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Phoenix Is America's Fifth-Largest City. Why Isn't It Ranking Among the Best Places to Live?

Phoenix Is America's Fifth-Largest City. Why Isn't It Ranking Among the Best Places to Live?
If Phoenix were a high school student instead of the country’s fifth-largest city, it would be that straight-A's smart kid whose locker keeps getting egged.

Depending on what you read, our town either looks great on paper, or it falls short in the popularity department. Phoenix is, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, tops in population growth, having added 32,113 people last year — more than any other U.S. city did in 2016. Our new numbers — more than 1.6 million people in metropolitan Phoenix — means we’ve just regained our ranking as the fifth-largest city in America, yanking that title back from Philadelphia, which bumped us down to sixth a couple years ago with a new head count of 1.57 million.

But apparently a crowd isn’t enough. Several recently published lists of “best cities” don’t include Phoenix among the most favored places to live. Or even to visit.

According to Growella’s just-released list of the 25 best cities in the U.S. for people under the age of 35, Phoenix is okay for oldsters. Durham, North Carolina; Pittsburgh; and Nashville, Tennessee, all got high honors in this study, which considered factors like overall affordability, commuting times, and the social scene for young people. Entry-level jobs were also important in Growella’s figuring, indicating that there are more barista positions in Des Moines, Iowa, (no, really) than in Tempe. Even Columbus, Ohio, and Fayetteville, Arkansas, offer more professional and social opportunities to younger folks than any corner of Maricopa County.

We didn’t make the top third in U.S. News and World Report’s annual “Best Places to Live” list, either, ranking instead at a lowly 44. The report by the global authority in consumer advice looked at real estate pricing, job prospects, and general quality of life, and decided that no place better than Austin, Texas, exists for such things. Denver and San Jose, California, follow immediately after, and while it’s no surprise that the arbiters of better living would place Washington D.C. at No. 4, how is it that Fayetteville, Arkansas, scored another top-five position on this list?

Fayetteville didn’t make it onto 360 West’s recent “Most Popular American Cities” list, according to the Huffington Post. That may be because this online travel magazine is ranking America’s favorite summer vacation destinations in its deceptively titled list. We can point to our crummy summer weather as a reason for being excluded from this particular list, and the fact that Chicago is No. 2 on the list is a no-brainer, as 360 West is based there. But how to explain that super-humid Orlando, Florida, has taken the top spot, ranking above Manhattan and San Francisco?

“We can get obsessed with lists,” Mayor Greg Stanton says. “But really, things like WalletHub are nothing more than click bait.”

Stanton’s likely referring to a just-released study from WalletHub, which offers free online credit scores and apparently ranks things like “the best and worst cities for basketball fans” (in which Phoenix ranked 25th out of 30).

But what about our newly regained ranking as Big City Number Five?

“As a raw number, it means nothing,” Stanton says. “We were already a fast-growing city, even back when we had an economy reliant on real estate. What we’re trying to do is change the equation. We don’t want people to come here because real estate is cheap, but because they know they can get a great job here, because our economy is healthy.”

Looks like Phoenix will have to wait for a list called “Cities with the Most Brand-New Condominium Towers” before really scoring on a best-destinations list. In the meantime, we can settle for being the Fastest-Growing Place to Cook an Egg on the Sidewalk. Just don’t egg our locker.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela