Transform Rockford’s goal is an audacious one – to transform the city into one of the top 25 communities in the country by 2025.
That begs the question, who decides the top 25?
There are a number of organizations that have made a cottage industry out of rankings. Gallup is the oldest and most respected. The site www.247wallst.com runs a number of interesting lists. Sperling’s Best Places (www.bestplaces.net) is one of the sites favored by the local Region 1 Planning Council.
Then there’s Livability, which compiles and publishes data on just about anything you can think of, from Best College Towns, Best Places to Retire, Best Places for African Americans, etc. In January, Livability released its fifth annual 100 Best Places to Live list.
And if you look at the top 25, one thing becomes clear, Livability loves college towns. Twenty-three of the top 25 are home to major colleges or universities, ranging from No. 1, Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, to No. 25, Pullman, Washington, where Washington State University is located.
There are very good reasons cities with large universities are favored. By their very nature, colleges have very highly educated employees. That brings professionals to town and the culture that comes with it. Major colleges also attract students from all over the world, many of which end up staying nearby. Colleges also largely are recession-proof. There are fluctuations, but the economy doesn’t fluctuate as much as it does in manufacturing communities.
Rockford’s largest higher educational issue is Rockford University and there isn’t much potential to grow that much larger. There were plans years ago to grow Rock Valley College into a four-year university. Springfield is the most recent example, adding some four-year degree programs to its junior college to create the University of Illinois-Springfield.
There isn’t any momentum for that right now. RVC has been more intent on increasing its partnership with Northern Illinois University. Since we won’t be a major college town by 2025, you can look at the Livability top 25 for clues to what other attributes are typically associated with top 25 cities.
- The arts: Ann Arbor was cited for having the Ann Arbor Arts Fair. Madison, Wisconsin, and Cambridge, Massachussetts, both were lauded for being top music destinations. Bellevue, Washington, has a highly-respected Bellevue Arts Craft Fair.
- Health: Davis, California, is such a bike-friendly town that it’s home to the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. The Citizens’ Greener initiative of Evanston, Illinois, was pointed out, and Columbia, Missouri, has the award-winning MKT Nature and Fitness Trail.
- Food: Madison, and Burlington, Vermont, were noted as being Foodie cities and Boulder, Colorado, has a high density of microbrews.
There won’t be a University of Illinois-Rock Valley by 2025, and we’ll never have the climate of San Luis Obispo, California, but we can make progress on the categories above.
What was Livability’s complete Top 25?
- Ann Arbor, Michigan, population 116,194
- Manhatten, Kansas, population 55,769
- Covallis, Oregon, population 54,981
- Iowa City, Iowa, population 71,832
- Charlottesville, Virginia, population 45,084
- Palo Alto, California, population 66,478
- Madison, Wisconsin, population 243,122
- Santa Cruz, California, population 62,752
- Rochester, Minnesota, population 110,275
- Bellevue, Washington, population 134,630
- Overland Park, Kansas, population 181,464
- Cambridge, Massachussetts, population 107,916
- Berkeley, California, population 117,384
- Fort Collins, Colorado, population 153,292
- Irvine, California, population 238,474
- Boulder, Colorado, population 103,919
- San Luis Opispo, California, population 46,337
- Davis, California, population 66,510
- Lincoln, Nebraska, population 269,726
- Evanston, Illinois, population 75,603
- Columbia, Missouri, population 115,391
- Chapel Hill, North Carolina, population 58,766
- Lawrence, Kansas, populaton 91,305
- Burlington, Vermont, population 42,570
- Pullman, Washington, population 31,502