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Lawrence ranks only slightly above average in the list of great, small U.S. cities


Maybe it is because today is my anniversary (18 happy years, thank you) that I realize the description “slightly above average” is perfectly fine. If I were slightly above average at taking out the trash, that would be a real win. If I were slightly above average at picking up dirty clothes, a parade may be thrown. (You don’t want to know what is thrown now.) So, remember that as I report a new ranking of small cities in America shows Lawrence is slightly above average.

The financial website WalletHub has ranked about 1,200 U.S. cities that range in size from 25,000 to 100,000 people. After looking at factors such as housing prices, quality of schools, income levels, restaurants, health statistics and other metrics, Lawrence was ranked in the 54th percentile. That means we are better than 54 percent of all the other small communities in America. Not exactly the type of slogan to put on a T-shirt, but not bad either.

There are some other ways to spin the data, though. Of all the small cities ranked in Kansas, Lawrence is No. 4 in the state. It is the top ranked community outside of Johnson County. If your SUV isn’t nice enough to live in Johnson County, come to Lawrence. Now that would work for a T-shirt.

Here’s a look at how Lawrence stacks up compared with other Kansas communities:

• Leawood: 99th percentile. Actually, it was ranked No. 3 overall in the country.

• Lenexa: 88th percentile.

• Shawnee: 85th percentile

• Lawrence: 54th percentile

• Dodge City: 52nd percentile

• Salina: 46th percentile

• Manhattan: 45th percentile

• Garden City: 39th percentile

• Hutchinson: 29th percentile

• Leavenworth: 25th percentile

I also took a look at how other Big 12 communities fared in the ranking. Thankfully, mathematics awareness isn’t a category that is scored in the ranking because the Big 12 has only 10 communities. Of those 10, only five are below 100,000 in population. Of those five, Lawrence ended up being, basically, average.

• Ames, Iowa: 80th percentile

• Morgantown, W.V.: 67th percentile

• Lawrence: 54th percentile

• Manhattan: 45th percentile

• Stillwater: 38th percentile

As is the case with most of these rankings, they are really subjective. How much weight do you give to our coffee shops per capita statistic versus our median family income statistic? Change the weighting a bit, and the ranking changes a lot.

But looking at the underlying data used to create these rankings can be instructive. Looking at Lawrence’s it gives you an idea of what our strong suits are compared with other communities. Generally, we are pretty healthy and educated, and we have a lot of amenities for a small community. Here’s a look at the major categories that were scored and where we ranked among the approximately 1,200 communities that were ranked. So, any ranking less than 600 means we are above average. Any ranking greater than 600 means we are below average. (I’ve included this explanation for Big 12 mathematicians.)

• Quality of life: We ranked 100th in this metric. It looked at our per capita numbers for things like bars, restaurants, coffee shops, performing arts theaters, movie theaters and other entertainment type of establishments. It also looked at commute times to work, the percentage of people who walk to work and how many hours we spend working per week. Being a top 100 community in quality of life is notable. It helps drive the image that many people have of Lawrence: It is a fun place. We have the best quality of life rating in the state. Next is Manhattan at No. 157. Notably, the Johnson County communities all ranked 700 or greater.

• Education and health: We ranked No. 187 in this metric. It looks at the quality of the school system, the number of high school graduates in the community, the number of people who have health insurance, the percentage of the population that is obese, the share of people who are physically active and several other factors. This is a pride point in Lawrence, and this shows we are doing well nationally. However, we are fifth in the state. Leawood, Shawnee, Manhattan, and Lenexa all ranked higher than Lawrence.

• Economic health: We ranked No. 443. It looks at factors like population growth, income growth, unemployment rates, poverty levels and debt levels. We again ranked fifth in this category behind all the Johnson County communities and Manhattan.

• Affordability: This was our lowest category at No. 912. It looks at both average housing prices and average rent prices and compares them with average income levels. College communities always are at a disadvantage in this ranking because there are many college students who don’t receive income but aren’t necessarily facing a housing affordability issue because their parents are paying their rent, for example. Lawrence had the second worst affordability ranking in the state. Manhattan’s was worse at No. 1,042. Notably, of the five Big 12 sites that were ranked, Lawrence was the most affordable. All the other towns had rankings of 1,000 or above.

• Safety: The report measured safety, but Lawrence wasn’t scored on that metric. The report had trouble getting the data from the FBI on several communities, and Lawrence was one of them. So Lawrence got a pass on safety for the purposes of this report. As recent events have illustrated, community leaders can’t afford to pass over that subject. Many more tragedies like the mass shooting that occurred on Massachusetts Street will make every other ranking irrelevant.


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