No. 2. Naperville, IL
This Midwestern city ranks second on this year's list of Great American Towns.
(MONEY Magazine) -- When Tushar Narsana landed a consulting job in Chicago last year, he and his wife Rashmi planned to live downtown and send their daughter Rewa, 3, to private school. At a friend's insistence, they looked at Naperville, 30 miles west, and found a cosmopolitan city with a diverse population and quality schools. "We are city people, but there isn't much we need to go to Chicago for," says Rashmi, 32, who works for an education nonprofit in Naperville. "Now our friends from Chicago are moving here too."
The Narsanas' experience sums up why Naperville's population has quadrupled since the 1970's and why the city pops up continually on MONEY's Best Places lists. Last year, in a study that focused primarily on towns much smaller than Naperville, the city still landed the No. 3 spot. There's a lot to like.
The River walk, four miles of bricked pathways that hug the DuPage River as it meanders through downtown, is ideal for strolling, running, people watching or listening to concerts on grassy Rotary Hill. Shopping, jazz and restaurants are easy to find. And Naperville has more green space than most cities, thanks to a 1972 land-donation ordinance. Though many residents commute to Chicago, Naperville is part of the Illinois technology corridor and is a base for major companies including Laidlaw International, Tellabs, ConAgra and OfficeMax.
The city has a triple-A bond rating, and college entrance exam scores are among the state's highest.But desirability has its downside. The median home price is up to $329,000, pricey for the Midwest. Downtown traffic jams are common. And the wait for a parking permit at the city's main train station is eight years.
"Naperville was designed to be a small town," says Mayor George Pradel. "But we grew and grew." Despite the big-city hassles, residents say the city still has a community feel. "This is the quickest we've settled into a new home and made friends," says Chris Steffanci, 33, who arrived with his wife Kari, 33, and four-year old son Jake last year, his fourth transfer since 2000. "We wanted a short commute, good schools and a community where we could really plug in. It's exceeded our expectations."