WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- The American Dream has taken some nightmarish turns during the past few years, but some American cities are still sleeping blissfully.
Generally understood as the opportunity for success and prosperity inherent in the United States' greater freedoms, the American Dream has been pried from reality by a 9.1% unemployment rate; increasing credit restrictions that make it more difficult to buy a home even as housing prices and mortgage rates fall; and local and regional differences that create great divides in income, small-business opportunities and education. Americans may all be counting the same sheep while dreaming the American Dream, but where they live affects their ability to herd those sheep and turn their wool into safety blankets.
This is why TheStreet went out searching.
Though Americans have made a national pastime out of arguing over what the dream is, general consensus gives employment plenty of importance. With the idea it had to entail at least the opportunity for gainful employment, TheStreet limited its search to cities that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported as having 5% unemployment or less in May. That whittled the list to only 17 cities in the United States.The affordability of the remaining cities was judged based on the ratio of the median prices of existing single-family homes in the first quarter of this year provided by the National Association of Realtors to the area median incomes provided by Fannie Mae and median family income provided by the Census Bureau. Their livability was then measured by ratings from Walk Score, which ranks city "walkability" based on the presence of a city center such as a Main Street or a public space, enough people to ensure good business and frequent public transit, affordable housing near businesses, public spaces, a pedestrian-friendly design that puts buildings near the street and parking lots behinds them, schools and workplaces within walking distance and streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit. Since none of these opportunities exist without education, we incorporated scores from the nonprofit educational website GreatSchools' Education Quality Index, which incorporates the most recently available public school test scores and 2010 median home price and population data into its findings, then ranks schools based on state standardized test scores and the most recent National Assessment for Educational Progress reports. With a little data on these cities' friendliness toward the business community and the economic stability of their business bases thrown in for good measure, TheStreet was able to narrow its list to the 10 cities that best embody the American Dream: