Mapping Livability's 100 Best Small Towns as a Story Map

Blog Post created by jkerski-esristaff Employee on May 12, 2016

What are the best small towns in the USA?  To investigate these towns and their spatial distribution, I created a Story Map of the Top 100 Best Small Towns in the USA according to Livability.com.  I created it in part to show how easy it is to create a story map based on a news feature, current event, or something interesting that has a location component.  I also wanted to demonstrate a different method of creating a story map than those I have described in the past.

After deciding that the map tour story map was the type I wanted, I downloaded the map tour CSV template, and then once I populated the template with the Livability 100 towns data, I imported the CSV using the map tour app:


Downloading and importing a CSV file to build a story map.

The CSV populated the Map Tour captions from my spreadsheet.  If you would like to see what the CSV looks like, click here.  After uploading the CSV, I did make some small aesthetic updates in the story map app, but my work was essentially done. My resulting story map looks like this, below - click on the map to see it live:


The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability as a Story Map.

My underlying ArcGIS Online map in "My Content" looks like this, below.  Later, I can add layers to this map that will be reflected in the story map, such as median age, median income, or other variables.


The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability - ArcGIS Online Map.

Another reason I created this map is that it provides a number of teachable moments.  In creating the story map, I made sure I practiced what I am always preaching to students: Cite your sources, including your photographs.

Furthermore, in teaching with the web, we as educators frequently tell students to check the methodology used.  Unlike some other sites that "rank" things but the "ranking" may represent only the opinion of the person writing the article rather than any sort of rigorous or scientific method, Livability clearly explains how they developed their ranking.  They work with the Martin Prosperity Institute, examining more than 40 data points for more than 12,000 towns with populations between 1,000 and 20,000: "These scores were weighted based on an exclusive survey conducted for Livability by the leading global market research firm, Ipsos Public Affairs. These cities and towns allow for the tight-knit communities key to small-town living coupled with the amenities you’d expect in larger cities," says Livability.  They used economic, health, housing, social and civic capital, education, amenities, demographics, and infrastructure as eight categories of "livability".  They used a national survey so that it is in part based on what people most value in communities, and also added some thoughtful considerations of their own.  They followed four guiding principles:  Access, affordability, choice, and utilization, and used Esri's lifestyle variables that allowed them to see which residents were making the most of opportunities in their cities.

Despite these well-documented and rigorous measures, you could use the map and the above discussion to ask the students questions such as:   "What variables are missing?  Several communities in western Washington and Oregon are on the map:  Are rainy winters a problem for you?  Or the cold winters that would be experienced in Bemidji, Houghton, or Bar Harbor? Or the occasional hurricane in St Augustine?  How important is being near to or far from a metropolitan area or a major airport to you?  Are there regions of the USA that are under-represented by the "100 best" towns, or over-represented?  What would your list of, say, 100, or 10 best, be?  Make a story map of your list! What would your list of 10 best in your own state be, and why?  What about a list of 10 best outside the USA?"


Blog post updated 3 January 2018.