Dallas is Good for Two Things: Jobs and Cheap Houses. Well, Damn, Ain't That Enough?

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On Monday, a book that’s sure to be great bedtime reading for statisticians everywhere clunked into bookstores. Weighing in at 864 pages and 3.3 pounds, it’s the 2007 edition of Cities Ranked & Rated: More than 400 Metropolitan Areas Evaluated in the U.S. and Canada by Burt Sperling and Peter Sander.

Since their 2004 edition of Cities Ranked & Rated, Dallas has slipped from No. 95 to No. 133, behind San Antonio (No. 51), Abilene (No. 55) and Austin-Round Rock (No. 103). We edged out Fort Worth-Arlington (No. 134) by one measly point.

Give it to us straight. “There are some better places to live,” Sander says diplomatically. “Dallas has lots of good things but nothing particularly great unless you are looking for a job or an affordable house.”

Sander likes cities with a “sense of place.” Think San Francisco, Denver and Chicago, three cities defined by their geography.

“You go outside in Dallas, and you don’t know where you are except for manmade landmarks. Dallas geographically is actually in the middle of nowhere. I think, ‘Why is this city here?’ There doesn’t seem to be a reason.”

Uhhh, well, there’s the Trinity River…ah, but let’s not go there.

“But Dallas does pretty well in all categories,” Sander says. “It was more or less in the top one-third. The ranking dropped from 2004 in part because of ‘big city’ issues, like crime and long commutes. In general the biggest cities have dropped. What is happening everywhere, including Dallas, is that cities are growing. Commute times and the cost of housing are rising.”

Sander and Sperling use data from the cities of Dallas, Plano and Irving, plus the counties of Dallas, Collin, Denton and five smaller surrounding counties to create the ratings for “Dallas.” Keep that in mind.

They use raw data to spit out rankings in 10 major categories: economy, employment, climate, cost of living, crime, health and health care, transportation, leisure, arts and culture, and education. (In their 2006 book Best Places to Raise a Family, the co-authors picked Flower Mound -- the suburb that has always sounded like some offshoot of the Grassy Knoll -- as the No. 1 city in America in which to raise a family. Don’t we get some credit for that?)

They named Gainesville, Florida, their No. 1 city in America this year. “I was a little surprised, frankly,” says Sander. “But college towns tend to rank well. This year, 10 of the top 25 places are college towns.”

That’s another area in which we suck: no powerhouse university like the University of Texas at Austin or Berkeley. “Most cities the size of Dallas have a big university system,” he says. Sander gives us some credit for exemplary secondary schools. Thank goodness for the suburbs. (And, wanh, SMU.)

Though not in the top tier, Dallas is a hot spot for those with big aspirations, Sander says. “Dallas is great for employment and career growth, particularly in the corporate world.”

We also have a great transportation system: it’s that thing he mentioned before. We’re in the middle of nowhere with no reason to exist. But we’re smack dab between the two coasts. We’ve got good roads and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport makes it easy to fly anywhere.

“Subjectively, I assessed the Dallas area's three strengths or ‘pros’ as entertainment, arts and culture, and a diverse economy,” Sander says. “The three ‘cons’ are growth and sprawl, unattractive physical setting and summer heat. The numbers support these assessments.”

Rub it in.

“Crime was the big negative,” Sanders says. “Dallas ranks in the bottom 10 percent. Without that figure and long commute times the area probably would have scored somewhat better.”

Fort Worth had a bigger drop in the rankings than Dallas, from No. 36 to No. 133. “Crime is bad, and health and air quality are also bad,” Sander says. “But future job growth projections are somewhat higher than Dallas.”

Dallas ranks higher than average for leisure, primarily because of really good restaurants, indoor entertainment and golf courses, says Sander.

Sander and Sperling also do more unusual rankings. Dallas makes the list of the top 10 cities for most romantic for baby boomers, coming in at No. 9, but doesn’t appear in the top 10 for dating or number of singles. (Maybe middle-aged baby boomers don’t date.)

But here’s bad news: Of the “best colleges for sexual health,” Texas Christian University in Fort Worth ranked No. 78 out of 100. These rankings included data on access to information about sexually transmitted diseases and access to condoms. Even Brigham Young (at No. 100) beat out SMU, which isn’t on the list at all. So, like, gross, SMU. (Incidentally, Yale came in at No. 1 in that department.)

The good news: Dallas ranks No. 21 out of cities for “most restful sleep.” (See above.) Want to get a really good night’s sleep? Move to Orange County.

We’re a sick lot, however: Dallas ranks No. 7 on “worst places for respiratory infections” and No. 10 for stress. Tell us about it. And I can think of some other rankings where Dallas could really kick ass: manicure shops, breast augmentations, facelifts, crazy drivers, McMansions. Alas, no info on those categories.

So here are Best Places’ rankings for major Texas cities. San Antonio has overtaken Austin. Sander says lower housing and living costs are at least part of the reason. --Glenna Whitley

TEXAS CITIES RANKED
51. San Antonio
55. Abilene
103. Austin-Round Rock
132. Dallas-Plano-Irving
133. Fort Worth-Arlington
152. San Angelo
165. El Paso
167. Sherman-Denison
168. Lubbock
169. Amarillo
172. Corpus Christi
175. College Station-Bryan
254. Brownsville-Harlingen
255. Midland-Odessa
256. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown
265. Beaumont-Port Arthur
267. Wichita Falls
276. Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood
303. Waco
320. Tyler
321. Longview
343. Laredo
344. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission
358. Victora

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