We're going to be skeptical of any list of "best places to live in the United States." But when such a list gives the top spot to Green Bay, Wis.--after Aaron Rodgers leaves!--we're going to take it with two or three buckets of salt. (Green Bay average low in January: 13 degrees. The average high in January: 26 degrees.)
According to U.S. News & World Report, which put out this click-bait and editorial fodder this past week, Little Rock is among the bottom 50 of the top 150 places to live in America. Our fair city is No. 102 on the list and trails perennial Top 10 Fayetteville by 92 spots.
Fayetteville is a great place to live. But there's a different way to look at Little Rock's ranking. Some of us are glass-half-full types, so let's see how other regional cities did in comparison. As President Biden says about his running for re-election, "Don't compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative." So Telluride and Santa Barbara and Kennebunkport are out.
It should be noted that many of the Top 100 cities have built-in constants like proximity to beaches, pro football teams, or are nestled next to some of the best snow-skiing terrain in North America. Even if the most doomsday climate-change predictions come true, Little Rock will never have beachfront property. And despite an attempt to bring man-made snow skiing to Dogpatch, the Rocky Mountains will never be outside our front door.
Cities in this region have to work harder to become "great" places to live. We thought we might see how the Capital City is doing against the rest of the cities around us. You might be surprised at what we found.
Chattanooga comes in at 48. Springfield (the one in Missouri) is 57. Tulsa barely slips by us at No. 101. Oklahoma City comes in at No. 106, and they have a pro basketball team.
Moving to the Lone Star State, bigger may not always be better, and it's certainly not in this case. Remember the Alamo? Even San Antonio with its lazy river and NBA Spurs makes its stand in the ratings below the Rock at No. 103.
Dallas? Everyone luuuuuvs to go to Dallas to see the Hogs play, attend concerts, shop and maybe check out the "grassy knoll." Yet, it's the 113th best place to live in America. Killeen, not exactly a choice for destination travel, is No. 122. The border town of El Paso ranks No. 128 and the oil refinery town (how appealing) of Beaumont is No. 131.
Corpus Christi with Port Aransas (Arkansas is one letter better) ranks No. 132. Brownsville and McAllen, two more destination travel spots--said no one ever--rank respectively at No. 134 and 137. Even Houston with its MLB Astros and NBA Rockets (so named for NASA's presence there), NFL Texans, and oil industry is No. 140.
Down in Cajun country, Baton Rouge ranks five spots behind La Petite Roche at Nos. 107, and east Texas', whoops, northwest Louisiana's Shreveport at No. 117 is 15 spots behind Little Rock. And, Lord have mercy, hold on to your beads and umbrellas, New Orleans, a unique city in the U.S. and an awesome place to visit, is ranked No. 129 as a place to actually live.
As for Mississippi . . . We're a little ashamed to say that Little Rock is only 18 spots ahead of Jackson. Our water is 100 times better. We're also 19 spots higher than Gulfport-Biloxi, which ranks No. 121.
Speaking of Mississippi, the only thing separating us from Memphis is the Mississippi River. Even with its thriving blues-infused Beale Street, NBA Grizzlies, Graceland and the Liberty Bowl, it's almost off the top 150 list at 144.
To be certain, things get a little better the further away you get: Austin (No. 40), Nashville (No. 61), Atlanta (No. 64) and Kansas City (No. 73) all rank ahead of Little Rock.
These kinds of rankings are useful, kinda. If there is marked improvement from one year to the other, or a serious drop, you might could keep up with the momentum of your particular city. The methodology used is fair enough to inform someone who is trying to decide where to live if they are coming from say, Mars.
But for us Earthlings, it's far more meaningful to compare how Little Rock is doing against other cities of similar size, culture and landscape within our region.
And although Little Rock has its problems, as most major cities do, it also has its upside. When fairly compared with some.