Eau Claire ranks as the third most livable small city in the United States, according to a new study.
The analysis of 287 U.S. cities with populations from 65,000 to 100,000 was conducted by the financial technology company SmartAsset. It is based on 10 metrics, determined by U.S. Census Bureau data, related to such quality of life indicators as home affordability, health care accessibility, income equality, entertainment options and commute times.
The showing continues a streak of positive national recognition for Eau Claire in recent years that includes ranking No. 5 on Schools.com’s list of the Top 20 Best College Towns in the U.S. in 2019, making Thrillist’s America’s Best Small Cities to Move to Before They Get Too Popular list in 2018 and placing No. 6 on LendEdu.com’s list of places with the most affordable homes in the U.S. in 2019.
“I think it reassures community leaders and people in those types of roles that what we are doing here works,” said Benny Anderson, acting director of the tourism marketing organization Visit Eau Claire.
Anderson added that he enjoyed his time as a student at UW-Eau Claire but didn’t really fall in love with Eau Claire and decide to stay until after he graduated and learned more about what the community has to offer.
“The Chippewa Valley is a place to go to feel safe and raise a family and be a part of something bigger,” said Anderson, who refers to the city as “the biggest small town I’ve ever seen” because it combines big-city amenities with a low crime rate, no traffic jams and a small-town familiarity where residents see familiar faces almost anywhere they go.
Eau Claire trailed only No. 1 Cheektowaga, New York, and No. 2 Livonia, Michigan, in the 2020 most livable small city rankings. Eight of the top 10 cities in the study are located in Midwestern states, with No. 6 Oshkosh being the only other Wisconsin community.
SmartAsset’s third annual livability report indicated that Eau Claire has the second-highest concentration of bars in the study, at almost 2% of all establishments. The city also has the shortest average commute time in the top 10 and the 20th-shortest overall, at less than 17 minutes.
Residents in Eau Claire additionally benefit from above-average health care accessibility. The concentration of health care establishments in Eau Claire is 13.9% of all establishments, the 24th-highest percentage nationwide.
In addition to the volume, the quality of the area’s restaurants, bars and health care providers are a major asset for those who call the Chippewa Valley home, Anderson said.
The study’s authors noted that a 2018 Gallup report found that about four in 10 Americans would choose to live in a town, a small city or a suburb of a small city as opposed to big cities and rural areas and concluded that some Americans are drawn to small cities that have similar amenities as big cities while still offering a community feel.
Small cities might be even more appealing places to live than usual in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they may offer more access to parks and outdoor spaces than places with higher population densities, the report indicates.