Lincoln, Neb.: Life Is Nice in Lincoln

With its well-used bike paths, community gardens, farmers markets and college-town perks, Lincoln, Neb., is a livable city with a stable, diversified economy and neighborly sensibility.

  • Families work together in the CROPS Antelope Community Garden.
    Photo by John Coran/Prairie Fire Newspaper
  • All aboard for the Lincoln Children's Zoo.
    Photo by Lincoln Children's Zoo
  • The Lincoln Municipal Band has played in Lincoln, Neb., for 100 years.
    Photo by Lincoln Municipal Band

Each year, MOTHER EARTH NEWS selects a handful of sustainable communities to highlight in our annual Great Places feature. Check out the other towns featured in our 2014 installment: 8 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.

Lincoln, Nebraska. Despite more than a quarter-million residents, Lincoln manages to maintain its hometown feel. Its extensive bike paths and multiple community gardens bring neighbors together. At last count, 45 neighborhood associations were registered within the city limits.

As home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Nebraska’s state government, Lincoln has all the attributes and activities of both a college town and a metropolitan center, with fewer big-city problems, according to Tim Rinne, a 40-year Lincoln resident and state coordinator for Nebraskans for Peace. Rinne says Lincoln embodies the state’s new tourism campaign, “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.” — not in a bland or boring way, but as a place where life is good and residents give thoughtful attention to its quality.

“There’s an operating assumption here that people will behave civilly in public,” Rinne says. “The ‘nice’ part would be hokey if it weren’t true. The multicultural, mixed-income nature of our historic neighborhoods gives our ‘nice’ Nebraska lifestyles a sense of authenticity. It’s why I’ve lived here nearly 40 years and never mean to leave.” (For more on Rinne’s neighborhood’s approach to sustainability, see Homestead Hamlets.)

Lincoln boasts a diversified, stable economy, with an unemployment rate below 3 percent. In addition to state government and the university, prominent industries include banking, information technology, call centers and insurance. A tech boom is under way and the Lincoln-Omaha area is sometimes referred to as the Silicon Prairie. Compared with larger cities, wages are low, but Lincoln consistently tops lists of the nation’s healthiest and happiest cities, showing that positive lifestyle factors, such as a manageable cost of living and lower stress levels, offset the lower pay scale. To make things even better, the city launched a “Cleaner, Greener Lincoln” initiative to put Lincoln at the forefront of environmentally sustainable cities.

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