

Livability also notes affordable housing, an award-winning school system, and a growing business sector make life in Auburn appealing – not to mention the cultural and sports perks of living in a top college town.

Auburn University is the largest employer, and housing options span from the eclectic downtown and historic neighborhoods to the rapidly growing outskirts and amazing things to do. With courses like The Grand National in Opelika, part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the area is also known for great golf.

Nationally, the top 10 small- to medium-sized cities were shaped by colder environments:

  • Fort Collins, Colo.
  • Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • Madison, Wisc.
  • Portland, Maine
  • Rochester, N.Y.
  • Ashville, N.C.
  • Overland Park, Kansas
  • Fargo, North, Dakota
  • Durham, N.C.
  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News. He is the retired chief of staff to the president at The University of Alabama in Huntsville as well as the former business editor of The Huntsville Times. Ray also served as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives.