Landlocked and Loving It

These Midwestern cities offer the best quality of life in the U.S. —- according to science

Words by Molly Longman

Kevin Slater considers himself a well-traveled guy. “Because of my dad’s military career, I went to five different schools for kindergarten in one year, and the travel never really stopped,” he said. The 40-year-old has lived all over the United States, from California to Kentucky and North Carolina to Nevada. He’s lost count of how many places he’s lived.

But out of all of the coastal cottages and city skylines he’s seen, Slater said Omaha is one of his favorite places. That’s why he chose to buy his first home in South Omaha in 2014.

“There’s a lot more that I can do with having a bigger house with affordable payments,” Slater said. “I have money to go out and have a good time. The Keystone Trail is practically in my backyard, and I bike so that’s also great and healthy. And then work is basically in my front yard.”

Slater liked Omaha because he could find a home that didn’t break the bank, while being close to a job he liked at Gallup and the nightlife he loved in the city’s Old Market Business District.

And a study from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis validates Slater’s love for the Midwestern metropolis. Their data showed that Omaha was among only three cities in the U.S. that excelled in the areas that most Americans look for in a home city: affordability, a strong economy, and quality of life—otherwise known as the housing trilemma.


Researcher Josh Lehner discovered this after investigating the housing crisis created by a gap between demand for new homes and the supply coming onto the market. This affected his home state of Oregon in cities like Portland. He hypothesized that the U.S. is experiencing a “housing trilemma,” meaning Americans have to make big tradeoffs when deciding where to plant their roots.

After comparing the 100 largest cities in the U.S. for quality of life, affordability and economic strength using census data and several other metrics, he found that Omaha, Des Moines and Oklahoma City excelled in all three areas, combating the trilemma with a trifecta.

“I think most [people] realize that housing affordability is better in the middle of the country,” Lehner said. “This is partly a supply and demand story. Population growth is slower in the Midwest than along the big cities on the coasts, and, at the same time, there are generally fewer building regulations that prevent new home construction. This means the housing market is more balanced and thus more affordable.”

I think most [people] realize that housing affordability is better in the middle of the country.”

– Josh Lehner

Of the three factors that Lehner studied, he found that most cities only met one of the criteria, with only 15 cities fulfilling two of the three, with a focus on quality of life (i.e. crime rates, weather, arts and culture, access to restaurants and bars). Basically, if it’s more important to potential homeowners to live in a place with both quality of life and economic strength, they’re going to pay more to live there. Though landlocked states get a lot of flak for being less desirable than coastal areas like California and Florida, the more “desirable” a city, the more expensive it becomes.

“Quality of life in the Midwest is better than the conventional wisdom suggests,” Lehner said.

And although the demand to live in those big coastal metros is considerably higher, the Midwest is a pretty doggone good place to be—science says so. And Slater agreed.

“Omaha is in the top places I’ve lived,” Slater said. “I love the location. I love everything that I’ve been able to do to my house to make it my own. I’ve really got great value for what I have.”