MYNORTHWEST LIFESTYLE

From mill town to top-ranked living destination: Washington city stands out

Apr 14, 2024, 12:24 PM

Camas, Washington. (Photo: Money.com)...

Camas, Washington. (Photo: Money.com)

(Photo: Money.com)

Once a small mill town, Camas, Washington, has transformed into a city earning accolades as one of the premier places to reside in the United States. Money’s latest rankings place Camas in the spotlight as one of 2024’s 50 best places to live in the U.S., celebrating its journey from industrial roots to urban vibrancy.

A mill town’s renaissance

Camas, which is in Clark County, has a population of 26,065, as recorded in the 2020 Census from the U.S Census Bureau. Its origins trace back to a paper mill that stood at the heart of the community in the late 1800s and the first half of the 20th century.

The mill fueled the town’s growth and, over time, it evolved into a thriving downtown with shops, jewelry stores, restaurants, hotels and even an elegant opera house. The Downtown Camas Association (DCA) website has a detailed section on the city’s history.

The Downtown Camas Association’s vision

However, adversity struck during the 2008 recession, casting a shadow over Camas. The downtown area faced a daunting challenge: A staggering 60% business vacancy rate by 2009. The economic downturn threatened the fabric of the community.

In response, the DCA sprang into action. Their mission was to orchestrate a “Mill Town Renaissance” — an initiative aimed at breathing new life into the city center. The DCA envisioned a revitalized Camas, where tree-lined streets would invite residents and visitors alike to explore.

Money notes in its Camas writeup that in 2024, the streets of downtown Camas tell a different story. A vibrant, walkable community thrives, drawing locals and tourists alike. Natalia’s Café is a beloved old-school diner famous for its home-cooked breakfasts, where patrons dine al fresco. Also, Camas Cellars is a place to enjoy a merlot and unwind and Attic Gallery is an ever-changing hub for art enthusiasts, showcasing captivating exhibits.

Preserving history, embracing the future

Money also points out that historic landmarks, once faded, now stand rejuvenated. The Granada Theater was reborn as the Liberty Theatre. The iconic Camas Boutique Hotel stands strong. There is also a charming building that houses Natalia’s.

These preservation efforts caught the attention of Main Street America, which named Camas as a semi-finalist for the 2024 Great American Main Street Award. It’s a testament to the city’s resilience and commitment to honoring its heritage while embracing progress.

Beyond downtown: Education and opportunity

However, Camas isn’t just about picturesque streets. It offers robust job opportunities and excellent schools. Students in Camas outperform the state average, excelling in both reading (nearly 19% higher) and math (almost 20% higher), according to SchoolDigger.

And what about that once-high vacancy rate? It’s now less than 1%, a remarkable turnaround, the Money piece states at its conclusion.

Eugene, Oregon: A cultural gem

While Camas shines, another Northwest city graces the Money list: Eugene, Oregon. Here, the Hult Center for the Performing Arts offers symphony performances, ballet and lively concerts. Galleries and street murals add to the visual tapestry. Festivals celebrate everything from truffles to Asian culture.

Beyond city limits, the Willamette Valley has hot springs, waterfalls, beaches, and forests — an ideal backdrop for weekend adventures.

Eugene is also where the University of Oregon, one of the most prestigious universities on the West Coast of the U.S., resides. The school competes in 18 NCAA men’s and women’s sports and has won 38 Division I national championships, its website states.

In this landscape, both Camas and Eugene exemplify the essence of thriving communities, where history intertwines with progress and quality of life takes center stage.

Money’s new approach

Money’s annual quest to identify the best places to live has evolved. Looking at the study’s methodology, instead of relying solely on data, it delved deeper. It engaged with communities invested in livability, equity and sustainability. Readers’ suggestions played a crucial role in shaping the final list. Cities, towns, and neighborhoods underwent rigorous scrutiny.

Money, which bills itself as a source “providing up-to-date news, educational resources, and tools that will help you create meaningful investments and lasting returns,” considered factors like the local job market health, housing costs for homeowners and renters, poverty rates and the quality of public schools.

Head here to see Money’s entire 2024 Best Places to Live list.

Bill Kaczaraba is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here. Follow Bill on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email him here

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