The population of the United States living in urban areas is growing faster than the national rate. At last count, more than four in five Americans lived in a metropolitan area, an increase of over 12% in the last decade. Meanwhile, the proportion of Americans living in rural areas declined. If this trend continues, nearly all Americans will live in megacities in the near future.
Regardless of whether this happens, more pressure will be placed on mayors to manage their growing populations. 24/7 Wall St. has completed its second annual ranking of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., based on local economies, fiscal management, and quality of life measures. To evaluate how well a city is managed over the long-term, we looked at factors like the city’s credit rating, poverty, education, crime, unemployment, and regional GDP. The best-run city this year is Plano, Texas. The worst-run is San Bernardino, California.
Measuring the effective governance of a city and comparing it to others can be challenging. Each city has its own unique challenges and advantages. The strength of the regional economy, the level of state funding, and the presence of major corporations or industries can all impact a city’s prospects. They play a big part in a city’s employment levels, safety, and fiscal stability.
All those factors, of course, are directly affected by how a city is managed. Mayors, school boards, and city councils all have a role to play in that regard. All of these groups must work with the resources available to keep budgets balanced.
Many of the best-run cities either have at least one industry that is supporting the labor force, or are close enough to major urban centers, such as Dallas, Phoenix, and San Francisco, to benefit from jobs available there.
Fiscal management is another factor that had a strong impact on where cities ended up on our list. The majority of the best-run cities had their general obligation debt rated Aaa by Moody’s. None of the worst-run cities received that perfect score; some, such as Detroit and Stockton, were rated below investment grade. Stockton is notable for actually defaulting on its debt in June of last year.
8. Virginia Beach, Va.
> Population: 442,707
> Credit rating: Aaa, negative outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 1.75 (5th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.0% (5th lowest)
Virginia Beach’s economy benefits from the area’s sizeable military presence. According to the Virginia Beach Economic Development Authority, the 11 major military bases located within the metro area provided a direct economic impact of $13.5 billion in 2011. According to the Daily Press, at the outset of the year, all four local congressmen, recognizing the importance of the military on the local economy, voted against the fiscal cliff deal, which postponed upcoming military cuts until March. Compared to most major cities, financial hardship in Virginia Beach is relatively absent, with just 8.6% of residents living below the poverty line in 2011 — roughly half of the national rate, and the fourth-lowest among the largest cities. Violent crime is extremely low in the region, with just 1.75 reported violent incidents per 1,000 residents in 2011. Among the few negatives for Virginia Beach is that the metro area’s GMP contracted by 1.1% in 2011 when the average metro area in the U.S. grew by 1.6%.
13. Chesapeake, Va.
> Population: 225,050
> Credit rating: Aa1
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 3.97 (22nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.5% (tied- 11th lowest)
Chesapeake, the third-largest city in Virginia, has the seventh-highest median household income — $66,563 — of all of the 100 largest cities. While households were very wealthy in 2011, extreme poverty in Chesapeake was also low. Only 3.4% of families earned less than $10,000, better than the 5.1% of households nationwide and the eighth-lowest rate among all the cities measured. Chesapeake’s workforce is spread out among a wide range of industries. Some of the largest employers include HSBC Finance, Cox Communications and QVC.