Mapped: U.S. Cities With The Best Quality Of Life

Full text by Shaunacy Ferro for FastCo.Design

The OneD Scorecard compares the country’s 54 biggest urban centers on measures like quality of life, economic prosperity, education, and transit. 

A new data visualization project from Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit initiative focused on making information about the Detroit area accessible, now provides a broad look at the conditions of cities across America.

The OneD Scorecard -a collaboration between Data Driven Detroit, data visualization company NiJeL, and information designer Kat Hartman– compares 54 of the country’s largest urban areas based on measures like economic prosperity, educational preparedness, quality of life, social equity, and transit. The infographics aren’t always easy to read, but they do cover a rich breadth of information, reflecting scores calculated based on state, federal, and research group data.

In the main view, each of the five measures is represented by a slice of a pinwheel on a map, with higher scores shown as larger slices. But it’s a bit easier to compare the data in some of the other visualizations the site offers. For instance, in one view, you can choose two regions to compare, like Detroit and Las Vegas, visualized as a wheel showing the variations in each category through shades of color. A bar graph view compares the cities on just one category at a time, allowing you to see that, for example, Seattle’s economy is crushing it, while Buffalo’s remains slow. 

In quality of life, economic strength, and social equity, where you live can make a huge difference. The Virginia Beach area scores 4.57 out of 5 on social equity, while the New York City/Newark/Bridgeport area–where income inequality is a hot-button issue–scores a lowly 1.61. The college-graduate-dense area of Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, and Baltimore scores a 4.22 in education, while the Las Vegas region gets slapped with a 1.22.

In the case of transit, most cities are equally mediocre, scoring between 1.69 and 2.69 out of 5. This is perhaps unsurprising, considering that on the whole, America’s transit systems suck. Yet here, the data seems to tell only part of the story. The percentage of workers with no vehicle negatively impacts a region’s overall score, which doesn’t take into account whether people can’t afford a car or don’t have cars because they don’t need them in a transit-rich city. Nor does it take light rail or subway rides into account, or measure hours of commute delays faced by non-drivers. This may account for why New York City’s transit score (2.69) is closely followed by that of Fresno, California, (2.61) a city that doesn’t break the top-50 list of cities with public transit commuting.

Check out the data for yourself here.


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