Best downtowns in the U.S. (according to Forbes Magazine)
2. Portland, Oregon
3. Burlington, Vermont
5. San Antonio
6. Savannah, Georgia
7. Kansas City, Missouri
8. Winston-Salem, North Carolina
9. Greenville, South Carolina
10. Santa Monica
The article, "America's Best Downtowns" reminds me of the point made by Kyle Ezell in the book Get Urban (blog entry review from the Walker Evans Effect blog) that you can find vital and urban places to live in many cities across the country, you don't have to go to just the biggest cities like New York or Boston or San Francisco, etc.
-- America's Best Downtowns slideshow from Forbes Magazine
As more commercial buildings have been converted to multiunit housing in center city downtown districts that had once been exclusively commercial, the stage becomes set for revitalization because residents, more than tourists, drive retail revitalization, and they become an interest group demanding and advocating for investment downtown.
The list seems a bit arbitrary to me, because it's hard to do a list like this unless you've been to absolutely every major city in the country, but also because communities have different "bests" that make it difficult to compare cities against each other on a straight set of criteria.
But I always find interesting stuff in downtowns and center cities. Also see the MSN feature, "Buyer's Marketplaces," which lists Fells Point, Baltimore [I'd recommend Hampden instead]; Pearl Street Mall in Boulder; 4th Street in Berkeley, California; Old Market in Omaha; Royal Street in New Orleans; State Street in Madison, Wisconsin; Byward Market in Ottawa, Ontario; Old City in Philadelphia [I vote for South Street too]; and Granville Island in Vancouver, British Columbia.
We just spent the past few days in Savannah, Georgia for example, and it's a great place, incredibly walkable, lots of things to see, beautiful squares, some amazing retail shops, etc.
Then again, River Street has been touristified to the point where other than the buildings it's not very interesting, and I was surprised to see the number of vacant buildings on the main retail street, Broughton--that being said, stores like Savannah Bee Company, Silver's, Sylvester & Company, Paris Market, and others were incredibly well merchandised, just superb and a real joy to visit (and buy stuff from).
Interestingly, Savannah considers to be "downtown" parts of the city that in other cities would be considered residential areas.