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Sioux Falls (and Downtown!) Top AARP Medium-Town Livability List; Mitchell Tops in South Dakota!

AARP has rated downtown Sioux Falls has one of the ten most livable neighborhoods in the U.S.:

The hub of this fast-growing midsize city features a mix of small-town and big-city characteristics: affordable multifamily housing, high-quality health care, low levels of income inequality [“10 Most Livable Neighborhoods in the U.S.,” AARP Bulletin, 2015.04.21].

Note that AARP picks crowded downtown, not the sprawling new housing at the edges of Sioux Falls that the state economic development office’s advertiser prefers to feature.

The other neighborhoods on AARP’s list are…

  • Mifflin West, Madison, WI
  • Upper West Side, Manhattan, NY
  • Downtown Crossing, Boston, MA
  • South of Market, San Francisco, CA
  • Washburn, LaCrosse, WI
  • Southside, Virginia, MN (pictured with a guy shoveling snow off his sidewalk—thanks a lot, snarls the Virginia MN Chamber of Commerce)
  • Downtown Bismarck, ND (what?! Not Fargo?!)
  • Downtown Seattle, WA
  • Downtown Los Alamos, NM

The South Dakota AARP office says downtown Sioux Falls ranked sixth on the neighborhood list, while Sioux Falls as a whole ranked third on the AARP list of livable medium-sized cities (St. Paul was 2nd; Minneapolis was 5th).

But before Mayor Huether calls a press conference, note that within South Dakota, Sioux Falls did not get the top livability score. Mitchell, home of the Corn Palace, beat Sioux Falls by two points, 68 to 66. Plus, Pierre and Dell Rapids tie with Sioux Falls on overall livability. Among South Dakota’s largest towns, the most livable are…

  • Mitchell (68)
  • Sioux Falls, Pierre, and Dell Rapids (66)
  • Watertown and Yankton (64)
  • Rapid City, Aberdeen, Brandon, and Milbank (63)
  • Spearfish, Sturgis, and Lemmon(!) (62)
  • Brookings and Harrisburg (61)
  • Vermillion, Tea, Flandreau, and Lennox (60)

Because my day doesn’t start until I’ve created a spreadsheet, I’ve recorded the scores for 32 South Dakota cities on this Google sheet.

You can punch any town you like into AARP’s Livability calculator.

AARP offers an extensive explanation of its methodology for determining livability. None of the criteria include comparisons to the Martian desert. Instead, AARP looks at seven categories:

  1. Housing: affordable and varied
  2. Neighborhood: compact, close to daily needs
  3. Transportation: emphasis on affordable alternatives to driving
  4. Environment: clean air, clean water, good natural disaster-response plans, policies promoting energy efficiency
  5. Health: smoke-free policies, walkability, opportunities for exercise, access to healthy foods, even lower speed limits!
  6. Engagement: Internet access, opportunities for social engagement and civic participation
  7. Opportunity: jobs, education, living wages, inclusivity and diversity

As a whole, Sioux Falls gets its highest score in engagement (83 out of 100) but the lowest scores in neighborhood (54), health (60), and housing (61).


  1. Ben Cerwinske 2015-04-22 13:37

    What’s wrong with Spearfish’s environment (score of 25)?

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-22 13:58

    Good question, Ben! The AARP Livability calculator lets us click on each score for details. Under Environment Metrics, AARP says Spearfish has higher than normal water quality problems (1.8% of people exposed to violations vs. nat’l neighborhood median of 0.5%) and higher than normal days of unhealthy air quality (14.3 vs. nat’l median 8.0). On environment policies, AARP cites a lack of policies on age-friendly communities and energy efficiency. How’s that square with what you know about the nicest town in the Black Hills, Ben?

  3. Roger Elgersma 2015-04-22 15:11

    Who draws the lines on these neigbhorhoods. A couple blocks east of downtown Sioux Falls has the homeless shelters which no one wants in their neighborhoods and a couple blocks west is the highest crime area of Sioux Falls. Are these rankings put together by people who pay for them. The middle of downtown is actually ok once they got the loop out.

  4. Donald Pay 2015-04-22 17:30

    My folks lived in the SF downtown neighborhood for years. Before my mother retired she could walk to work. After retiring, my parents enjoyed the downtown living experience. After my father died, I worried about potential crime, but my mom never had a problem. As long as the downtown Sunshine grocery store was open she could walk for most of what she needed. She could look at art, and eat out with just a few minutes of walking. That neighborhood is great for folks who don’t want to drive much. The bus system helps the elderly get out to other parts of the city. And the bike path isn’t far away.

    In Madison, WI, the Mifflin West area is interesting. Lots of student housing a couple of block from senior and disabled housing, and those apartments are across the street from very expensive downtown lofts and penthouses favored by professionals. Just blocks away is State Street, the Capitol Building, the library, buses and the Overture Center. It seems they favor neighborhoods with very diverse housing close to services.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-22 20:29

    Good map question, Roger! Like gerrymandering our legislative districts, we could really affect the numbers by moving the lines around. Downtown Sioux Falls doesn’t have any official definition, does it?…

    …Oh ho! The City of Sioux Falls does offer a neighborhood map!

    Downtown on this map is bounded by 4th Street, Minnesota, 14th Street, a northeasterly zig-zag up to 10th, and then the railroad tracks.

    Anyone care to compare Downtown to All Saints just to its south?

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-22 20:32

    Donald, your parents’ experience nicely expresses why downtown Sioux Falls would rank high. I’d be quite content to live there… as long as Sunshine keeps that downtown location open! People have to be able to get their groceries without venturing to the edge of town.

  7. grudznick 2015-04-22 21:04

    Mr. Cerwinske asks a fair question. It must be that Spearfish is filled with 100-watt lightbulbs that never get turned off because of all my geezer friends that live there and there is no emergency disaster plan. Or it is a Type O problem with the scores or the sheets.

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