Is Seattle considered a desirable place to live? With our beautiful natural scenery, outdoorsy lifestyle and temperate climate, I’ve always thought so. But these days, not everyone seems to conjure up such positive associations with the city.
In fact, a new national survey suggests Seattle may have become one of the most highly polarizing cities. People either love it or hate it.
The survey of 1,000 U.S. adults was commissioned by Clever, an online real estate education platform. Market research provider Pollfish conducted the survey online in August, asking respondents about the reasons they live where they do and where they would most and least like to live.
One part of the survey asked respondents to pick the five most and least desirable cities from a list of the country’s 50 largest. Impressively, around 21% of respondents chose Seattle as one of the five best places to live — the second-highest percentage among the 50 cities.
That’s the good news. The bad news is around 16% of respondents included Seattle in their list of the five worst places to live, the seventh-highest percentage among the cities.
Add those two numbers up and you get a total of 37% of Americans who think Seattle is either one of the best big cities in the country or one of the worst.
Seattle was one of just three cities to make the Top 10 for both most and least desirable. But, hey, at least a higher percentage of folks put Seattle among the best than among the worst.
That wasn’t true of the other two most-polarizing cities. San Francisco, which also made the Top 10 for best and worst, was ranked among the most desirable by 19% of respondents, a little lower than the 21% who thought of it as one of the least desirable. And Los Angeles, the other city to land in both top 10s, fared even worse: It was the No. 1 least desirable city in the survey, selected by 27% of respondents, while 19% included it on their most desirable list.
The survey didn’t ask respondents their reasons for liking or disliking these cities. But it seems likely to me that a lot of those strong reactions have to do with “culture war” issues. Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles are all cities well-known for their highly-progressive policies, which is very appealing to some folks and a turnoff to others.
The city that ranked No. 1 as the most desirable is a very different kind of place: Virginia Beach, Virginia, chosen by slightly more than 21% of respondents. “It’s not very polarizing,” said Jaime Dunaway-Seale, data writer at Clever, “Nobody hates Virginia Beach.” She also thinks beach towns have a built-in appeal for many people — and Virginia Beach is also one of the more affordable big cities.
Seattle’s biggest fans were millennials, who ranked the Emerald City as the No. 1 most desirable city, according to Dunaway-Seale (24% of millennials placed it on their list of the most desirable). That didn’t surprise me at all. In the 2010s, Seattle was an “it” city for young millennials, who flocked here in such numbers that we became the fastest-growing big U.S. city.
But there wasn’t a clear distinction in Seattle’s appeal along generational lines. Seattle ranked highly on both most and least desirable lists for both younger and older adults. And in fact, baby boomers ranked Seattle higher than Gen Z.
“Compared with millennials, Gen Z was really drawn to the big, big cities like L.A. and New York,” Dunaway-Seale said. Los Angeles was the most desirable city for Gen Z, while Seattle ranked ninth.
Half of the 10 cities that ranked among the most desirable are some of the most expensive places to live in the U.S. — Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver. It’s no surprise then that among those surveyed who said they were dissatisfied with their current location, more than half (52%) felt they can’t afford to move to a more desirable area.
The survey also asked respondents about the most and least desirable states in which to live. Like Seattle, Washington wound up in the Top 10 on both rankings, along with four other states. Washington ranked 8th on both the most and least desirable lists, selected by 18% on both.
The four other most polarizing states were Florida, California, Texas and New York.