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The midwest was well represented!
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#1 Nashville, Tenn.
Our top pick offers affordable homes, a mild climate and a phenomenal entertainment scene that goes far beyond country.

#2 Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
The Twin Cities offer a hip and progressive atmosphere with a midwestern sensibility, multiple cultural outlets, pro teams in all four major sports, a dozen universities and colleges, and a diverse economy.

What we loved: Nye's Polonaise Room, where singles, couples, families and priests enjoy the piano bar or Ruth Adams and the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band.

Okay, Twin Cities. It's time to drop that lingering sense of inferiority -- the suspicion that you can't compete with the big boys. You're a cosmopolitan gem. And for travelers who crest a hill as they approach Minneapolis, the skyline is as riveting as Oz.

The seven-county metro area spreads out from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are built along the banks of the Mississippi. Minneapolis is progressive and hip, but with a midwestern sensibility. Its cultural beacons include the Guthrie Theater and the Walker Art Center. In St. Paul, there's the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, home of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Opera, and the Fitzgerald Theater, which hosts A Prairie Home Companion. The Twin Cities are among the smallest markets to have pro teams in all four major sports.

In addition to the University of Minnesota, which has two campuses, the Twin Cities are home to a dozen private colleges. The economy includes government plus businesses involved in retail, technology, medicine, finance, recreation, agriculture and manufacturing.

Yes, the winter weather isn't for wusses. But locals embrace the cold with winter festivals, and they make the most of every pleasant day with trails, parks and outdoor restaurants.

In a testament to the vibrancy and ease of city living, Tom Berthiaume, 57, and his wife, Cherryl Kachenmeister, 59, gave up their suburban home on prestigious Lake Minnetonka for a 2,000-square-foot loft in the warehouse district of Minneapolis, for which they paid $635,000.

Downtown St. Paul tends to be less expensive than Minneapolis. In the rapidly developing outer suburbs, you can get a newish, four-bedroom, three-bath home in Anoka County (to the north) or Lakeville (to the south) in the low to mid $300s. Visitors from the coasts will chuckle over so-called traffic congestion, and improved public transportation, including light and commuter rail, is in the works.

#3 Albuquerque, N.M.
This laid-back city offers resort-town ambience, a boomtown economy and cow-town prices.

#4 Atlanta, Ga.
The capital of Georgia is a vibrant city with a rich history, good health care, a great cultural scene and genteel neighborhoods shaded by magnificent dogwood and magnolia trees.

#5 Austin, Tex.
Home to the University of Texas, the state capitol, the Zachary Scott Theatre and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, Austin is a sophisticated salsa of culture, history and politics.

#6 Kansas City
This city split along state lines offers something for everyone: from stately houses to downtown lofts and world-class museums to barbecue.
What we loved: Pryde's Old Westport, a city landmark that sells kitchen gadgets, utensils and homemade pies. The ghostly diorama at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Kansas City offers something for everyone, at prices that coast-dwellers can only dream of. Young families often seek out Overland Park, Kan., a sprawling suburb where kids walk to school, bike in packs and generally rule the neighborhood. There, a four-bedroom house in a subdivision with a pool starts at about $250,000.

Young professionals and empty nesters gravitate to downtown lofts near the city's jazz clubs and hotels; those spaces start at about $150,000 and run into the millions. In Brookside, on the Missouri side, buyers can score a stately house on a tree-shaded street for less than $300,000.

Kansas City has its drawbacks on either side of the line, including low achievement-test scores in the city's Missouri schools and a flava-free atmosphere in some of the Kansas 'burbs. But states that otherwise compete with each other like rival high schools both take pride in the first-class collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the juicy steaks at the Plaza III, and the wide boulevards, ubiquitous fountains, tangy barbecue, raspy blues and smoky jazz that add up to greatness in this larger-than-life city.

Talk about a split personality. On the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro area, you get big houses, terrific schools, kid-friendly streets and enough soccer fields to smother Rhode Island. On the Missouri side, including the city proper, you'll find world-class museums, a booming arts district, historic buildings and a $3-billion downtown renewal. Even the local passion for ribs splits down the middle: You're either a fan of Gates Bar-B-Q or Arthur Bryant's.

#7 Asheville, N.C.
A virtually franchise-free downtown, world-class cuisine, amazing crafts, live music venues and fine arts make this city tucked into the Blue Ridge mountain range one of a kind.

#8 Ithaca, N.Y.
True, it's in the Finger Lakes boonies of central New York, but Ithaca is an Ivy League outpost with great food, beautiful scenery and Naderite politics.

#9 Pittsburgh, Pa.
Currently undergoing a renaissance, this hidden gem has distinctive neighborhoods, tree-lined streets, glittering skyscrapers, upscale shops and a diversified economy.

#10 Iowa City, Iowa
An oasis on the prairie, this wholesome middle-American city is bursting with creative and intellectual energy.

What we loved: Eating at the Hamburg Inn #2 with students, workmen and one lone farmer. Browsing at the Prairie Lights Bookstore. Having the countryside so close by.

An oasis on the prairie, Iowa City is a wholesome middle-American town bursting with creative and intellectual energy. Such is its charm that although isolation may at first put off corporate candidates, once they visit, they never want to leave.

Iowa City is primarily a college town, home of the University of Iowa and its renowned writers program. The school lends stability to the economy and has attracted employers, such as Oral B.

Amid its Main Street storefronts, Iowa City's downtown surprises with bold strokes of contemporary architecture. During the summer Friday Night Concert Series, the streets close to traffic so that pedestrians can stroll around and listen to local bands. The annual jazz festival, the restored Englert Theatre, the university's Hancher Auditorium and the Riverside Theatre's Shakespeare Festival add to downtown's appeal. Although a recent tornado damaged many businesses and homes, the city is taking it in stride and the cleanup is well under way.

You can drive from one side of town to the other in about 20 minutes -- in traffic. House-hunters can peruse a varied menu of homes, which range in style from Victorian to contemporary. Prices start at $135,000 for a townhouse, $230,000 for a single-family home, and $280,000 for a new home on a small lot that has a lot of amenities and needs little upkeep.

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^^^Yeah, it is cool to see, but I'm not sure how accurate it is. I also don't know what they're talking about when they say there is a "lingering sense of inferiority". From my experience living here, it's the other way around....a quiet lingering sense of superiority (we might not show it, some might act humble, but deep down inside, we know we're better) :) . Also, the traffic congestion is the same as any other metro with a similar population.

I read a local news blog and this is what it said about the report:

Consider yourself smart. Minneapolis-St. Paul ranks No. 2 in Kiplinger's 2006 "50 Smart Places to Live" list. It's the first time the financial magazine has put together this ranking.

The study looked for cities they say combine affordability and livability -- places that are vibrant and fun and where a dollar still goes a long way.

OK, I have to admit I think this is one of the best places to live as far as things to do and quality of life, but I'm not so sure about housing affordability. I've included the National Realtors Association's most recent listings of median prices for homes in some of the cities on the list.

According to Kiplinger’s report, the median home price for the Twin Cities is $158,880. Yet the National Realtors Association disagrees, saying the median home price for a home here is $230,500.

As you can see, the Twin Cities is by far the most expensive place to buy a home
. Clearly that's just one factor in what makes this place so attractive. This study in particular looked at factors such as lifestyle characteristics: public education, health care, the local arts scene as well as recreational facilities.

To see more details, check out the study yourself at Kiplinger's. Here's the full list:

The 50 Smart Cities

1. Nashville, TN -- median price for a home: $170,900
2. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN -- $230,500
3. Albuquerque, NM -- 174,100
4. Atlanta, GA -- $170,200
5. Austin, TX -- $167,000
6. Kansas City, MO -- $156,500
7. Asheville, NC
8. Ithaca, NY
9. Pittsburgh, PA -- $114,300
10. Iowa City, IA
11. St. George, UT
12. Harrisburg, PA
13. Lexington, KY -- $150,700
14. Indianapolis, IN -- $122,000
15. Logan, UT
16. La Crosse, WI
17. Rochester, MN
18. St. Louis, MO -- $138,800
19. State College, PA
20. Madison, WI -- $224,600
21. Provo, UT
22. Philadelphia, PA -- $215,100
23. Fargo, ND -- $134,600
24. Columbia, MO
25. Ann Arbor, MI
26. Richmond, VA
27. Olympia, WA
28. Bismarck, ND
29. Morgantown, WV
30. Lafayette, IN
31. Sioux Falls, IN
32. St. Cloud, MN
33. Evansville, IN
34. Fort Collins, CO
35. Jefferson City, MO
36. Tacoma, WA
37. Lancaster, PA
38. Virginia Beach, VA
39. Charlottesville, VA
40. Boise City, ID
41. Abilene, TX
42. Lynchburg, VA
43. College Station, TX
44. Bloomington, IN
45. Oshkosh, WI
46. Wichita, KS
47. Eugene, OR
48. Burlington, VT
49. Ogden, UT
50. Holland, MI Link
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