Columbia, Maryland

A mainstay on our Best Places to Live list, Columbia ranked 20th last year and took the top spot in 2016. This suburban town’s enduring appeal is the result of its racially and economically diverse population and its proximity to both Baltimore (15 miles away) and Washington, D.C. (22 miles). It helps that housing in the community is relatively affordable for the region.

Built in the 1960s, Columbia is a master planned community made up of 10 villages. Each village has strict rules for home maintenance — including how long residents can keep up holiday decorations and what colors they can paint their homes — but they feature a range of housing types, which the developers intended to promote economic diversity.

Today, there are two-bedroom apartments listed for about $175,000 and newer four-to-five-bedroom homes in the high six figures. In early 2020, the median home sale price in Columbia was $346,000. (The median home in Potomac, Md., a prominent D.C. suburb, costs almost $850,000.) The median household income is $114,000.

The area is racially diverse as well. According to the Census Bureau, the population is 55% white, 26% Black, 13% Asian and 9% Latino. In order to encourage neighborly interaction, mailboxes in the development are clustered and neighborhoods are connected by walking paths. During a typical (a.k.a non-pandemic) summer the city’s 23 community pools are popular meeting spots. These days, residents are likely grateful that Columbia’s planners set aside nearly a quarter of the town’s land for open space. — Samantha Sharf

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