Best places to live in Colorado: Huntsville beats Colorado Springs again

Workers staffing the future U.S. Space Command headquarters have a good chance of being based in either the first or the second-best place to live in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report’s “2022-2023 Best Places to Live in the United States.”

And sorry Colorado, it isn’t what you want to hear. Once again Hunstville, Ala., upstages Colorado Springs, just as it did when it was awarded the future headquarters of the U.S. Space Command, currently at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, back in January 2021. Huntsville ranks No. 1, Colorado Springs ranks No. 2 in the magazine’s list.

Colorado leaders have been seeking to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to place the headquarters of the military’s newest branch in Huntsville as politically motivated, decrying it as a case where patronage outweighed common sense, fiscal prudence, and the region’s deep-rooted expertise going back to the Cold War days of Cheyenne Mountain. But last week the Department of Defense’s inspector general released a report saying the selection process was on the up and up.

The argument that Colorado Springs offers a far superior quality of life than Huntsville is one that can no longer be made, according to the magazine’s latest ranking, which sorted the 150 largest metros on a host of measures. The best that can be said is that they offer a comparably high quality of life.

But wait, did U.S. News & World Report, ala the Trump administration, change the criteria at the last minute? The magazine did add “air quality” this year as another factor in the quality of life score. Huntsville ranked first in that category. Colorado’s fuliginous metros, besotted each summer and fall by wildfires to the west, came in at the bottom on that measure.

Two years ago, Colorado had four of the top 10 metros and for the prior two years, Boulder was No. 1. Dirty air and expensive housing, however, helped seal Colorado’s fall from grace. Boulder fell three notches to fourth. And while Colorado Springs, a much more affordable place to live than Boulder, shot up four positions from sixth to second, it came up short again versus Huntsville, which went from third to first.

“Much of the shakeup we see at the top of this year’s ranking is a result of changing preferences,” said Devon Thorsby, real estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, in a release accompanying the rankings. “People moving across the country today are putting more emphasis on affordability and quality of life than on the job market, which in many ways takes a back seat as remote work options have become more standard.”

Denver suffered a startling slide from 14th in last year’s ranking down to 55th this year. Fort Collins wasn’t far behind, going from 17th last year to 54th this year. The two no longer make the top one-third.

“Both metro areas have been experiencing catastrophic wildfire seasons and have among the 15 lowest air quality scores out of the 150 metro areas on the list — a newly added factor to the Quality of Life Index,” the magazine said. Boulder joined them in the bottom 15 on air quality.

Other metros at the top of the rankings were Green Bay third; San Jose, Calif., at fifth, up from 31st; Raleigh and Durham, N.C., in sixth place, Fayetteville, Ark., in seventh and Portland, Maine, in the eighth spot.

If there is any consolation, Huntsville still lacks low for “desirability.” It may be a great place to live, according to the overall ranking, but most people still don’t view it that way.

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