By Corbie Hill

Accolades, accolades, accolades. Raleigh’s got accolades like Batman’s got gadgets, yet what’s behind them? What kind of numbers do you crunch to find out it has the best airport, say? What goes into these glowing superlatives that inevitably start with the word “best?”

It would be cruel to tease that and not provide a few answers. We looked into a handful of City of Oaks “best of...” items by speaking to folks with experience in those arenas. Here’s what we found.

Best Big City in the Southeast


Money Magazine, September 2016
(Related: US News and World Report, #7 best place to live in the US, Feb 2017; Southern Living, #8 of South’s Best Cities 2017)


“I did not expect to stay in Raleigh when I moved here,” admits Marie Schacht, director of Hopscotch Design Fest. She’d grown up in Virginia and went to college in Charlottesville, and spent five years there after graduation. She wanted to move somewhere bigger, and she would visit friends in Austin, San Francisco, Seattle and other really happening
US cities with that in the back of her mind. Yet it didn’t really seem feasible to achieve her professional dreams in any of those settings. In 2013, Schacht landed in Raleigh, where she found fantastic creative momentum, all in
a very livable city.

“I have traveled extensively, so I have seen a lot of different cities and places, both nationally and internationally,” she says. “I think Raleigh’s unique.”

One thing that stands out is the focus on collaboration: people are motivated and professional, Schacht notes, but not competitive. There’s a common bottom line, too, that Raleigh professionals want to excel at their careers, she observes, but also enjoy their lives. It’s a city with several world-class museums, proximity to major universities, and a wealth of live music venues – not to mention easy access to the outdoors via the greenway system or a short drive out of town.

People here work, Schacht continues, but then they go home at a reasonable hour to spend time with family or friends. This certainly resonates with her. “I want to be at the top of my field and I want to achieve a lot,” she says, “but I also like going out to dinner and I also really enjoy hanging out with friends, and that’s important.”

If Schacht loves life and work in Raleigh, she also loves the ease of leaving town for a few days. The city’s about equidistant from the mountains or beach – take your pick – and it’s also easy to catch a flight up to New York for a few days. Raleigh is a hub, Schacht says, and it’s remarkably well-connected compared to other cities she’s seen.

“There’s not some looming expectation of what it means to live here,” Schacht says. “You really are kind of shaping what you want out of your life.”

#3 Best Cities for Young Families

ValuePenguin, February 2016

“Usually on Sunday afternoons, my wife, son Salem, and myself will walk to Chuck’s Burgers and have dinner in the early afternoon,” says Sam Ratto. “Then, we walk to Treat and have an ice cream cone. They serve Mapleview Farms ice cream, and they have cones for your dogs!” For Ratto, head chocolate maker at Videri Chocolate Factory and machine dreamer at chocolate grinder company, Raleigh is perfect indeed for his young family. There are great parks, he says, as well as spectacular museums. He lists Marbles Kids Museum, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, CAM Raleigh, and the NC Museum of History – all of which he can reach on foot.

“I think a lot of people move here from more expensive places because the lower cost of living allows them to work less and have more time to spend with their family,” realtor Ellen Pitts of Harmony Realty offers. “You can especially see that with companies like SAS and their family-friendly policies, which is definitely a trend I have noticed in the Triangle.” Municipalities have responded to the influx of families with remarkable parks and rec facilities, she continues, including BMX and skateboarding parks, parks with equipment designed for special needs children, and parks with canoes, sailboats, and SUP boards. Plus, Pitts says, there are several youth symphonies in the area, not to mention the North Carolina Symphony’s Instrument Zoo and Young People’s Concerts series. Parents like Ratto are pretty smitten with the city. “I love living downtown!” he says.

If the city draws young families, it draws fresh grads and twenty-somethings, too.

“Lots of places have affordable housing and jobs, so that can’t be the only thing that draws people,” says Pitts. “I think it’s the culture that makes young people love it here.” In the 17 years Pitts has lived here, she’s seen Raleigh (and the Triangle, in general) blossom into a funky, hip area – the kind of walkable, artsy, foodie scene that draws Millennials like tattooed moths to a flame. “If you’re into locally roasted artisan coffee, we’ve got it,” Pitts says. “Want to ride your bike to work on an extensive greenway system? You can do it here.”

Pitts’ own specialty is urban farming, and she notes that Raleigh is a hot spot for that as well. On a recent Multiple Listings Service search, she found 2,546 Triangle properties for sale with urban farming-specific keywords in their ads.

Videri Chocolate Factory
327 W Davie St, Raleigh

Harmony Realty Triangle
1289 Fordham Blvd, Ste 103, Chapel Hill


Best-Connected Medium-Sized Airport (RDU)

MIT International Center for Air Transportation, May 2017

“Among the medium-sized airports out there, Raleigh came up #1 as we updated the study about three months ago,” says William Swelbar, research engineer at MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation. Swelbar and co-author Michael D. Wittman used an equation that takes into account an airport’s number of daily scheduled flights per destination, nonstop destinations and connected destinations. They added a weighted factor, too, to account for the quality of an airport’s destinations, meaning destinations like London or Atlanta give an airport a higher score than small regional airports. When they ran the numbers, RDU came out on top among medium-sized airports, beating previous champion Saint Louis.

“It really does speak to the underlying strength of the Raleigh market, the economic and demographic strengths,” says Swelbar. “As a result ... airlines continue to add service to Raleigh and, lo and behold, you became the best-connected airport among the medium-sized airports in the country.”