Shiny happy city

Whitehorse is the best Canadian small city to live in, according to MoneySense magazine. The personal finance publication sized-up the quality of life in urban areas, using 21 separate measurements.

Whitehorse is the best Canadian small city to live in, according to MoneySense magazine.

The personal finance publication sized-up the quality of life in urban areas, using 21 separate measurements, from crime rates and precipitation levels to housing affordability and the unemployment rate.

Of 47 cities with less than 25,000 people, Whitehorse was tops.

Compared to their peers, residents of the Yukon capital are more likely to have higher disposable incomes, drive the newest cars and walk or bike to work. Whitehorse placed in the top five for all three of those indicators.

No other small city held a top spot in as many individual categories, and Whitehorse had the best total score.

Whitehorse punched above its weight when placed against bigger cities, too. Ranked against 180 Canadian cities, Whitehorse placed 12th. That’s up from 30th place last year.

The average household income in Whitehorse is a middling $90,578. But more than 31 per cent of that money is left as disposable income, after the cost of living and taxes are subtracted.

That helps explain how so many residents are able to afford shiny new cars. Remarkably, three-quarters of the cars on the road were built between 2008 and 2010, according to a study by Financial Post’s Infomart.

And one in 10 Whitehorse residents reported to Statistics Canada that they usually walk or bike to work.

“That’s a sign of a stress-free lifestyle,” said MoneySense’s Phil Froats.

There’s lots of jobs. Whitehorse’s unemployment rate stood at 4.4 per cent in January, when MoneySense conducted its study. That put it in 11th place against 180 cities.

“You’ve got a really healthy economy going on there,” said Froats.

And Whitehorse’s population growth from 2001 to 2006 is “almost ideal,” at seven per cent said Froats. The study’s target rate is 7.4.

This measurement carries a lot of weight, because growth has far-ranging implications, said Froats.

Grow too fast and municipal services become overwhelmed. Grow too little and the economy stagnates.

Whitehorse residents are also blessed for having to pay no territorial sales tax.

And the city garnered bonus points for having a high proportion of residents employed in arts, culture, recreation and sports. “That’s an indication that you’re a major centre as well,” said Froats.

It’ll be no surprise that Whitehorse’s housing prices pose a problem to the city. When MoneySense parsed the data, the city’s average house price was $320,800. That put Whitehorse in 138th place.

And the price of an average home has since climbed to $427,0000. That pushes the ratio between average salary and average home price to 4.7, from 3.5.

But even with today’s escalating home prices, Whitehorse would keep the crown for best small city, said Froats. “It still wouldn’t knock you out.”

Crime is a problem, too, according to recent data collected by Statistics Canada. Compared to 180 cities, Whitehorse ranked 159 for crime severity, 166 for its violent crime rate and 166 for its total crime rate.

There’s a high proportion of doctors in Whitehorse. That may surprise residents unable to find a family doctor.

But that problem is spurred by the departure of several doctors from clinics in the past year – something that doesn’t show up in the numbers used by MoneySense.

And the weather’s not bad. Whitehorse has an average of 122 days with rain or snow. That places a respectable 25 of 180.

The city typically sees annual rain and snowfall of 267 millilitres a year. That’s on the dry side, according to MoneySense, which reckons an ideal city would see 700 millilitres of precipitation annually.

And, of course, there’s a fair number of days when the mercury’s below zero: 225. That put Whitehorse second only to Thompson, Manitoba.

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