Livability is out with its annual, if pandemic-delayed, Top 100 Best Places to Live. I can’t really comment on the list itself do to massive personal bias, but I want to talk how it’s more relevant than ever. 

The Liv100 has a certain set of core values summed up in the helpful acronym: LIVE.

In order to be a great place to live, cities and towns need to be: 

Level, as in offer a level playing field for everyone to succeed; 

Inclusive places where diversity of age, gender, race, ethnicity, and income exist and are celebrated; 

Variety, because having choices in all things is important but “lice” wasn’t as good of an acronym; and 

Engaged because having diversity and choices doesn’t matter if no one takes advantage of them.

This is certainly an updated set of values from the origins of Best Places rankings. But it’s not wholly changed by any means.

The pandemic era has caused a vast number of changes in life and lifestyle for many, but sadly not nearly all of us. A lot of us are spending way more time in our homes than we ever did before. Millions lost their jobs or were furloughed. Millions more were sent from their offices and allowed and encouraged to work from home. Millions still are and might for the foreseeable future. 

One key change was this: It caused a lot of people to reconsider where they live. Americans used to be much more mobile than we were in the days leading up to the pandemic. Fewer than 10% of Americans moved during 2019, a record low. Migration has been on a decades-long decline. However, a study fielded by Ipsos in early June found that an astonishing 41% of 18-34 year-olds had at least considered moving and 18% had actually relocated at least temporarily. 

There was no clear trend, however, in where they were moving. Some wanted large cities, some small. Some wanted big cities, some rural areas. Some wanted to be closer to natural attractions, some wanted someplace touristy. Some tech workers moved to Barbados, which tried to entice people with 12-month visas. Many, but maybe not as many as people thought, left expensive cities like New York City and San Francisco. The theory was, “why pay those insane rents if you can remote work and everything is closed anyway.” Many, were sadly forced out of where they lived due to the horrendous economics of the pandemic and the botched government response that has prolonged our suffering.

A lot has been written about how this might bode well for small places, with less density. Living in close quarters seems less desirable in an age of social distancing. But those small places are at risk of losing a lot of their charm, too, as the restaurant and hospitality industry continue to get pummeled. 

Some stayed put, and instead focused on shifting and improving their set-up in their existing spaces. 

But mostly all of the trauma associated with the pandemic caused people to ask themselves my favorite question: “Does where we live allow us to live how we want to live.”

It’s a question I posed to a high school friend who is thinking of leaving New York City with her family and settling somewhere a little less expensive. One of the places on her short list is my village, which clocks in at #37 on the Liv100. She pinged me for my thoughts. 

We spent a while on the phone catching up and talking through what I love about where I live. I asked her a lot of questions but most of her questions came back to those same values I mentioned earlier. 

I can’t imagine having gone through this pandemic anywhere else. I love that I’ve had so many places to walk. Sometimes my family drives to other parts of Oak Park to explore our village more than ever. We’ve even taken to walking through alleys and checking out the garages of Oak Park. We love having so many parks we can walk to. Tennis courts, once they reopened, were a welcome source of exercise. But mostly, having front porches to sit on and chat with neighbors. Or bumping into friends and classmates every time we went for a stroll. Everyone pitching in and picking up groceries for those who felt uncomfortable running errands. The sense of community, coupled with the walkable options, made it all incrementally better.

Because pandemic or no, what makes a great place to live doesn’t really change. The levers might shift a bit. Affordability and opportunity have gained importance in the last few years. Not coincidentally, those themes have been the focus of the Liv100 the past two years. 

In the end, we really do want some place to live that allows us to live the life we want. Or these days, to make the most of the life we have. It’s a side effect of the pandemic that so many are asking these important questions, which I think we’d all be well served to ask ourselves from time to time. 

But I hope that wherever you are, or find yourself at the end of this, you’re satisfied that the answer is a resounding, “yes.”

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