2. CITIES 7 - 5

Percent increase, 1990 - 1998: 9.9%

During San Diego's so-called "rainy season," the city experiences a deluge of roughly 1.5 inches of precipitation per month. The Santa Ana winds, which come from the mountains to the east, ensure that the temperature floats just above 90 in October, making non-rollerblading weather less common than the lunar eclipse. If the sun gods smile on any town in the country, they are beaming at San Diego.

The city has been a model of ethnic variety for several years. Roughly one quarter of the population there is Hispanic, and ten percent is from the Pacific Islands, yet hate crimes are rarer than overcast days.

Since the decline of an economy firmly routed in defense spending, San Diego has diversified financially. Like Jacksonville, the telecommunications business has set up shop here, led by the cellular phone juggernaut Qualcomm. The industry contributes about $5 billion each year to the local economy.


Percent increase, 1990 - 1998: 10.1%

Fortune magazine ranked San Jose the number one city for business in the nation, and as the self-proclaimed "Capital of Silicon Valley," it's pretty easy to see why: Hardware is king in northern California's largest city.

San Jose is also an environmentally conscious city in its own right, especially considering its heavy contribution to industry. The Bay Area's "Spare the Air" campaign implores citizens to carpool to help reduce smog, and several local statutes make water pollution a cardinal sin. This is a community of residents who churn out microchips like nobody's business but nonetheless appreciate the value of local vineyards and harvest festivals.

The only real trick to living in San Jose is finding an affordable home. The average house is valued at well over $200,000. But, then again, that should be par for the course in a community with an annual household income of just over $75,000. Did we mention there's money there?

Percent increase, 1990 - 1998: 14.1%

Perhaps no other city in America can claim to have cleaned up its act to the extent that San Antonio has done so over the past 10 years. The city has seen roughly a 50% decrease in major crimes and homicides since 1990. Putting more cops on the street has gone a long way toward making San Antonio a safer community.

Several local environmental initiatives have also made San Antonio cleaner than other cities with comparable growth rates. Four gasoline companies have agreed to sell fuel containing fewer pollutants than conventional petroleum, and the city's Neighborhood Sweep Program targets potholes and graffiti. This is, by all accounts, a very green town.

The lush River Walk, though ranking high on the tourist scale, is a significant cultural hub with eclectic shops and restaurants. The Walk also houses the International Center, a major forum for Mexican-American business and politics. This begs the question: Are residents put off by the fact that, around the corner from their NAFTA-enabled businesses, high school kids are hocking T-shirts that demand tourists to remember the Alamo?