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The City Scene Varies for Home Buyers

The downtown housing market is hot as millions of home buyers take to the city streets. After many years of urban blight and urban flight, it's a reversal caused by the nation's hyperactive economy. Crime is down and quality of life is up. Where do you find the best city life? Choose carefully. Despite all the success stories, some cities' economies have been left to rust, with residents continuing to leave for greener pastures.

Leading the urban renaissance are major cities such as Indianapolis, Denver, Chicago, and Houston. New townhouses as well as refurbished housing are sprouting up everywhere as planners pursue innovative schemes to revive downtown areas. In Houston, the downtown renaissance includes plans for a 228 percent increase in residential housing. Some of these new units are the ultimate in urban chic. Developers are targeting factories, warehouses, and office buildings for conversion to residential loft apartments. Their popularity has skyrocketed in Chicago where fully half of all sales in the city are lofts. In Denver, 2,225 loft rentals and for-sale apartments are hitting the housing market soon. Smaller cities are jumping on the bandwagon, too. An older department store is being converted into apartments in Waltham, Massachusetts, for example.

The good news hasn't spread to some smaller cities yet, and that's because the jobs just aren't there. In Rust Belt areas such as Gary, Indiana, manufacturing jobs have disappeared along with the quality of life. Although high-tech industry jobs have taken up the slack elsewhere, certain cities can't seem to resurrect their economies. Take Pine Bluff, Arkansas, for example, rated last among all cities recently in a national study of economic health. Things couldn't be better up the river in Little Rock. But Pine Bluff has high unemployment, despite spending $24 million to reinvigorate the city's economy.

The ongoing economic study by Policom ranks 315 cities for economic health and stability. In 1998, it found 37 cities with unemployment of 9 percent or more, twice the national average. Scoring at the bottom of the ladder were Houma, Louisiana; Flint, Michigan; Odessa-Midland, Texas and Yuma, Arizona. Larger, healthier metropolitan areas scoring in the top 10 include the tri-city area of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina at number one, Las Vegas at number 5, Atlanta at seventh, and the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington metropolitan area ranking tenth. For the complete results, see

President Clinton is trumpeting the cause of inner cities by pushing $1 billion in economic incentives for businesses. He wants basic retail services for residents, certainly a key factor in attracting home buyers to communities and keeping them there.

Sources used to create this article include writer Abraham McLaughlin and The Christian Science Monitor.