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Harrisburg metro comes in 35th among best places to live; Allentown ranks 111th  

Among central Pennsylvania and Lehigh Valley metro areas, Harrisburg leads the way, ranking 35th in the latest U.S. News & World Report analysis of the best places to live. 

The publication examined the nation’s 150 most populous metro regions, rating them based on quality of life, job market, the value of living there and people’s desire to live there. 

In Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh was 26th, followed by Harrisburg, Lancaster (61st), Reading (74th), Scranton (89th), York (92nd), Philadelphia (99th) and Allentown (111th). 

U.S. News noted that “the great outdoors are easily accessible in Harrisburg… . Bikers and runners take in the scenery of the Susquehanna River on the trails of Riverfront Park, which also hosts many of the metro area’s annual festivals and events. Residents also enjoy hiking the famous Appalachian Trail or camping and mountain biking in the many nearby state parks and forests.” 

“This city is within easy driving distance of Amish country, Gettysburg National Military Park and Hersheypark … . Big-city weekend getaways are also there for the taking; New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are a few hours away by car.” 

Ryan Unger, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC, wrote in an email that “we are excited to see the Harrisburg region recognized nationally as one of the best places to live in the country. We know that our region has a high quality of life with an affordable cost of living and it is great to see national publications like U.S. News agree.” 

He said the region “continues to outpace the state in job and population growth as people gravitate here for our business, recreation, culture and residential opportunities. We know we will see Harrisburg continue to be recognized on similar lists and move our way to the top.” 

Real estate agent Carole Kirchner was optimistic that Lancaster would improve as well from its ranking of 61st out of 150. 

“Honestly, I think we will move up on that list,” she said via email, echoing Unger. “I am finding that people love Lancaster and especially our city. It is thriving. I (was) born and raised in Lancaster city and have no desire to move anyplace else. I am also finding that people who moved away are coming back!” 

“Lancaster, Pennsylvania, offers a balance between natural and commercial spaces that residents appreciate,” U.S. News said. “Expansive farms rub elbows with manicured suburbs, which lead right into the bustling city. A short drive can take one through each of these environments. Each area boasts its own unique groups of inhabitants: farmers, families, college students and young professionals. From close-knit church communities to the indie coffee shop scene, Lancaster holds something for everyone.” 

U.S. News also praised Allentown, writing that “much of the charm in Pennsylvania’s third largest metro area comes from its vast collection of historic homes and buildings, commercial structures and century-old industrial buildings.”  

“Nestled within the Lehigh Valley, with the Blue Mountain range to the north and South Mountain to the southwest, Allentown offers hikers and skiers access to great trails and snow. Residents can drive to New York City or Philadelphia in roughly two hours. Allentown’s convenient location, commitment to healthy living and celebration of the arts make it a great place for active folks to live.”  

However, its rank of 111th out of 150 metro areas doesn’t ring true to Loren Keim, president of Century 21 Keim. 

In an email, he noted, “I’m excited that Allentown finished in the top 10%, being ranked 11th out of 150 areas, in the best areas to retire. The strongest ratings for the region were in quality of life and value. Eight of the top 11 greatest places to retire were in Florida and of those in Pennsylvania, Allentown fell just behind Lancaster. In 2021, housing prices were still over 9% below the national average in the Lehigh Valley, despite the close proximity to New York City, Philadelphia and northern New Jersey.” 

Keim added that Allentown also ranked 23rd in safest places to live, just outside the top 15%.  

However, in the overall score for best places to reside, Allentown’s rating “was significantly affected by a low score in the desirability index, which really was a relatively small poll of 3,500 individuals … . The highest-ranked cities including Huntsville, Colorado Springs, Green Bay, Boulder and San Jose certainly are going to be better known as desirable places to live.”  

“While this score is low for 2021,” he said, “I believe the valley is a great place to live as well as retire and will appear higher in the rankings next year.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer. 

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