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Denver, San Diego top list

SEATTLE — If we only had a little more sunshine . . .

In a national study released Thursday, Seattle placed third on a list of major U.S. cities in which Americans would like to live, topped only by Denver and San Diego.

The study by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center, is the latest in a long line of surveys, dating back decades, documenting Seattle’s allure.

Seattle City Councilwoman Jean Godden, who’s seen plenty of these top-city lists as a public official and in her former career as a newspaper columnist, said it’s no secret why Seattle consistently ranks high.

“As a service brat growing up I had seen most of the county before I settled down here,” said Godden, who touts Seattle’s location, scenery, diversity, arts, culture, bookstores, “and it’s got great people and distinct neighborhoods.”

But this poll of 2,260 adults, conducted in October, didn’t exactly offer Seattle a resounding endorsement. In fact, most said they’d rather not live in a large city at all. Thirty percent said they’d prefer to live in a small town, 25 percent in a suburb, 23 percent in a city and 21 percent in a rural area.

When participants were asked directly if they’d like to live in each of the 30 largest U.S. cities, 38 percent said they’d like to live in Seattle, compared to 43 percent for Denver and 40 percent for San Diego.

Still, that means more than a third of Americans would happily plant themselves in Seattle. Sure beats the readings from the Rust Belt: Cincinnati’s 13 percent, Cleveland’s 10 percent and Detroit’s 8 percent.

Rich Morin, a senior editor of the survey, said the poll is part of a larger project studying Americans’ mobility. Participants weren’t asked why they prefer the cities they do, so he can’t say why Denver and San Diego ended up on top.

But Kate Horle, spokeswoman for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, hazarded a guess: “Maybe it’s our 300 days of sunshine a year.”

Nice try, Ms. Horle. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says Denver officially gets 115 days of pure sunshine a year, a figure that doesn’t count partly sunny or partly cloudy days. San Diego gets 146 sunny days a year.

Both of those easily top the average of 58 sunny days recorded at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“People hike and kayak and camp and run all year-round here,” Horle said of top-ranked Denver. “Not to mention skiing in the winter.” She’s quick to point out that Denver has a diverse economy, a wide range of cultural institutions and six pro sports teams, including, she notes, an NBA franchise.

Ouch.

While not exactly willing to put down the competition, Godden, who travels about once a year to San Diego to see relatives, said that despite that city’s abundant sunshine, she doesn’t think it has the range of cultural offerings Seattle does.

Tayloe Washburn, chairman of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, said he’s not well-versed in Denver’s attractions, but views San Diego is a city on the upswing, putting an increased emphasis on transit and pioneering the clustering of bio-tech businesses.

“Downtown San Diego is much more attractive than it was a few years ago,” Washburn said. “They’re starting to put housing downtown, which we’ve been doing for more than 20 years.”

Since the Pew survey was taken three months ago, many of the Seattle area’s signature industries have announced significant job cuts, but Washburn said he doesn’t think that will permanently tarnish this area’s attraction.

“This is a global phenomenon,” said Washburn, a land-use attorney with the Seattle firm Foster Pepper. “Pick up a magazine from anywhere in the world and you’re going to see the same headlines. Every business has to take sensible moves to position itself for the long haul.”

WHERE AND WHERE NOT TO LIVE

Number is percentage of people who said they would like to live in the city

Top Cities

• Denver: 43

• San Diego: 40

• Seattle: 38

• Orlando, Tampa, San Francisco: 34

Bottom Cities

• Detroit: 8

• Cleveland: 10

• Cincinnati: 13

• Kansas City: 15

• Minneapolis: 16

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