If you like the desert, but Phoenix and Las Vegas are too big and hot, Tucson might be the place for you.
Although it’s just an hour’s drive from the Mexican border, its higher elevation makes for slightly cooler temperatures — only one month with an average temperature over 100 degrees — and much less air pollution than its big neighbor to the north.
And although the city topped 1 million residents in 2008, it has the feeling of a smaller, slower-paced town, locals say, and many of its residents walk or bike to work.
Alternative energy is one of the drivers of the expanding local economy; the city receives funding from the Energy Department to integrate more solar panels in its homes and businesses. Other major employers are in aerospace and defense, bioscience, logistics and, of course, the University of Arizona, which is based here.
When the weekend rolls around, there are plenty of opportunities for recreation, with a large number of parks, cycling routes and golf courses around town. And in winter, there’s always skiing at Mount Lemmon, a 9,000-foot peak just north of town. The town has several theater companies, an annual symphony season and a major folk festival in May.
Sports buffs might bemoan the dearth of professional sports teams in Tucson, but its University of Arizona Wildcats are perennial Pac 10 conference contenders in football, basketball and baseball.
And many will appreciate its blend of cultures, with three out of 10 residents having Mexican ancestry. Of course its proximity to Mexico also has its downside, namely that a large share of its law enforcement’s resources go to combat illegal immigration, rather than to deal with other types of crime.
- Population: 1 million
- Affordability index: 3.71
- Unemployment: 9%
- Job growth: -2.1%
- Median home price: $167,710
- Home price appreciation: -9.1%
- Cost-of-living index: 94.6
- Average household income: $45,194
- Average commute time: 26.3 minutes
- Percent of commute times over an hour: 4.7%