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S.L. is rated best in the West

Magazine gives city high marks for safety, recreation and more

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When Brigham Young looked out over the Salt Lake Valley from the mouth of Emigration Canyon and proclaimed "This is the place," it probably never occurred to him that 153 years later a national publication would agree with his pronouncement. But that's just what Money magazine did this week when it named Salt Lake City the best place to live in the western United States.

Which means Salt Lake has once again scored big in another of those national "beauty contests." In its December issue, due on newsstands Nov. 20, Money's 1.9 million subscribers will be told that Salt Lake City is the "Best Western City to Live in the U.S."

Money annually ranks communities for their livability, based on a variety of criteria. Money rated Salt Lake tops in the West based on its strong performance in several ranking categories, including education, culture, recreation, health and safety.

Portland, Ore., won overall honors as best place to live in the U.S. (calling into question how Portland, also located in the West, could be best overall while Salt Lake is best in the West, but it's their ranking and they make the rules).

In other regional rankings, Providence, R.I., was named best city in the Northeast; Chicago won the Midwest; Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, N.C., scored highest in the South; and Sarasota, Fla., was named the best small city in America (pop. 530,900).

In addition to the six winners, Money also named seven runners-up that got high marks but didn't quite make the cut: Austin, Texas; Bloomington, Ind.; New York City; Phoenix; Rochester, Minn.; San Diego and San Francisco.

The editors went to great pains to assure readers that Salt Lake was not chosen simply because it will host the 2002 Winter Games, although it conceded that the Olympics are "probably the best advertising a city can buy."

Robert Safian, managing editor, noted in a release sent with the magazine that while the Olympics will showcase Salt Lake, " . . . its future looks solid long after the games leave town."

Money waxes rhapsodic about Utah's recreational opportunities — particularly their relative closeness to the Salt Lake metro area — and notes that Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches national parks are roughly four hours away, "as is Moab, an area that boasts some of the best hiking and mountain biking in the country."

On the "closeness" issue, Money quotes Mayor Rocky Anderson as boasting, "I can leave my office and be up the canyon hiking in less than half an hour."

But Salt Lake is not all fun and games, Money assures, pointing out that the area's job market is "booming" and that employment over the next 10 years is expected to increase "by a staggering 28.5 percent, ranking it No. 11 in the U.S.," much of this growth driven by technology companies.

Although many locals bemoan what they perceive to be the high cost of housing along the Wasatch Front — First Security Corp.'s (now Wells Fargo) cost of living index shows housing prices have inflated 73.5 percent over the last 12 years vs. a 46.4 percent average rise nationally — Money says low housing costs is one of the area's strengths.

The magazine says the average price of a single-family home in Salt Lake is "just $138,700 — yet those numbers are trending healthily upward. Homes have appreciated 7.9 percent in the last year, besting the pace of places like San Jose, Calif."

And Money sees Salt Lake as a relatively safe place to live, citing "only 380 violent crimes per 100,000 persons last year, nearly half the national average."

Salt Lake's "hot spot," according to Money, is "Brewvies (677 S. 200 West) movie theater and restaurant, where you can dine while watching flicks."

Money mentions a "fun fact" for each of its six winning cities. Salt Lake's fun fact is that more than 60 percent of the city's households have computers, the highest rate in the nation. That's probably a better "fun fact" than overall winner Portland's, which Money cites as, "The only U.S. city with a volcano inside the city limits."

E-mail: max@desnews.com