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U.S. Suburbs with a City Feel, According to Zillow and Yelp

More and more Americans are working remotely and rethinking how and where they want to…

  • October 31, 2020

More and more Americans are working remotely and rethinking how and where they want to live. Urban amenities, like restaurants, nightlife, museums and sports venues, have long drawn Americans to live in large cities.

While demand remains strong there, many buyers are seeking a new balance of indoor and outdoor space and affordability while still maintaining that big-city feel.

A new Cityness Index by online real estate company Zillow and crowd-sourced review experts Yelp Inc. pinpoints the U.S. suburbs that best strike that balance.

There is a “Great Reshuffling” on the horizon. Yelp data shows that the number of quotes requested for movers recently increased 34% in San Francisco, 22% in New York and 6% in Los Angeles.

This desire to move is also reflected in a recent Zillow poll of people newly working from home because of the pandemic, with two-thirds saying they would consider moving if they had the flexibility to work from home occasionally.

Zillow and Yelp’s top 10 affordable suburbs with a city feel:

Waterbury, Connecticut

Typical home value: $139,304

Cityness Index Score: 67.6

Nestled between New Haven and Hartford, Waterbury has a quintessential New England feel. Downtown Waterbury boasts the historic Palace Theater, the Mattatuck Museum for art lovers and a University of Connecticut campus. “Waterbury offers a wide variety of international eats: Favorites on Yelp include Muyuri Indian Bistro, La Pupusa Loca, and Hasna’s Afghan Fusion Cuisine, and locals and tourists alike love the donuts at Brooklyn Baking,” says Lewis.

Housing affordability is a major draw, as the typical Waterbury home is 29% less expensive than the typical home in New Haven and 46% less expensive than the typical U.S. home.

Lowell, Massachusetts

Typical home value: $323,576

Cityness Index Score: 64.7

Lowell sits about 25 miles northwest of Boston near the New Hampshire border, and offers an ideal blend of city-like amenities with suburban conveniences. Residents can immerse themselves in the history of America’s Industrial Revolution at Lowell National Historical Park or take a casual stroll along the Merrimack River, which winds along downtown Lowell. Highly-rated businesses like Coffee and Cotton, Panela and Life Alive make Lowell a great option for people looking for a variety of locally-owned restaurants and coffee shops.

Yelp data shows that Boston residents may be interested in moving, as consumer interest in movers recently increased 21% in the Boston metropolitan area, and home values in Lowell are about half what you would expect to pay in Boston proper. Brockton, Mass. also scored highly in our Cityness Index, demonstrating the plentiful options available in the Boston area.

Joliet, Illinois

Typical home value: $155,018

Cityness Index Score: 63.8

Joliet is perhaps best known for being home to the Chicagoland Speedway, but there’s plenty more to this Chicago suburb. Businesses like My Grain Brewing and Home Cut Donuts are highly rated Joliet favorites on Yelp.

Nearby Aurora, Ill., nearly made the list, but Joliet’s housing affordability advantage gave it the edge. The typical home in Joliet is about 40% less expensive than the typical Chicago home.

Sunrise, Florida

Typical home value: $243,078

Cityness Index Score: 60.7

Minutes away from the beach and the Everglades, natural beauty is never far when you’re in Sunrise. For sports fans, Sunrise is home to the NHL’s Florida Panthers and several golf courses. Locals rave about All That Jazz, My Organic Corner, and Bap Bistro in their Yelp reviews.

Yelp data shows that consumer interest for movers in the Miami metropolitan area recently increased by 11% and, with a portion of those people likely to be eying city-like suburbs, they are spoiled for choice. Multiple South Florida communities scored well in our Cityness Index, including Delray Beach and Boca Raton, but none could surpass the mix of affordability and city-like amenities that Sunrise offers. The typical home in Sunrise is 36% less expensive than in the city of Miami.

Pasadena, Texas

Typical home value: $168,080

Cityness Index Score: 60.5

About 15 miles southeast of downtown Houston you’ll find Pasadena, home to one of the largest urban wildlife preserves in the U.S. Yelp users rate Sycamore Grounds and Credeur’s Cajun Cookin’ as some of their top local haunts, and enjoy the great outdoors at Armand Bayou Nature Center.

Pasadena offers an affordability edge over Houston, with the typical home value 14% lower.

Lancaster, California

Typical home value: $320,494

Cityness Index Score: 59.3

Lancaster is located near the north edge of the greater Los Angeles area, within the Antelope Valley. Tens of thousands of visitors flock to the area each year for the California Poppy Festival to view more than 1,700 acres of the state’s official flower.

“Lancaster has a growing food and brewery scene. Yelp users particularly love the highly-rated Zero Degrees Custard and Italian Ice, and Bravery Brewing, and the suburb offers charming independent businesses like The Modern Tea Room,” says Lewis.

Yelp data from the Los Angeles metropolitan area indicates that residents may be looking for a change, as consumer interest in local real estate agents increased 156%. Housing affordability relative to the area shot Lancaster into the top 10 — the typical Lancaster home is less than half the price you’d expect to pay in the city of Los Angeles.

Hampton, Virginia

Typical home value: $188,373

Cityness Index Score: 58.6

With the Chesapeake Bay to the north and east and the Hampton Roads Harbor to the south, Hampton residents have plenty of options for water and beach activities. There’s no shortage of good eats in Hampton: Locals rave about Sly Clyde Ciderworks and Got Fish? Seafood on Yelp. Music is central to the history of Hampton thanks to the Hampton Coliseum, a popular venue with Phish fans who lovingly call it “the mothership” — the arena has also hosted other legendary bands, including the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead.

Typical home values in Hampton are nearly 60% less than nearby Virginia Beach (city) and 36% less expensive than the typical U.S. home.

Marietta, Georgia

Typical home value: $318,069

Cityness Index Score: 58.4

Marietta is about 20 miles northwest of Atlanta, and offers residents easy access to Interstate 75 to go out on the town and experience all Atlanta has to offer. This suburb’s spot in the top 10 is due in large part to its affordability. Although typical home values in Marietta are slightly higher than the city of Atlanta, it’s still relatively more affordable than other nearby suburbs, like Canton and Smyrna.

Known for its abundance of nature and parks, the culinary scene in Marietta rivals that of Atlanta, with favorites like The Marietta Local and Spring, according to Yelp.

Norman, Oklahoma

Typical home value: $180,833

Cityness Index Score: 58.2

Home to the University of Oklahoma, Norman offers a small-town atmosphere with a vibrant nightlife in addition to its plentiful coffee shops and parks. Yelp users rate Neighborhood Jam, Charleston’s and El Huevo Mexi-Fresh as some of their top local haunts. Norman homes are generally more expensive than those in Oklahoma City, but Norman still offers an affordability advantage over the typical U.S. home.

“Norman is a gem nestled in the heart of Oklahoma,” says Heather Schleeper, Broker at Heather & Company Realty Group. “People are drawn to Norman for its small town charm and historical district, while still being able to enjoy a larger city feel due to its many thriving businesses.”

Tempe, Arizona

Typical home value: $338,052

Cityness Index Score: 57.9

Just east of Phoenix and home to Arizona State University, Tempe is known for a bustling performing arts scene: Top-rated businesses in the arts and entertainment category on Yelp include Tempe Center for the Arts and Painting with a Twist. Locals and tourists alike enjoy soaking in the surrounding scenery while kayaking and paddleboarding at Tempe Town Lake.

“Tempe is at the center of it all,” said Nick Stair, a Tempe resident and real estate agent with the Laughton Team. “Not only is it geographically at the heart of the Phoenix metro area, but it has its own arts and culture scene, and access to the great outdoors with Tempe Town Lake for bike rides and boating, and Papago Park for hiking.”


The Cityness Index is designed to highlight cities with vibrant amenities and relatively affordable housing, which result in a city-like environment in a more-affordable suburban region.