Defining what's a city can be in the eye of the beholder, or of the local government. For instance, the Isle of Palms in South Carolina calls itself a city. The coastal locale has 4,395 residents, making it about 2,000 times smaller than New York City.

All told, about 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in an urban area, according to WalletHub personal finance web site. Media groups and information providers typically have a population cutoffs for municipalities or bypass city definitions altogether by drawing on lists of the largest metro areas.

Now recent surveys are focusing on an even more finite group, the best "big cities."

WalletHub says it took a look at the 62 largest American cities, determining attributes based on 56 key indicators including quality of the public school system, job opportunities and median annual property taxes.

According to those findings, Seattle ranked first out of 20 cities recognized. Virginia Beach, Virginia placed second. Among other results, Omaha, Nebraska, was the only big city in the top group from the Midwest. California lead by state with three cities: San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose. Gamblers take note: Las Vegas made the list, at 13th. New York finished 10th best. And even with the large metro population cutoff, Phoenix suburb Mesa, Arizona, has a large enough population finish in the top 62. It ranked 15th best on the list.

Also making the top 20 were two cities apiece from North Carolina (Charlotte and Raleigh) and from Colorado (Denver and Colorado Springs). Austin, Honolulu, Portland, Minneapolis, Tampa, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., round out the list.

WalletHub included all 62 big cities in a comparison of "best versus worst."

  • Virginia Beach, has the highest home ownership rate, 63.18 percent, or 2.1 times higher than bottom-dwelling Miami at 30.53 percent.
  • Virginia Beach also shows the lowest share of residents living in poverty, 8.2 percent. That's 4.8 times lower than in Detroit, the highest at 39.4 percent.
  • San Francisco counts the lowest median debt rate per earnings at 14.7 percent, which is 5.7 times lower than in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the peak city at 83.32 percent.
  • Wichita, Kansas, posts the shortest average commute time, 18.2 minutes, or 2.2 times shorter than the longest, 40.3 minute commute in New York.
  • Virginia Beach, again, logged the fewest violent crimes per 1,000 residents at 1.55, which is 13.2 times less than in Detroit with the most at 20.47.

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A more abbreviated best big cities list came from Money magazine two years ago and named top locales population 300,000 or more by region. Boston, with a $545,000 median home price, ranked best in the Northeast; Raleigh, at $208,250 midpoint home price, placed highest in the Southeast; Columbus, Ohio, toting a $131,500 median home cost, won out in the Midwest; Arlington, Texas, holding a $168,688 midpoint residential price, was best in the South; Colorado Springs, totaling a $227,500 median home price, was highest in the mountains; and Portland, showcasing a $349,000 midpoint home rate, was first in the West.

Also in 2016, U.S. News & World Report developed its top 12 big cities limiting eligibility to the 100 most populous communities.

Denver, population 2,651,392, ranked first. It boasted a $53,060 median annual salary and high scores for quality of life and overall value.

Following the Colorado capital were in order, Seattle, Washington, D.C., San Fransisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Diego, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Boston, Tampa, Phoenix and Atlanta.

The magazine summed up Denver's perks.

"While Denver sits at the base of the Rocky Mountains, it's not considered a mountain town since it takes at least an hour to get to the Rockies for snowboarding and ski activities, a local expert explained. At 5,279 feet, the Mile High City lives up to its name in more ways than one," according to U.S. News & World Report. "In 2012, Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, paving the way for a flourishing and lucrative cannabis industry."